‘ICC must commit to having a trained umpire for Decision Review System’

Leg before the wicket or LBW has remained one the most controversial modes of dismissals in cricket. The number of variables involved in reaching the right call like where the ball pitched, whether it hit the bat before hitting the pad, was the batsman offering the shot or not, the bounce, which part of the body has ball hit, height, bounce, seam, swing… and most importantly what does the umpire on-field think about all these.

With improved technology, the umpires have started to come under more spotlight as the viewers could watch all that and more on their television sets. Much earlier before the current technology, broadcasters started using the technology to draw a virtual path to show where the ball would have pitched and predict the path of the ball after it hit the pad. When the International Cricket Council decided to co-opt this technology into the Decision Review System, it was generally believed that this could be the end of all the controversies surrounding LBW.

But technology can rarely be implemented 100% perfectly in sport. So, something called umpire’s call was allowed to be part of the DRS protocol prominently for LBW decisions, to cover for this margin of error.

According to ICC’s playing conditions, umpire’s call of the review system is defined as: a concept within the DRS under which the on-field decision of the bowler’s end umpire shall stand, which shall apply under the specific circumstances set out in paragraphs 3.4.5 and 3.4.6 of Appendix D, where the ball-tracking technology indicates a marginal decision in respect of either the Impact Zone or the Wicket Zone.

However, this umpire’s call has been a bone of contention with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne questioning it during the Australia-India Test series. spoke to Ian Taylor, Managing Director of Virtual Eye, one of the two companies (the other being Hawk-eye) to know more about the system in place and what could be done to improve the protocols. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Question: Why is the umpire’s call protocol needed? Can you kindly explain a bit of the technical aspect?

Ian Taylor: The umpire’s call was introduced to acknowledge:

a: that the purpose of DRS was to identify the clear “howlers” — those mistakes that obviously needed to be overturned.

b: it recognised that DRS was the only process using technology in an official category to “predict” where a ball might go. Most uses of technology is to show “where a ball has gone. Example, goal-line technology in football.

c: the accuracy of any “predictive” process is reliant on the amount of data that is available to make that prediction… so if the ball is pitched up and only travels a couple centimeters before it hits the pad there is less data than if it travels, say a metre. That can have an influence on the prediction. The testing done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that we all had to undergo, set the parameters that determine what should be allowed for the howler.

d: where there is no clear evidence of a “howler” the umpire, being the person on the field, is given the benefit of the doubt and his decision is left to stand.

Much has been said about this but if commentators reminded viewers that the purpose of the DRS was to overturn howlers this would make sense. The approach is always to assume that the umpire has made the correct decision and that decision should only be overturned if there is sufficient evidence to prove it was a mistake.

Is there better technology available to make that judgement? Maybe more cameras or better cameras… but it is not in use due to cost or some other reasons?

It would be possible but if you had seen the technology that MIT used to test our technology you would see that it would be much more expensive than it is now, and much more intrusive. Technology is improving and there are things that we are doing to improve things but the ICC doesn’t fund any of this so you have to draw a line somewhere.

Has the idea of taking away the umpire’s call away ever been discussed? If yes, when and where?

I have a different view for the way DRS should operate. The ICC should commit to having a specially trained DRS umpire who sits alongside the DRS team — ball tracking, snicko, hot spot — and that person would be the person who made the decision as to whether or not a decision should be reviewed (not the players). That person would be the one who reviewed all of the technology available to them and be required to make a decision only on the basis of whether or not they had seen something that clearly would have changed the decision the umpire had made in the field. This way you have an umpire still making the call — but this time it is informed by technology. It means that any decision can be reviewed but it is being reviewed by someone who has the best seat in the house and the best technology available to him.

I recall an instance with Tim Paine during the Boxing Day Test [2019] against New Zealand at Melbourne where he questioned his LBW to Neil Wagner, on camera, a call we had made because from where he stood it seemed we were wrong. We invited him to see the technology and that particular decision and he was really surprised and just how much information we had, instantly, that a person on the field did not. It is very sophisticated.

We had another example this year where questions were raised about a ball that we predicted would have gone over the stumps which most commentators thought was hitting. We reviewed it later on air and showed previous balls bowled by the same bowler, hitting the exact same spot on the pitch that were let go by the batsman and they were above stump height. We were also able to show that of all of the bowlers, he was delivering his ball from the highest height [release point] meaning the bounce going out was greater. A trained third umpire would see that immediately and would have all of that data available to him.

Statistically speaking, if there was no umpire’s call, how would that have affected the results of the game in the last five years? If the technology showed its wickets hitting and umpire would have not given out?

I don’t think that is the question. I think the question should be were any “umpire’s call” decisions a howler. I think the answer to that would be no.

While judging the trajectory of the ball after pitching, does hawkeye take into consideration where the match is being held, Kotla or MCG or Durban or SSC? If yes why, if no why?

The technology takes all of that into account simply because of what it is doing. We track every ball in it’s real flight — that real flight is influenced by all of the things that you mentioned: flight, sin trajectory, moisture, elevation in the world etc etc. If the ball is new then the track of the ball *is* the track of the new ball in those conditions. As the ball get’s older the track (flight) changes.

There is a misconception about the technology. The technology is actually measuring exactly what the ball is doing under the conditions it is being bowled in. That’s why the flight paths from the same bowlers change over the day. The algorithm for the predictive path works on the data that is fed into it and that data changes with the conditions because the ball flight changes with the conditions.

To conclude, I believe there is a way to improve DRS and that would be to have a specifically trained umpire who fully understands the technology, sitting alongside the DRS team. That person will decide whether or not a decision needs to be reviewed. It makes no sense to me that a team runs out of options to review because they have used up their reviews. The main reason for limiting the number of reviews was to stop players from calling them every time. This solution means they don’t get to call them at all and the responsibility and trust is placed in a specifically trained umpire to make the calls whenever the evidence suggests it should be made.

From the experience we have had over the years those decisions can be made by skilled people very fast.

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