Ajinkya Rahane’s pull clearly fell short of Corey Anderson at deep fine leg. Even Anderson wasn’t sure. The matter was referred to TV umpire C Shamsuddin, who followed his on-field colleague Bruce Oxenford’s clue—soft signal was out—and ruled in favour of the bowler. Shamsuddin’s went by the letter of the law. He needed conclusive evidence to overturn the soft signal. Rahane’s dismissal proved to be the turning point of the second ODI between India and New Zealand at Kotla. The hosts eventually lost by six runs and Rahane had every reason to feel hard done-by.
Rewind to Adelaide Oval, the venue that hosted the first-ever day/night Test in November last year. Australia had been struggling at 118/8, replying to New Zealand’s first innings total of 202. Nathan Lyon attempted a sweep against left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, but the ball thinly clipped the top edge, bounced off Lyon’s shoulder and went to slip. Even Lyon believed he was out, but umpire S Ravi asked him to wait and consulted his colleague Nigel Llong upstairs, as the Kiwis wanted a review. Hot Spot showed a mark on the bat. “There’s a mark, Ravi. It could have come from anywhere,” said Llong. Snicko heightened the confusion and Lyon survived. It changed the game.
The Decision Review System (DRS) has had a tendency to go bonkers, earning the sobriquet: ‘Dreadful Review System’. It isn’t foolproof and it undermines on-field umpires’ authority. The Indian cricket board’s disapproval of the DRS had some sound logic. But now the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has decided to reconsider and use it on a “trial basis” for the upcoming five-Test series against England.
Why is the paradigm shift? To start with, the BCCI wants to evaluate the improvements made to the system. “Earlier, there was a possibility that the operator would have missed a delivery and hence an LBW appeal could have been missed. Now, Hawk-Eye has developed the technology to record and save all images, so that in case an operator fails to arm the tracking system, the images can be rewound and replayed,” a cricket board release said. To be more specific, Indian cricket team’s tech-savvy head coach Anil Kumble played a key role in ushering in the change.
The ball-tracking technology—predicted path of the ball after hitting the pad—had been a major bone of contention. Three components go into a leg before decision—the line of the delivery, point of impact and the ball’s predicted path towards the stumps. The whole thing needed improvement and now there’s a collective feeling that the introduction of Ultra-Motion cameras and UltraEdge has addressed the problems to a ‘significant extent’.
Ultra-Motion cameras have higher frame-rates. It can track images at 340 frames per second, allowing more accurate calculation of the predicted path. UltraEdge, a sound-based edge-detection mechanism, is expected to be more precise on point of impact. And Hawk-Eye has now ensured that data from every ball is recorded.
The improved technology has been endorsed by engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kumble visited the MIT last year in his capacity as the ICC Cricket Committee head and observed the changes first-hand. After being appointed India coach, he had lengthy discussions with the players on the DRS. If a survey is conducted in the Indian dressing room at the moment, an overwhelmingly high percentage of players will vote in favour of the DRS.
India’s Test captain Virat Kohli spoke on the subject during the second Test against New Zealand in Kolkata last month. “We have had discussions on this. Certainly, we will look to introduce it in the future,” he had said.
Kohli’s team had been on the receiving end of an umpiring error in the previous game when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was given not out—a thin edge going unpicked. Before that in West Indies, Rohit Sharma had been adjudged leg before off a thick inside edge.
“We won’t take (those) decisions too hard because we in the first place decided that we will not use the DRS. For us to say that umpires made an error and it’s going against us is not logical. There’s no room for excuses,” Kohli had put things in perspective.
His predecessor in the longest format, however, had been cynical about the DRS. “…we need to push the umpires to make the right decisions. You have to see how many 50-50 decisions don’t go in our favour. It always happens, and you have to take it. But I’m still not convinced about the DRS,” MS Dhoni had said in Australia earlier this year.
India had used the DRS during their tour of Sri Lanka in 2008. But after a series of blunders, both human and technological, they gave the whole idea a storage dump. BCCI president Anurag Thakur, along with Kumble was present at the Hawk-Eye presentation in Delhi on October 19 and after that he said: “We are happy to note that Hawk-Eye has institutionalised all the recommendations made by the BCCI… We recognise the enhanced role of technology in sport and the BCCI will lead such initiatives in coming days, and enrich the viewer experience.”
Yes, the improved version of the DRS will further reduce umpires’ call margin. And even after the innovations, it will remain howler-prone, because nothing in this world can be completely error-free. Incidents like Rahane’s dismissal or Lyon’s reprieve will continue to happen. Still, technology is the need of the hour, because when stakes are high, margin of error should be less. The present BCCI management should be praised for shedding immutability.