DRS not serving cricket the way technology should

Graeme Swann (left) appeals for a leg-before during the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford © Getty Images

By Will Atkins
The debate about using technology in cricket is not a new one. And on the face of it, should be pretty simple. Unlike sports like football, where a referee’s view of an incident is purely subjective, cricket is more like tennis, where technology tells the umpire whether the ball was in, or out. Technology was first used to help umpires on run-outs and stumpings — issues of black or white, in or out, whether the batsman had got behind the line or not. There was no ‘benefit of the doubt’, margin for error or umpire’s call. It was a pretty simple system, and it worked.
However, the Pandora’s Box of technology was opened, and we’ve now arrived at a crossroads in cricket. The Decision Review System (DRS) is in place in most international matches [you can take a seat for this bit, India] and was introduced in order to ‘eliminate the howler’, and to try and get every single decision correct. No longer could a player claim he was robbed by a poor umpire’s decision, as he’d be able to make the “T” sign and go upstairs and have the decision overruled on irrefutable evidence. Sadly, that is not the case. If a bowler is sure he’s made the batsman edge, he can go to the third umpire only to find that it’s one of the up to 10 per cent of Hot-spot decisions that don’t show an edge. Or a batsman can be given out for a shady LBW that could have been missing, purely because the umpire put his finger up.
The weighting of the ‘umpire’s call’ is totally wrong. The whole point of technology is to take the possibly wrong decision of the umpire out of the equation, and find if a batsman is out, or not out. We saw a situation at Old Trafford where Steven Smith was given not out to an LBW from Graeme Swann, which when reviewed was shown to be hitting 49.999999 per cent of leg stump. As the umpire had decided to not give it, his decision was upheld, but had Tony Hill put his finger up to the exact same ball, Smith would have been on his way. If cricket is a game of in, or out, how can the exact same ball have two wildly different outcomes based on a fallible human decision which technology was designed to eradicate?
Saying that had been their final review, and the next ball the umpire missed another plumb leg before call, with replays showing middle stump being knocked out of the ground, even though the correct decision would have been out, the batsman would have survived. How is that getting a larger proportion of decisions right? A lot was spoken after the first Test that the main reason England won the tight game is because Alastair Cook used the review system a lot better than Michael Clarke. Surely that shows the balance is completely wrong, where using the system is more important than playing good cricket? Technology shouldn’t be used to find which captain has the best restraint, or is the better gambler; it should be used to find if a batsman is in, or out.
Too much of the DRS is based on not hurting the umpire’s feelings. Far too much weight is put on not overturning their on-field decisions rather than making the simple call of in, or out. While opponents of the DRS claim that ignoring the umpire’s decision on referrals reduces the men in the middle to bean counters whose jobs it is to solely count to six, if technology is going to be bought in, it should be all or nothing. Captains should be able to review every single ball if they so wish, with the third umpire’s decision being the only one that matters and not influenced by whether the latest scapegoat in the middle put their finger up. Every ball should be scrutinised for to see if the bowler overstepped, rather than just wicket-taking ones — a system which is ludicrously unfair and in the batsman’s favour. Or, nothing goes upstairs.
The only way the DRS can ever work successfully is if it is given total control of cricket, firing laser beams from the stands towards unfortunate batsmen and giving people out or not out in the post-apocalyptic world that cricket would become. Or, cricket could go back to how it was played for years before, where instead of blaming a bloke watching on telly for making a bad call, they’d blame a bloke standing in the middle holding the bowler’s hat. I’m in favour of modernising cricket and making sure decisions are correct, but there can’t be a halfway house with technology. In a cricketing all or nothing, I’m voting all. And let me be the first to say, I for one welcome our new technological overlords, and like to remind them that as a trusted cricket writer I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground hotspot labs.
(Will Atkins is a cricket writer and blogger for The Short Midwicket – the shortmidwicket.blogspot.com. When he isn’t watching, writing or podcasting about cricket, he dresses up as a panther for Middlesex County Cricket Club)