August 13, 2013

Horse 1526 - Review The Decision Review System

The current Ashes series between England and Australia has again brought up that hoary old chestnut of the argument surrounding the use of technology in the game and the use of the DRS (which the Indian Board of Control for Cricket has refused to adopt). Questions are being asked about the reliability of the technologies used and in some quarters, whether or not they should be used at all.
I personally think that they should not be used because cricket, that most genteel of games, deserves a higher and better mode of conduct and I think that the DRS erodes that.

The DRS or Decision Review System was, as I understand it, originally meant to assist umpires in difficult decisions where the evidence that the umpire saw on field wasn't conclusive. It now is a system where teams seeking to gain an advantage can appeal to overturn the decisions of the people who are entrusted to oversee and enforce the laws of the game.
Do I think that umpires will get decisions wrong sometimes? Yes. Do I think that there are some umpires who are bad at their job? Also, yes. Is that necessarily any different to the real world though? The thing about sport is that it intrinsically does not matter. Even that reason sort of makes a mockery of the "need" for layers upon layers of accuracy - it isn't brain science... or rocket surgery.

Put yourself in the position of an umpire. It is really hard being an umpire; even at parish/village/church level, there is pressure from both sides which is placed upon the head of the man in the middle. Their own side will make them feel bad for giving someone out, even if it is the correct decision; the opposition will accuse an umpire of being biased, even if the decision not to give someone out was obvious. The poor old umpire is on a hiding to nothing most of the time, they can not morally share in the joy of a batsman scoring freely and as if to add insult to insult, they stand in a totally thankless position.

If it is a televised match, the umpire then also becomes the object of scorn from people (sometimes 10,000 miles away) who have the benefit of a myriad of technologies, ranging from replays, slow motion footage, Hot Spot and HawkEye etc. but the umpire must make their decision in real time, in full speed and sometimes trying to judge the faintest of noises from 66 feet away.
This is quite apart from standing around outside for six hours a day and if it is a Test Match, for five consecutive days. Spectators at the ground have the luxury of amusing themselves during lulls (sometimes via the over-eager imbibing of fermented vegetable products) and the players themselves are either engaged in playing the game if they're fielding or batting, but the umpire must remain a model of concentration for 540 deliveries or 600 deliveries during a One Day International. Cricket was originally a game invented by sheep farmers with presumably little else to do, yet the modern game has caused international controversy, appeared in Hansard and other parliamentary records and is literally a billion dollar industry. Is it too much to ask that we respect the people we entrust to oversee the game?

I think that there is a place for technology in the game of cricket but I don't think that the right to question the decisions of the umpires should be given to the players who are obviously self-interested. I think of the words of the football manager Bill Shankly:  "Any player not seeking an advantage should immediately seek to do so". A corollary of this is that players of any game, once given the opportunity to manipulate the game in their favour will tend to do so and in an era of players being paid many many dollarpounds it exacerbates the issue.

There is also one very special thing about cricket which I think serves to justify my opinion; that is Law 3 of the Laws of Cricket:
3.1 - Appointment and attendance - Before the match, two umpires shall be appointed, one for each end, to control the game as required by the Laws, with absolute impartiality. 
3.7 - Fair and unfair play - The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play.
- retrieved from the Marylebone Cricket Club website.

Yes, yes, I'll admit it, too many laws and you have a festival for lawyers but not enough laws and you descend in chaos. Cricket though is at heart an orderly game; played by gentlemen. The Laws of Cricket include phrases which have entered the lexicon such as "the benefit of the doubt". They admit that there might be difficult decisions but suggest that the game be played with equity. Just like a court of equity, it works better and is more noble if the judge is allowed to do their job in peace.
I just think that undermining the authority of the umpires is inherently against the spirit of the game and that the DRS itself is a means to that end.

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