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Gaurav Kalra
Thursday , June 30, 2011 at 11 : 23

DRS without ball-tracking: A sugar free candy bar!


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The leg before decision is a unique cricketing animal. Unlike any other mode of dismissal it relies as much on 'opinion' as fact. An umpire is called upon to adjudicate if in his view the ball had pitched outside leg-stump. Or was making its way over the top of the stumps. Or perhaps the ball had so much spin or swing imparted on it that while it appeared to be crashing into the stumps, at its very last second it would have whisked past them. The LBW empowers the umpire to offer a 'considered opinion' unlike say a caught behind or a run out. Where the facts are seen or heard. And are either true or not.    

This is precisely why an LBW causes the most heartburn of all cricketing decisions. How often does a batsman 'walk' for instance when an appeal for LBW is made? Even if the ball is hitting middle stump half way up? How often do bowlers mope about Cricket being a batsman's game, where the benefit of the doubt on every marginal call goes to the boys wielding the willow. Why is it that Javed Miandad wasn't given LBW in a game in Pakistan until the latter half of his career? Why is it that Michael Holding was so enraged at repeated LBW appeals being turned down that he knocked the stumps down with his foot in a series in New Zealand in the early 80s? The new born Sri Lankan Test team apparently invited umpires in a home series to team meetings and read out one thumb rule: 'Give us not out and them out on LBW appeals"!

The LBW was freed from the clutches of opinion and conjecture by the introduction of ball tracking technology. It allowed batsmen to seek redressal for not just blatant but even marginal decisions that went against them. It allowed bowlers a second life-line when everyone except the man in the white coat believed he had nailed the batsman. If there is one aspect of cricket that DRS repaired, it was the disquiet over LBWs.

The numbers are only too well known. A large majority of decisions reviewed in the World Cup were LBWs. And a significant percentage of those established that the on-field umpire was spot on. Technology told us, and the players, that the on-field umpires are mostly right. And when they are wrong, here is a tool that can correct that mistake in an instant. An aggrieved batsman was no longer ranting. An unhappy bowler was no longer grumpy about his least favourite cliche in the game: 'The benefit of doubt'. For years, the front pad was used as first line of defence. Suddenly, it was no longer safe to offer it. And cricket was refreshed by its original battle: Leather against willow.

Now to the larger issue of reliability. Isn't it amusing how we demand ball-tracking technology to be 100% fool-proof? What else may I ask in the game is? Is there an umpire in the business who hasn't made a howler? A bowler who hasn't bowled a wide? A batsman who hasn't played a dirty slog? A coach who hasn't made a tactical blunder? A fielder who hasn't dropped a sitter? A wicket-keeper who hasn't missed a stumping? A cricket board that hasn't made a single error of judgement? It is laughable that a technology that assures 95-97% reliability is being cast aside because of this canard of searching for 'perfection'. Is anyone willing to make the case that the reliability of ball-tracking is under 50%? 60%? 70%? 80%? 90%? So if on that one odd occasion, this technology does fail the game (Tendulkar's decision in World Cup Semi-Final?), must it be rubbished as 'unreliable' and 'unacceptable'?

Hawk-eye admits to its own short-comings. If it is uncertain beyond 2.5 metres it says so. Why not 2.4 or 2.6 we ask? Well, why is the pitch 22 yards and not 21 or 23? Must we nit-pick on such minor detail? If hawk-eye's evidence suggests the ball was merely clipping the outside of the leg stump it leaves the decision with the on-field umpire. And says 'umpire's call'. This is merely a tool to assist in decision making, not a science student aspiring for admission in Delhi's Sriram College of Commerce!

The merits of ball-tracking are there for all to see in Tennis. Admittedly, it does not plot a predictive path like in cricket. It establishes fact. However, if the same technology can show us within a second of a ball landing on the outer-most edge of a baseline then there must be some merit to it. Do you ever hear a tennis player exclaim, 'That was miles out, how can it be called in?'. Surely we can't argue that the system is so flawed that it will inevitably produce an incorrect outcome? If Wimbledon, perhaps sport's most officious institution, can allow Hawk-eye to be part of its decision making process, how can cricket be so insular?

Cricket has been badly let down by its governing body that allowed the BCCI to bulldoze it into this corner. So from the bluster of 'Significant progress has been made in ball tracking technology' to a meekly worded ' further independent and expert research will be carried out into ball-tracking technology and its accuracy and reliability', this is a shameful climbdown. What are we to believe? That the ICC's eyes were opened when presented with the scientific data offered by the BCCI? Or that we were led up the garden path by the ICC's bravado that dissipated once the musclemen from the Indian Board arrived?

What we have now is further damage to the core of cricket. Which other credible international sport allows its participants to choose playing conditions? Does Roger Federer decide if he wishes to play best of 3 sets or 5 at a Grand Slam? Does Cristiano Ronaldo decide he'd rather play four quarters and not two halves? Can Rory McILRoy choose the par value of each of the holes at the British Open? But Cricket lets India dictate that in series involving their team an 'unreliable' system is not to be used. But if others want a system that needs further 'research on its accuracy and reliability', they can go right ahead. To my mind DRS without Ball-Tracking, to borrow a phrase from the surprisingly eloquent Sid Mallya, is like a sugar free candy bar!

Every time you let a bully badger you into submission you add weight to its monstrosity. The ICC deserve the BCCI because it has bowed its head and accepted its place in the pecking order of world cricket. A battle worth fighting has been forsaken and only one combatant is squealing in delight. Just get rid of this damn DRS now, we can live with the odd inside edge and the occasional glove onto bat. All hail the LBW and relish it in its opinionated glory...z

You can also post your feedback directly to Gaurav Kalra on Twitter @gauravcnnibn.


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More about Gaurav Kalra

Gaurav 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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