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Umpire referral system is a welcome development
by Partab Ramchand
May 18, 2009
As one who has enthusiastically backed the umpires' referral system I was glad to read that the ICC has made it permanent. This summer's Ashes series will be one of the last in which the umpire's decision will be final. The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) as it is being called now is set to be introduced permanently into the game on the basis of a phased roll out from October 2009.

ICC chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, himself a keen votary of the system was predictably quite happy while making the announcement a few days after the two-day meeting at Lord's. According to Lorgat there was a fair amount of feedback from the players and most of it was positive as they accepted the fundamental thing that decisions should ultimately be got right. The system will be put in place following nine months' worth of trials which were assessed by the ICC's cricket committee so no one can say that it has been a rushed decision.

Though a final decision on whether the new system will become a permanent feature of Test cricket will be taken by the ICC's chief executives committee and their main board, whose next meetings are due to take place during their annual conference at Lord's from June 22 to 26 it is unlikely that the decision will be overturned.

The committee obviously felt that UDRS had a positive effect on the game by reducing the number of incorrect decisions and also cutting down on instances of player dissent. The period before October 2009 will allow the ICC to firm up the playing conditions, technical specifications and protocols, ensure additional training for match officials and further brief the players so that the process can be successfully implemented.

Any system in the embryonic stage will have starting problems. But if it is seen not with a jaundiced eye but with sympathy and understanding then it is worth pursuing particularly when it is something from which the game and the players will benefit. The UDRS during the time it was tried out as an experimental measure did ruffle feathers as quite a few decisions by the TV umpires led to dissatisfaction among the players. But there were many who welcomed the concept since it was hoped that the technology associated with it would help in eliminating human errors and under the circumstances was a step in the right direction.

There are those who are against the increasing role of technology in cricket especially as they feel it undermines the role of the umpires and turns them into robots. While there is some beef in this argument overall the greater use of technology is bound to produce the right results and the sight of a disappointed batsman incorrectly given out returning to the pavilion shaking his head in disbelief and looking back over his shoulder over and over again will hopefully soon vanish from the cricket field.

Though designed to reduce controversy, the new system - which gives players the opportunity to request a review by the third umpire of a decision made by the on-field umpire they believed was wrong - has so far muddied the waters in several instances, notably in the series between India and Sri Lanka last year and again in the Jamaica Test between England and West Indies in February this year. But as Lorgat said the protocols were clear, perhaps the application was not so good. In the ultimate analysis the new system for all its faults would reduce instances of bad decisions and that has to be good for the game.

The system has already got the green signal from umpires. The game's two senior officials Rudi Koertzen and Daryl Harper are of the view that the system gives everyone a second chance to get appeals answered correctly when umpires may have erred. The two respected umpires said that they would be happy if at the end of each day the decisions made are correct and players can enjoy a fair environment in which to compete against each other.

We have seen the referral system tried out at Wimbledon and it worked really well. There is no reason to believe that it will not work in cricket too. There is no chance of things getting out of hand since the number or referrals are limited. In the long run I am sure it will be hailed as a welcome development.

The one really unhappy aspect is the time it takes to arrive at a decision. The third umpire has to see various aspects of the dismissals before arriving at a final verdict and this sometimes has taken five minutes or thereabouts. These days a lot of time is wasted on various things during play with the result that it has become impossible to send down 90 overs in six hours. The positive side of this is to look at it as heightened suspense.

 
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