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By Suresh Menon
As with all compromises, both sides claim victory. But that is hardly relevant. The International Cricket Council might feel its authority has been restored; the Board of Control for Cricket in India might feel that by rejecting Hawkeye and sticking to the elements it has no problems with, like Hot Spot, it has made a point too.
The important thing is that cricket umpiring has moved forward. India’s blanket ban on the Decision Review System has been lifted. What caused a breach in the BCCI’s stubborn resistance? Was it the announcement by Sachin Tendulkar that he was no Luddite but all for technology? Or was it the cricket-lovers and the media back home indicating that everybody was heartily sick of the BCCI’s grandstanding and chest-beating?
Administrative muscle-flexing is as much a tradition in cricket as the tea break. When Britannia ruled the waves, England did the same thing. By accepting the DRS in more than just principle, the BCCI has shown it is amenable to reason, and that is a change from its image in recent years. Of course, the Indian board has not agreed to everything, but it is a step, and any shift from its usual intransigence must be commended.
However badly India might have articulated their objection to the Decision Review System (best summed up by: “We don’t like it, so boo to you”), their image as the bullies of international cricket was bound to get in the way of any discussion. What effect the acceptance of the DRS by India will have on other issues, like the Future Tours Programme, will be revealed soon. The pound of flesh is usually the theme of ICC meetings.
As for the DRS itself, it is not perfect but technological aids certainly increase the percentage of correct decisions. Stripped of the rhetoric, that is the essence of the argument. Ball-tracking is tricky, and it will be a while before India can be convinced about Hawkeye.
A physicist will tell you that any system that is predictive is inherently flawed because you cannot tell with precision where a free particle will go when unobstructed. Hawkeye tells you where the ball is likely to finish up in relation to the stumps. So does the umpire on the field. The difference is that Hawkeye is more accurate when it comes to events preceding the rap on the pads – it is certain where the ball pitched, what its velocity was, and the angle at which it struck the pads. Hot Spot tells you if the ball took the edge. Over a period, greater the amount of information fed into these systems, greater will be the accuracy.
Technology will become more sophisticated, more reliable and cheaper. That is the nature of things. But without India’s acquiescence, there would be no incentive to research further. The DRS is an evolving system, and over years will approach perfection (even if it doesn’t actually get there).
The last time India played a series under DRS was three years ago. The two best-known walkers in the team, Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were both shown up on that occasion for standing their ground when the DRS clearly showed they were out caught. Just how much of India’s allergy to the system stemmed from those incidents is difficult to say.
In the current series in the West Indies (where there is no DRS), Indians calculate they had six decisions that went against them in the first Test. And how do they know this? Because television told them so. The devil can cite the scripture for his purpose, as Antonio reminds us in The Merchant of Venice. The Indian captain did not believe in the DRS but was not averse to using it to prove his point when his team was at the receiving end.
With India on the same page as everybody else, such contradictions will hopefully be eliminated.