India captain MS Dhoni (second from right) isn't much impressed with the DRS technology © Getty Images
India captain MS Dhoni (second from right) isn’t much impressed with the DRS technology © Getty Images

One of the most contentious issues concerning world cricket has been the universal implementation of the Decision Review System (DRS) which India has assiduously opposed. But their stance has paid no dividends as has been witnessed before and on their tour of England earlier this year. Had the DRS been in effect those decisions may have been overturned. Ankur Dhawan analyses the birth and journey of the DRS, the opposition it faces and the problems that plague the system.

It is hard to say whether that would have changed the course of the series in England early this year; but this was a young Indian team and here was an opportunity for these players to establish themselves. In such a delicate situation even one bad decision could have brought about a premature to end to a promising career.

Dissent is the refusal to conform to authority. On the cricket field the man in the white coat is the undisputed authority. Voicing dissent upon an umpire’s decision is not only frowned upon but costs what an average earning man may consider a fortune. Traditionally, since the game of cricket had its origins in a conservative colonial regime, certain niceties were ingrained in the cricketing fraternity — ‘the umpires decision is the final decision’ is a phrase that’s chanted in chorus in all levels of cricket, from the maidans of Mumbai to First-Class cricket to the highest level of the game.

Once the umpire raises the dreaded finger, you as a batsman for example are expected to obediently and graciously move on your proverbial bike. But the juxtaposition of these niceties is that they sound like a dream in theory but are seldom practiced.

Since the game has gone commercial and is no longer a leisurely activity of the rich aristocrats professionalism has crept in and the pressure on the professional cricketer is immense. He is subsumed by the idea that winning is not everything; but is in fact, the only thing. It has also been recognised that the man in the white coat is not infallible, does not possess the vision of a hawk and is prone to making errors on a fairly regular basis. The old adage that the best umpires go unnoticed springs to mind.

Owing to the professionalism there has been a glaring difference in the standard of umpiring, in the current era. For one, the position of an umpire is seldom considered honorary anymore: they are handsomely paid. However, with that comes accountability and additional scrutiny: they are expected to perform or perish and to be fair they have more or less lived up to those massive expectations in the last 15 years. Yet, the odd error, even the obvious mistake can sometimes not be avoided and can always be potentially game changing.

These concerns coinciding with accelerated technological progress (Hawk Eye and Hot Spot, among other devices) gave birth to the DRS — the technology that allows the batting or the fielding side to challenge on-field decisions. It is ironic that the event that pushed the limits of the game and pushed the International Cricket Council (ICC) involved the very country and board that have vehemently argued against the system.

The event in question was the Sydney Test on India’s infamous tour of Australia in January 2008: the umpiring in that game was abysmal to say the least, for a wide variety of reasons, the decision-making itself, was one of them. This led to the subsequent exit of reputed umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, who bore the brunt of a disgruntled Indian team backed by the most powerful sporting body on the planet; i.e., the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

DRS was introduced and tested in a series between India and Sri Lanka in 2008. What transpired in that series went on to define a lot: India not only went on to lose the three-Test series but over the series they struggled to get a hang of DRS and use it to their advantage.

Schadenfreude took effect: Sri Lanka used it brilliantly and beat India in this brand new game, the secrets of which they were beginning to unravel. The Indians fell victims to what they believed to be an inconsistent faulty system. They argued that the technology could not be trusted till it was 100 per cent  accurate and have continued to meander in this groove ever since, without budging. It has been six years since the system was embraced by at least two of the ‘Big Three’, who are ruling world cricket administratively, i.e., Cricket Australia (CA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Of course it has been tinkered with regularly in an attempt to make it foolproof.  However, each amendment that has been made has brought to the fore new unanswered questions. For one, it is not universally implanted, one of the biggest reasons for which is that it doesn’t feature in any games involving India.

Besides, not all cricket boards are financially well equipped to afford all the technology available. There have been murmurs regarding the efficiency of Hot Spot in certain conditions and then there is the matter of whether the power to challenge a decision should be in the hands of the players at all. The system was essentially designed to help eradicate howlers and not marginal calls that could oscillate either way.

What is more, the power shift into the hands of the players leaves it liable for misuse. In that respect the ICC has once again smashed itself on its foot. With captains constantly trying to steal an inch here or there unnecessary challenges are inevitable. The new policy that reinstates the challenges available to both sides at the completion of the 80th over is in fact encouraging the player to ‘try their luck’. So, the process of reviewing a decision must be reviewed but it can be unanimously agreed that the system is in place for the right reasons and the good of the game.

India now travel to Australia for the tour of 2014-15 where it had all began. The atmosphere will be tense. The chances are that there will be an odd error, and with the Indian team under intense scrutiny following their disastrous England outing, it will be unfortunate and heart breaking if some of these players facing tough time, courtesy poor umpiring. Players often take refuge in the truism that these bad decisions and the rub of the green even out in the long run.

That is surely true for those who are able to survive the initial period and are able to go on but here luck and the randomness of the universe play a massive part. Ideally the players would like to be the masters of their own destiny, DRS helps create that level playing field.

(Ankur Dhawan is a reporter with CricketCountry. Heavily influenced by dystopian novels, he naturally has about 59 conspiracy theories for every moment in the game of cricket. On finding a direct link between his head and the tip of his fingers, he also writes about it)