BACK in March, when Australia played India in a Test series, the Decision Review System, the use of technology to query on-field umpiring decisions, was not used because India had not agreed to it.
During the series there were often howls of protest in Australian circles.
Australia played four Tests and was roundly thrashed 4-0. Several decisions which were said to be critical to the result went against Australia. There was no way to cross-check these decisions and the lament always was “if only these Indians had agreed to use the DRS…”
In other words, four months back, DRS was A Good Thing.
Overnight, Australia was pipped by 14 runs in the first Test of an Ashes series, the biggest international cricketing contest for the country. The old enemy, England, won by 14 runs – with the final wicket in the game, that of Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for 76, being decided via the DRS.
There were several times during the Test when the DRS was front and centre. There were times when obvious decisions were not given and Australia had no referrals remaining to raise the question. There were times when the DRS was invoked and it went against the Australians. And there was one case where electronic evidence was missing and a decision had to be made in its absence. This went against England.
This time, the whole of Australia thinks the DRS is A Bad Thing.
There are words like “controversial” and “diabolical” being flung around when the only things that happened are that umpires made mistakes, something they always do because they are human; because the technology failed to show things as conclusively as was expected; and, lastly, I suspect because Australia did not win.
For the uninitiated, each side has two referrals; if a referral proves to be correct, then the team continues to have the same two referrals. If it proves to be wrong, then the number of referrals drops by one. It goes without saying that judicious use of the referrals is needed. Else, a team might find itself in a situation where there is an obvious umpiring error and it has no means of questioning it.
The DRS has a number of components. When a referral is made, the legitimacy of the delivery is first checked, using TV footage. After this, the trajectory of the ball is checked – where it pitched and its projected path. And then in comes Hot Spot, which uses thermal imaging technology, to check whether the ball made contact with the bat or not.
It’s important to remember that the trajectory of the ball can only be plotted based on its existing real path. And this could well be erroneous. Fans of Australian rules football will remember one case in the grand final of 2010 when a kick made late in the game was travelling goalwards; the ball bounced and looked as thought it go through the sticks – which would have resulted in St Kilda taking a lead of five points and ultimately winning the game. But, as things happened, the ball seemed to develop a mind of its own and bounced away from the sticks and outside it, yielding just a single point. That levelled the scores at 68-all and it ended that way; it was replayed the next week and St Kilda was beaten.
Had DRS tcehnology been used to plot the trajectory of that ball before it finished its journey, it would have shown that the ball would have bisected the sticks. In reality, its path was different.
Another important thing to remember is that technology is never perfect. Only ignoramuses would assume that it is. Some of the first mainframe computers used to malfunction whenever people wearing nylon lingerie came too close – the static generated was enough to make these babies unable to operate correctly. Lightning that strikes nearby can kill electronic devices – it happened to a mate of mine in Columbus, Ohio, last week. He lost a couple of routers and his PCs froze.
Then there is human error – in the first Ashes Test, there was a case where an operator did not trigger the Hot Spot system to take a picture of a delivery that claimed the wicket of Jonathan Trott. Though Trott was given not out by the on-field umpire, the third umpire gave him out lbw. Had the Hot Spot image been available, it would have been abundantly clear that Trott had indeed got a touch.
But that’s how this world operates. You win some, you lose some. Some things go your way, others do not. Whinging is of no use. Adults should accept what happens and move on. There is no conspiracy at work; it’s a system devised by fallible humans – and such systems fail every single day.