By Sunil Gavaskar
The Umpire Decision Referral System (UDRS) that the ICC has put in place has come in for a fair bit of flak. Skippers of teams using it have not liked it and umpires have shown a reluctance to be shown up as being wrong and having made an error. The whole idea to bring in the referral system was simply to avoid glaring errors that happen in the heat and pressure of Test and international matches.
Didn’t we all sitting in front of our TV screens exclaim when a decision went against our favourite player and ask why when slow motion TV replays are showing the error is it not possible to rectify it? The ICC listened and did what many wanted and after a trial period in ODIs brought in the referral system.
There were many countries reluctant to use the system who had the chance in various ICC forums to oppose it but did not do so. So it has been used in some Tests and internationals and as the Lankans observed that if it had been used for the just concluded Test series maybe they would have added 500 more runs in the series.
The problem has been that the game of cricket is such that youngsters are brought up to accept the umpire’s decision and not question it and there are fines in place whenever a player has expressed dissatisfaction over a decision made by the umpire. Now suddenly with the UDRS players can ask for the TV umpire to be brought in and the TV umpire can overturn the field umpire’s decision after watching the slow motion replays from various angles that the producer provides. Each team gets three referrals and if they get all three wrong then they don’t get any more for the innings and so captains and players have to be absolutely sure that they have got it right else they will have used up a referral unnecessarily. There could also be the case that a player may not realise that three referrals have been used and so if he does stay his ground and ask for a referral he could be up against the match referee for questioning the umpire’s call.
If the idea is to try and have as error free a game as possible without going away from the values that have made cricket such a unique sport, then the best way to go about the review is to have the TV umpire ask the field umpire to wait as he watches the replays and then conveys whether the call was right or not. This to my mind is infinitely better than a player asking for a review and it also is not restricted to just three referrals per team per innings. The player’s don’t challenge the field umpire nor are they worried about getting it wrong and costing their team one referral.
The grouse against the system is from players who have not used it properly and since they would rather not admit that they were wrong and the umpire right, they feel it is better not to have the system at all. Mind you these same players will scream if they feel that some decisions have gone against their team.
Umpiring mistakes will always be part of the game because it is humans who are officiating and they will have human frailties. The fact remains though that the main reason for friction between the teams is umpiring mistakes, which raise the temperatures and are seen as either being deliberate or too one-sided. It is for this reason that the ICC introduced third country umpires so that the finger of suspicion should be removed from Test matches. There is no doubt that it has brought down to a great extent the ill feelings between teams and the players are more likely to accept a third country umpire’s mistake than a home umpire’s error even if it is one that can change the course of the match.
The use of technology to try and get as correct a decision as possible is a good move and till the ICC is convinced that a particular technology is foolproof it will not use it and that is most sensible. That’s why it is used only for run-outs and stumpings where it is pretty clear if the batsman has got back into the crease or if he has stepped out at all.
The players accept these simply because they have seen the evidence and so are aware that it is correct. Yes, the TV umpire has to watch closely and make the call if the bails were out of their groove before the batsman regained his crease or not and if there is doubt he goes by the unwritten tradition of giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt. The same certainty is not there for leg-before or edges and that's why there is reservation among the players about referrals for such decisions.
With TV coverage improving by the day umpires’ decisions will always be scrutinised and debated and may will lead to a controversy unfortunate though it may well be but that is inescapable in the modern world where mistakes get highlighted more than the rights done.
The sensible thing would be for nobody to jump to conclusions about the rights or wrongs of the decisions made by the umpires who they accuse of jumping to conclusions.
That however is easier said than done.