UDRS: the time has come
While the Indian Cricket board's rejection of the Decision Review System for the series in England isn't really a surprise, its timing is rather intriguing. The series doesn't start till the third week of July. And at the end of June, an ICC chief executives meeting in Hong Kong will consider the recommendations of its cricket committee that asked for Umpire referrals to be made mandatory for all Test cricket.
The cricket committee is no ordinary body. On it sit some of the game's most iconic figures and vibrant minds. Its chairman is twice world cup winning captain Clive Lloyd. Astute men like Mark Taylor, Ian Bishop, Gary Kirsten, Kumar Sangakkara, Ranjan Madugalle and Ravi Shastri are also members. At its last meeting in May the committee 'unanimously' asked for UDRS to be used in all Test matches. Dave Richardson, the ICC's General Manager (Cricket) says, 'We've done a lot of work on the accuracy of the ball-tracking and our hope is the Indian board will take account of that and realise it does work. We are confident that people will see its benefit.'
The BCCI though has just told Mr Richardson and the rest of the cricket committee not to bother. So convinced are the BCCI that UDRS is flawed that they won't even wait till the end of June. Where at this meeting they will be presented evidence and data on how the technology has improved. Data that will reveal how the percentage of correct decisions has gone up. Evidence that will show how the technology has advanced. But nothing it seems will convince the Indian Cricket Board, who have already decided to reject the system for a series that is meant to be played after this meeting.
Its also curious that Ravi Shastri, who was party to that 'unanimous' decision by the cricket committee has adopted a stoic silence. Does he disagree with his BCCI bosses' view on UDRS? And if agrees with them did he voice his dissent at the ICC meeting? Perhaps in one of his columns or TV appearances Mr Shastri can elaborate. It was amusing to see newly appointed coach Duncan Fletcher being cut short at his first media interaction in Chennai by the incoming BCCI president, a known opponent of UDRS. "Mr Fletcher is unaware of the BCCI's position" was the logic offered. Right, so Mr Fletcher may have his own view but must now cast that aside and become a UDRS critic! Bizarre!
So for all practical purposes, once again it really is us (Indian Cricket) vs them (everyone else in Cricket). Watching the England-Sri Lanka series you can't help but appreciate the value UDRS brings. Kevin Pietersen's dismissal in Cardiff to Rangana Herath was a case in point. Only a mili-second before it struck the bat, the ball kissed Pietersen's pad. Technology established just that and Pietersen was given out after the umpire had initially turned the appeal down. And he was OUT. Kumar Sangakkara too was given out off the faintest possible edge that the umpire did not hear. But technology established he was out and the correct decision was made. None of this of-course registers with the BCCI.
A guiding principle in cricket is that the benefit of any doubt goes to the batsman. UDRS provides cricket a tool to reduce the quantum of doubt if not eliminate it altogether. So it actually upholds the basic premise of the game. It aids an umpire, as umpires concede themselves, and doesn't undermine them. The umpire was spot on when giving Pietersen not out, it was humanly impossible to tell whether the ball hit pad or bat first. However, once that doubt was cleared up, Pietersen had no business batting on. I dare say if his pie chucking off-breaks had resulted in a similar appeal he too would have asked for a referral. While first introducing UDRS the ICC made the argument that it was a 'leap of faith'. But since then technology has progressed and the BCCI's insistence on using the same argument to dig its heels in is downright arrogant.
Its ironic but even among senior Indian players there are vehement supporters of UDRS. Virender Sehwag is one and his logic is compelling. I asked him after the world cup if his support for UDRS had dwindled since both in the semi-final and final he referred his LBW decisions, and was proven wrong both times! Sehwag answered that on the contrary he was an even bigger supporter because at-least 'he got a chance' to question the decision. I asked him if Sachin Tendulkar was a convert after he escaped what appeared to be a plumb LBW to Ajmal in the semi-final. And he cheekily answered, 'You will have to ask Tendulkar'!
A large majority of players support UDRS because it doesn't leave them to the mercy of cricket's 'glorious uncertainty'. Umpiring errors cause much heartburn and by having the opportunity to contest decisions, players feel a greater sense of empowerment. When technology exposes errors, it undeservedly puts a hapless umpire in the firing line. As the quality of TV coverage improves it only makes sense to embrace it in the running of the game. Surely it is no one's case that hot spot, hawk eye and snicko must be banished from the game altogether?
By burying its head in the sand, the BCCI has yet again opened itself up to ridicule. It is saying to the engineers and developers who work on the technology, the large majority of players who support it, the administrators who have devoted time, energy and intellect to improve it, that they are fools. That we, the Indian Board decide what works and what doesn't. M S Dhoni's logic of not buying a life-jacket unless there is a "100% warranty" is amusing. If a ship is sinking and there is only 99% chance that one would survive, I would take my chances. Surely, its not the Indian skipper's case that one must sink along with the ship because there's a 1% chance the life-jacket won't work!
Cricket can take pride in the leadership it has shown in embracing technology in comparison to any other sport in the world. The third umpire made the game fairer and more equitable. And now with UDRS an even greater leap can be made in that direction. This nonsense of both boards involved in a series agreeing on whether UDRS is to be used or not has to end. By the same token, perhaps boards can then choose whether or not to permit LBWs or run outs in a series! If the BCCI refuse to concede, they must be told to. The regulations governing cricket must be standard and mandatory. Why must we wait for consensus, a majority is enough. Governments around the world work to that principle, surely cricket can too.
You can also post your feedback directly to Gaurav Kalra on Twitter @gauravcnnibn.
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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