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By Suresh Menon
The two most important lessons from the Ashes opener in Trent Bridge are: a) there is nothing wrong with the DRS technology and b) we can’t leave it to the players and their sense of fair play to correct an umpiring error. The confusion over the dismissal of Jonathan Trott when England batted was brought on by the technician being caught unprepared. Later, Stuart Broad stood his ground knowing he was out because the Australians had used up their appeals.
In the Trott case, the operator goofed up. The inventor of Hotspot was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph: “It was operator error. My operator did not trigger the system in order to cater for the Trott delivery. Instead the operator sat on the Root delivery in order to offer a replay from the previous ball and did not realise until it was too late that he should have triggered the system for the Trott delivery as the priority. Simple mistake, something that anyone could have made but my Hotspot operator has worked on the system since 2007 and to my knowledge this is the first serious mistake he has made.”
After the match, skipper Michael Clarke said, “England used the DRS better than I did.” There is something wrong with a competition which is ultimately decided by who use the technology better. Was last man Brad Haddin out? Going by Hotspot he was, and the bowler Jimmy Anderson’s lukewarm appeal was merely a side issue. Yet, technology had received such a bad rap through the Test that the temptation to blame everything on the technology rather than on the human factor is strong.
If the aim is to avoid howlers, then the decision-making must involve the third umpire making what our courts call a suo moto call – in Broad’s case, had the third umpire enjoyed that privilege, the batsman would have been declared out. Broad made 28 runs after the reprieve. Australia lost by just 14 runs. You do the math.
There is little point now in recalling the many instances when Australians stayed put when they knew they were out or players from other countries walked. India’s allergy to the DRS stemmed from its first-ever usage in Sri Lanka in 2008 when well-known ‘walkers’ in the side were shown to be ‘stayers’ by the new technology. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is right when he says that the system is not 100 percent perfect. What he – and by extension, the BCCI – ignores is the fact that it gets more decisions right than wrong. The human umpire brings to his job such things as experience, common sense, a feel for the way a pitch plays – but he could still miss a thin edge.
The machine, in contrast, can work out angles and distances and speed and trajectory in a split second. And Hotspot’s decision-making approaches a level of certainty that is often superior to the umpire’s.
But it is clear that something must be done if the embarrassment of batsmen playing on when millions around the world can see he is out has to be avoided. By making it a moral issue, we lose sight of the fact, however depressing, that some players see their gesture (staying on, rather than walking when knowing they are out) as a patriotic one, or at least one that serves their team rather than their sport. There is no punitive action for ignoring the spirit of the game, and match referees interpret it in too many different ways. Consistency is not their strong point.
A third umpire who can decide regardless of the players on the field, will have to be sharper and more alert than the two on the field. Perhaps we can have two of them rotating responsibilities off field. And when they see a blatant dismissal that has been given not out, they can tell the on-field umpire to imitate the beggar maid in Tennyson’s poem which begins ‘Her arms across her breast she laid…”