The umpire’s Decision Review System (DRS) is a major innovation in cricket. Not only it gives viewers an idea about the accuracy of an umpire’s decision, but it also helps curb wrong decisions made by umpires, which mostly are common human errors.
Although it has made life easier for both cricket and cricketers, it has piled additional pressure on umpires, who nowadays have to be extra careful while making decisions. Widespread use of technology has left umpires with a minimal room for errors. Meanwhile, wrong decisions, as proven by the technology, sometimes put umpires in a somewhat bad light.
As a result, to understandably preserve the integrity of umpires, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has introduced the concept of “umpire’s call”, which gives a marginal advantage to the umpires for their decisions. However, there have been debates regarding this particular concept, with many arguing that the call makes no sense.
Is it really so? Let us investigate.
How does DRS work?
For starters, the DRS involves a batsman or the bowling side appealing against a decision made by the umpire. It is mainly used for caught-behind and leg-before wicket (LBW) decisions.
Following the appeal, the decision is referred to the third umpire, who checks the same using different camera angles and technologies, like Ultra edge, Hawk-eye, and Hotspot. While the third umpire gives an actual verdict of out/not out for the caught-behind appeal, the LBW involves an additional decision, known as the umpire’s call.
How does umpire’s call work?
The umpire’s call involves upholding the decision made by the on-field umpire in case of close LBW calls, where it seems that the ball might or might not have hit the stumps. For example, in case the Hawk-eye suggests that the probability of the ball hitting the stumps, in percentage terms, is lower than that of missing the stumps, the umpire’s call comes into play, wherein the umpire has the freedom to retain his original decision, i.e. in case the umpire has given it out, the decision stays, or vice versa.
As far as the law of LBW in DRS is concerned, it states that at least 50% of the ball needs to hit the stumps to rule the batsman out. However, if it is less than 50%, it is where the umpire’s call takes effect.
Original LBW law by MCC
Now, let us consider what the actual law for LBW is, as stated by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). According to Wikipedia, law 36, that concerns the LBW, states, “Following an appeal by the fielding side, the umpire may rule a batter out LBW if the ball would have struck the wicket, but was instead intercepted by any part of the batter’s body (except the hand holding the bat).”
Forthwith, it is to be noted that nowhere in the law, the percentage of the ball hitting the stumps is mentioned. The rule has been altered and modified for DRS. This is where the controversy comes in.
As far as the controversy goes, critics are split on the umpire’s call thing. While many say it is a fair call to give a distinct advantage to the umpires, some feel that the call makes no sense, thereby creating a mess.
Recently, legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, too, discussed the topic with Windies legend Brian Lara. Tendulkar said, “One thing I don’t agree with, with the ICC, is the DRS they’ve been using for quite some time. It is the LBW decision where more than 50% of the ball must be hitting the stumps for the on-field decision to be overturned. The only reason they (the batsman or the bowler) have gone upstairs is that they are unhappy with the on-field decision.
So, when the decision goes to the third umpire, let the technology take over; just like in Tennis – it’s either in or out, there’s nothing in between.”
“Somebody is unhappy with the on-field decision and that is the only reason they have gone upstairs, to the third umpire. And, when that happens, let the technology take over. Just like in tennis, it’s either in or out, there is nothing in between. Once you have decided to use technology, then you rely on it,” he added.
What % of the ball hits the stumps doesn’t matter, if DRS shows us that the ball is hitting the stumps, it should be given out, regardless of the on-field call. That's the motive of using technology in Cricket. As we know technology isn’t 100% right but neither are humans.#ENGvWI pic.twitter.com/8At80AtRs5
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) July 11, 2020
Comparison with tennis and explanation
As far as Tendulkar’s reference to tennis goes, the Hawk-eye is used in the sport to determine where the ball landed, i.e. whether the ball touched the sideline or the baseline. Also, the percentage system is not used in tennis, as even one percent of the ball touching the line is considered as In.
Now in LBW, things are a little different. While the procedure is the same, starting from the bowler releasing the ball to the point of impact, it is the post-impact trajectory that is questionable. The trajectory is projected based on the speed of the ball.
However, many question that the technology fails to consider the amount of spin generated by the bowler. Also, another factor that, I believe, could play a huge role is the wind speed, which could surely influence the ball trajectory.
Therefore, based on the above analysis, it certainly makes sense that the umpires are given a definite advantage in this situation and that the umpire’s call is a valid verdict.
Is Hawk-eye completely unreliable?
I admit that Hawk-eye in cricket is not 100% reliable. However, is the margin of accuracy certainly so low?
According to the developers, Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd., based in England, there is a mild flaw in technology. They say that the margin of error in Hawk-eye is about 3.6 mm. While many commentators have stated that the margin is too large for any sport, some believe that it is extra-ordinarily accurate.
Also, I would like to add that Hawk-eye has come a long way ever since its introduction in 2001. 19 years is a long time for technology to evolve. The arguments against Hawk-eye might have been a topic of hot debate during its initial days, but with the introduction of artificial intelligence, the technology has undergone a major upgrade, that has completely changed the landscape, making it capable of delivering near-accurate results.
Based on the above, Tendulkar seems to be quite right in saying that if the technology is available, why not use it completely, rather than limiting its scope. Furthermore, diluting it with human intelligence makes it even more complicated, as, in the case of umpire’s call, the actual law of the game is violated.
Former Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, too, voiced his support by tweeting, “Agree with you Paji 1000 per cent correct. If the ball is touching the stump or kissing the stumps it should be given out. It does not matter how much parts of the ball hit the wicket..few rules should b changed in the game for the betterment of the game..this is certainly 1 of those (sic.).”
Agree with you Paji 1000 percent correct.. If the ball is touching the stump or kissing the Stumps it should be given out..It does not matter how much part of the ball hit the wicket..few rules should b changed in the game for betterment of the game..this is certainly 1 of those https://t.co/m1PfaIpR8y
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) July 11, 2020
Also, former Test umpire AV Jayaprakash feels that doing away with the umpire’s call is the right thing. Neither human nor technology is 100% accurate. And, since the umpire, who is a human being, is finding it difficult to make the right call, it is the reason why it’s being referred to the technology available. Once referred, technology must have the final say, since it gives a near-accurate picture, which is impossible for a human eye to detect.
What happens to the umpires then?
Indeed, the umpires would somewhat lose their value if the technology is entirely being used. But, that’s the reason why there is a cap on the number of referrals for the DRS. As a result, the umpires would continue to be in the picture once the referrals have lapsed.
Furthermore, there are some occasions where even the technology fails to come up with a concrete result. In such a situation, I believe that the on-field umpires should have the final say, thereby preserving their integrity. Besides, the greater use of technology would allow the umpires to get even better at their jobs, as it would keep giving them a clearer picture of the entire scenario.
Let us not forget that the purpose of this technology is not to overshadow umpires and show them in poor light, but to keep the sport clean, and that was the sole reason why DRS was introduced in the first place.
In brief: Umpire’s call in DRS — Not necessarily required.