Loss of innocence maybe celebration for some but then there are others who bemoan it with the kind of grief reserved for the dear departed. Many among us equate innocence with a world untouched by the magic of technology. Yes, there were no cars once, no carbon emissions and we had horses. Yes there was no processed food once and all we ate was organic. And yes, there was no hotspot, no ball tacking once and we had men in white coats and hats. Technology has profoundly changed our lives and in ways unimaginable. If it has made our life predictable and comfortable on one hand, then on the other it has spawned a slew of imponderables.
Is DRS an aid for the umpires or an unflinching electronic voyeur? Is it an umpire performance management mechanism or a bulwark of unrelenting commercialization of cricket? As DRS walks the gait of a newborn, skeptics are aplenty who are breathlessly talking abut how DRS has overshadowed the on field umpires and how it has put the batsmen at a decisive disadvantage. Quite a sight to see a world class umpire tapping his shoulders before overturning his own decision. Imagine a bowler who has bowled an excellent line all day, given few runs, taken wickets but fails to make a correct DRS call when most needed. He will most likely leave the ground guilty and scorned. Was he there to bowl good or judge good? A similar story for the wicketkeeper or the batsman who suffer guilt pangs for wasting precious reviews.
As I see it the intent of DRS is not to aid the on field umpire but aid correct decision making by minimizing errors of judgment. Were umpires not calling correctly earlier? They were indeed but without the billions riding on their decisions. DRS is, therefore, a bow to the onslaught of money, an instrument of precision to mitigate the butterfly effect on victory or defeat. That the batsmen are slightly disadvantaged is correct. Not that they’d be losing wickets to phantoms. Earlier batsmen would get the benefit of doubt whenever the ball hit the pads on the up or during the stride forward. DRS hinging on ball tracking technology has effectively killed that beneficial doubt to the batman’s disfavor. Ball tracker chases the ball into the future to confirm if the ball had pitched in line, if the impact was in line and finally if it would have gone on to shatter the stumps. LBW has always been a tricky decision, the real test of wits and reflexes of the on field umpire. No more. The players are the first to question umpire’s decision before non-challantly referring to the third umpire perched atop the stadium. On the click of a button, the third umpire travels back and forth in time benefiting both from hindsight and a peep into the future to cast a decision with the weight of a mathematical certainty.
The recent test series betweenEnglandandPakistanhas confirmed more than anything else the impact of DRS on batsmen and batting technique. Many a time it was more a contest between DRS and batsmen rather than bat and ball. Batsmen struggled to come up with a posture that could help them concurrently negotiate the turning ball and keep it away from hitting the legs. Unfortunately, batsmen lost the battle and we saw more than forty falling to LBW decisions. Without taking the credit away from some classy spin bowling, DRS was responsible in equal measure for the batting debacle. Truth is DRS is an unerring mechanism that virtually eliminates human judgmental errors. One is irresistibly tempted to question the LBW decisions of the past and how, if DRS had been available, it would have impacted the fortunes of the cricketing nations.
Why introduce DRS in baby steps? Present DRS model with limited number of reviews is akin to shaking hands when a full bloodied embrace is needed. The benefits are glaringly obvious. It minimizes the chance of error in the on field decision making. With so much money, so much emotion riding the game, on field errors can be extremely costly. One incorrect decision can plunge a whole country into despair. Evolution is a brute. It kills, maims, and disfigures stoking repulsion among those who straddle the times of change. But those who come after often say that the changes were a mere response to a world in flux and good for the game. I strongly advocate removing the on filed umpires completely.