By Stuart James
The evolution of cricket has seen many changes in the past decade. The invention of Twenty20 has brought the game into the 21st century, but for the purists, Test match cricket remains the sport’s great spectacle. And for English cricket fans, the Ashes series with Australia will always be the game’s Holy Grail.
Ever since the first Test match between England and Australia in 1877, two great nations have partaken in some memorable contests with some iconic sporting moments. Don Bradman’s series average of 139.14 in 1930 remains a World record, while the Bodyline series of that same era, Jim Laker’s match in 1956, when he took 19 Australian wickets, and Ian Botham’s Ashes of 1981 are the stuff of legend.
More recently, Andrew Flintoff’s heroics in 2005 and Alastair Cook’s incredible durability and run getting in Australia in 2010-11, where he scored the second highest number of runs in a Test series by an Englishman, including his maiden first-class double-hundred and two further hundreds, and batted for over 35 hours during the series, are engrained in cricketing history.
The Ashes presents players with an opportunity to become part of that folklore, so it is with some sadness that the current series here in England will be remembered for not sporting, but technological reasons. And, more specifically, DRS.
The DRS, or Decision Review System, to give it its full title, is something that has been brought in to cricket to supposedly make it fair. A controversial decision gets reviewed to a third umpire, who will use the technology available to him to report back to the on field umpires and clarify whether a batsman should walk or not.
It all sounds so simple, so why has the current Test series become embroiled in controversy over the use of DRS? Put simply, it is because the technology is not 100 per cent true. Hot Spot, for example, is said to be only 90-95 per cent accurate and incapable of picking up the faintest of edges.
Hot Spot is one of three components of DRS and uses infra-red imagining to pick up where the ball has made contact with bat or pad. The others are Hawk-Eye, a virtual ball-tracking device that plots the trajectory of a bowler’s delivery, and snickometer, which is a sounding device that picks up noise as the ball hits bat or pad.
However, it is Hot Spot that is causing all the issues and reports this week suggest that players from both England and Australia are lacing their bats with silicone strips to fool Hot Spot, which is sure to lead to an investigation by the International Cricket Council.
England’s Kevin Pietersen is one player to come under the microscope after his dismissal in the second innings of the second Test at Old Trafford. He has strenuously denied the claim his bat was modified with Hot Sport not detecting the slightest of edges when Snicko suggested that there was.
It leaves the great sport of cricket in disarray. The game prides itself on proud, gentlemanly conduct and principles, so the last thing cricket needs in a high-profile Ashes series is controversy over its technology.
Much has also been made of the fact both teams have two reviews each per innings and whether the review system in place is for the good of the game. After all, with so many decisions causing such controversy, it merely undermines the authority of umpires, for whom the technology is supposed to help.
It is hard to not have sympathy for the umpires, who do an admirable job. And being human, they will make mistakes. Too often though, they are being left red faced as their decisions are overturned leading to experts and commentators to question their ability.
So what’s the answer? The DRS certainly adds an element of entertainment to the game, but it can’t be relied upon, certainly in the case of Hot Spot, until it is 100 per cent accurate. And what of the two reviews per team, which has caused controversy in its own right when the technology has shown a player to be out, only to remain at the crease because a team has used its two reviews?
Perhaps the time has come where the reviews are scrapped and the power lies in the hands of the umpire. By that, I mean that if they have an element of doubt in their mind, it is down to their discretion to ask for advice from the third umpire and seek clarity.
Remember the old days of run-outs, where an umpire wasn’t helped by television replays and had to make a judgement based solely on what they saw? Times have changed and it is rare for an umpire to give a run-out today without seeking clarity, so why can’t they do that for other aspects of cricket?
Cricket is far advanced from other sports in implementing technology, but if the 2013 Ashes series has proved one thing, at a time where other sports are crying out of its introduction, it is that it is not necessarily to the benefit of the game. Sadly the 2013 series will be remembered not for the brilliance of a player or team, but for the controversy surrounding the much maligned DRS.