Boy oh boy oh BOY do I have a few words to say about this subject. But first, a little background.
Most sports have umpires or referees. The general rule is that "the umpire is always right, even if he's wrong". That means that if an umpire makes an incredibly bad call, the players should still abide by that decision and not argue. Absolute power, in other words. That said, players and spectators alike still complain about some pretty shocking decisions - because they do get made, every now and again, and occasionally can change the course of a game. More on that bit later.
Cricket is a very funny game. It necessitates at least two umpires in any game - one at each end - and this was the way it always was, before TV cameras got in the way. The umpires were in the best possible positions to see everything. Unfortunately, some umpires were still blind. As technology advanced, a third umpire was introduced to watch replays of close run out and stumping decisions - among others, but mainly those two. The umpires in the middle were still responsible for literally everything else, meaning that poor decisions could still be made.
The ICC decided recently to adopt an Umpire Decision Review System, or UDRS for short. For those really bad decisions, players may now call for a review of the umpire's decision. The third umpire now looks at extensive replays of the dismissal in question using all the technology available: replays from various angles, along with "Hot Spot" (thermal camera, showing heat of friction such as bat on ball) and "Eagle-Eye" (exact flight path of the ball, plus projected path after the ball is intercepted). This technology can conclusively show whether the umpires out in the centre were right or not. For decisions such as close run-outs and stumpings, the central umpires still call for the third umpire without bringing the UDRS into action.
The basic order of events: the ball is bowled, the fielding team appeals. A decision is made. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the fielding team may ask for a review; if the appeal is successful and the batsman is given out, the batting team may ask for a review. The third umpire uses the technology first to determine if the ball is a no-ball (and hence not out); if the ball is legal, he then looks at the rest of the replays and technology (depending on how the batsman was dismissed). The third umpire then relays the information to the central umpires, who then uphold or strike down the review as applicable. Each team has two unsuccessful reviews each innings, and an unlimited amount of successful reviews. This is obviously to stop players reviewing every single decision that doesn't go their way.
Today, at the MCG's Boxing Day Test match, Day 2, the debate about the UDRS was re-sparked. Three decisions were referred upstairs, two of which sparked some controversy:
- A very tricky caught-behind decision. The wicket-keeper, Brad Haddin, claimed a catch from a snick he had heard from the batsman, Kevin Pietersen. Few others were convinced but Haddin still called for a review: replays showed that Pietersen had clearly missed the ball. The appeal was correctly struck down, but afterwards, Australian captain Ricky Ponting was seen having heated discussion (and possibly arguing) with both central umpires, and Pietersen.
- A run-out attempt. The UDRS was not required, because the central umpire called for a TV replay, as was the procedure pre-UDRS. Unfortunately, the replay (24 FPS, I believe) wasn't good enough to show conclusively. In one frame, batsman Jonathan Trott was out of his crease, and the bails were still on; the very next frame, Trott was in, and the bails were off. The batsman must be given the benefit of the doubt in these situations, so Trott was correctly ruled in. This sparked the thought in my head that the cameras that are used for this purpose should be replaced with "super slow-mo" cameras that are already in play, for entertainment's sake (namely, physically swap them for the current cameras). I mention this one not because it adds much to the UDRS debate, but to express my personal view that technology could be better utilised inside and outside the UDRS universe.
- Bowler Mitchell Johnson finally got an edge, from batsman Matthew Prior (on 5 runs at the time, now on 75 at the end of the day). The edge carried and Haddin caught the ball. There was no question about this one: Prior had clearly hit the ball, he even started walking off the field, but umpire Aleem Dar called Prior back and called for a review of his own (since no player called for it, the UDRS was again not used, but this was the big one). Dar was a bit doubtful that the ball had been legal, and sure enough, the TV umpire relayed that the ball was, in fact, a no-ball. This meant Haddin's catch was disallowed. (To add insult to injury, no wicket has fallen since, and England are in an exceedingly commanding position to win the match and retain The Ashes.)
The Australian response - mostly from the crowd - was that Dar should have called the ball a no-ball right as the ball was bowled, as per protocol. Typical bloody Australians. Aleem Dar was dead right in calling for this decision. Very few people - Australians, English or otherwise - noted the (potentially) much more controversial point that Dar had already raised his finger to give Prior out before he expressed his doubt. But again, Dar was dead right to express doubt about his own decision. He also correctly used the technology available, correctly repealed his own decision, and correctly called the no-ball. This was the decision to change the course of the match, as already noted. (I wasn't a typical bloody Australian, but I was getting up everyone's nose - as usual - by being self-righteous and getting pissed off at the Australians' responses. But I digress.)
Now, my view on the whole UDRS stuff. I'm completely for using TV replays to call close ones, such as run-outs, but completely against giving power to the players to overturn umpires' decisions. I was always taught cricket - and other sports - with the above idiom that the umpire is always right. (In fact, they're more right than women, who are also always right.) The UDRS is basically letting the players go against that rule - by being able to dispute an umpire's decision. Granted, there are restrictions, but I don't believe it's enough. Given that the UDRS is here to stay, and assuming that it won't be removed ever, here are a few ideas I have for changing the UDRS for the better:
- Decreasing the amount of reviews per innings to one. This was a suggestion by the Channel Nine commentators, and I like it. Here's my take on it all. The UDRS has been abused more than used. With two reviews, players can gamble a little on close decisions and get away with it, losing at most one review. It's supposed to be for absolute shockers, such as being given out LBW when you've just gotten an edge on the ball with the bat. It's not for, say, being given out LBW when there might have been a 5% chance that the ball was travelling over the stumps, therefore being not out. With just one review, the players are more afraid to gamble, and will instead save their review for just the really obviously wrong decisions.
- Three central umpires, and no reviews for the players. I have no idea where to place the third central umpire, so this plan kind of fails a little, but more umpires would find more doubt for the crummy decisions. With, say, two umpires agreeing but a third expressing doubt, the TV umpire could be consulted without the players dissenting in any way. And yes, I classify calling for a review as "dissent".
- Having the TV umpire review appeals that the central umpires can't. Obviously, the central umpires can call bowled, caught, run-out, stumped, if they're very obviously out. LBW, it's a little trickier, so send it up unless it's very obviously plumb. If there's any doubt in the umpire's mind, send it up to the TV umpire. The ICC trialled this system during the six-day "Supertest" between Australia and a World XI some years ago. (The match only lasted four days in the end, but anyway.) Ultimately, it didn't take off, probably because of the comparatively little technology they had back then. I think it's time for a re-introduction. The ICC are being really uptight about umpires getting the correct decision anyway, so why not let the TV umpire jump in as much as possible? Even better, get him to watch every single ball, and respond to every appeal. (OK, that was a bit extreme.)
- Abolish the UDRS. This is the weakest of all the plans and goes against my assumption, so it can't be used. But that's exactly how I feel.
Since the UDRS is obviously here to stay, and there's not much I can do about it (since the majority of cricket lovers love the idea), I can only hope that somehow it's changed for the better. At least it's better than the official UDRS trial last year, when three reviews were allowed each innings. I can't change anything, as far as I know, so I might as well start campaigning for an end to the split-innings one-day format.