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It has been five years since DRS has been in use. Yet, cricket still searches for answers as technology fumbles from time to time © Getty Images

On July 23, 2008, as India and Sri Lanka clashed in the first Test at Colombo, the review system for on-field decisions made its debut in international cricket. While television replays were used for run-outs and stumpings since the early 1990s, this was seen as a big move as it increased the use of technology in cricket to improve the decision-making. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits Test cricket’s first tryst with the DRS.

Umpiring is a noble profession. Although the men in the white coat are at the centre of all the action, they majorly go unnoticed as the players steal all the limelight. However, as humans, the umpires are as fallible as anybody and one error puts them in the heat of things. Not only that, but it can also cost a team dearly — perhaps even put careers in jeopardy. To eliminate such follies, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to try out a review system in the middle of 2008, whereby teams can refer a few on-field calls to the third-umpire — whose decision would be final and binding.

Technology had played its part in previous years. Doubtful run-out and stumpings were dealt with by the third-umpire, who would decide based on the television replays. During the ICC Champions Trophy 2002, leg-before decisions were also put under the purview of the third umpire, but that experiment did not last long. Six years down the line, the ICC wanted to take a brave move with better technology, promising more accurate results. Leg-before decisions would be evaluated on the basis of the tracking systems and even edges could be reviewed. What was different was that the players themselves could opt for the reviews, challenging the umpire’s calls. Three unsuccessful attempts were allowed after which they weren’t permitted to review.

India and Sri Lanka were the first teams to use this system when they faced off in the three-match Test series on the Emerald Isle. Apart from Hawk-Eye, slow motion and ultra motion replays were also available for the third-umpire’s perusal. Earlier, England and South Africa couldn’t form a conclusive agreement (on the system) for their Test series. So, the world watched in anticipation as cricket seemed to be moving into a new era.

If one looks back at the 2008 series between India and Sri Lanka, one can see the genesis of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) objections to the new Decision Review System (DRS). In the first Test itself, technology was put to test and a few contentious calls raised questions over its feasibility. One could also see that with only three reviews in hand, it had also added to the tactical aspect of the game as players could pick and choose when to review it and not merely when a call was doubtful.

On Day Two of the first Test at Colombo, Tillakaratne Dilshan was declared out caught behind. He went for the review as he believed the bat had hit the ground. On the evidence produced by the replays, the decision was over-turned. After all this, the Snickometer showed that Dilshan had indeed feathered it. He then went on to score 125 not out.

Virender Sehwag was the first batsman to be declared out off a review as he padded a ball from Muttiah Muralitharan in the second innings. Muralitharan was bowling from around the wicket and pitched it just in line. Sehwag put his foot forward and offered no shot. The ball clipped his front-pad and hit his back-leg. The final impact was plumb, but the umpire ruled in favour of the batsman. Sri Lanka went for the review and Hawk-Eye only measured it with respect to the final impact on the back-leg. It did not take into account the initial deflection off the front-pad. As a result, Sehwag was given the marching orders. Had it been analysed with the first impact, he may have had a lease of life.

By the end of the series, India had opted for the review 21 times and had succeeded only once. In comparison, Sri Lanka had 11 decisions going their way out of 27 attempts. The Sehwag and Dilshan incidents only exposed the holes in the implementation of the review system.

What followed

The BCCI has been reluctant to use this system since the difficult maiden experience. Even after the revamped DRS was introduced in late 2009, the BCCI’s stance is unmoved. Their opposition has prevented it being implemented on a mandatory basis in world cricket. Interestingly, India won the 2011 World Cup and the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 — tournaments where the DRS was used by them successfully.

Yet, technology continues to pose serious questions and one wonders whether accuracy can ever be achieved with the aid of machines. Five years on, cricket still searches for answers as technology fumbles from time to time. Whether it is Hot-Spot or Hawk-Eye, the problems continue.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)