From Douglas Jardine to Clive Lloyd to Steve Waugh, many Test cricket captains can claim to have stamped their own mark on a national team. After the BCCI’s decision this week to use full DRS in India’s forthcoming series against England, Virat Kohli might well claim he has stamped his authority on a cricket board. The softening of the Indian governing body’s hardline stance, after years in which they resisted the use of DRS for a variety of reasons of varying strengths, is certainly a victory for cricket. But it is also a quiet personal triumph for Kohli himself, who has on many occasions spoken of his openness towards using the system.
As with DRS, nothing in the BCCI’s journey to this point is absolutely clear, but we can assume that the will of their Test captain was a major factor. Ahead of the recent series against New Zealand, although taking a far more open position than his predecessors, board president Anurag Thakur was still sceptical of the ball-tracking technology available: “Our only issue is whether a technology which is not 100 percent foolproof, shall we agree that error of judgement is equal with the standing umpire and with the technology available?” he had asked in late August, raising eyebrows amongst those who were reluctant to equate a highly sophisticated computer system’s capacity for error with that of, for example, Kumar Dharmasena.
Kohli himself then spoke forcefully before India’s second Test against New Zealand, stating that, "We wouldn't take [wrong umpiring] decisions too hard because we, in the first place, decided we would not use DRS. For us to then say that the umpires made an error and it is going against us, it is not logical. There is no room for excuses. Once DRS is in place, once DRS is up and running for us as well, then you can sit and think what are the grey areas.” Having led his team in matches where some rough decisions which cost them results could have been rectified under DRS, this was the strongest indication yet change was coming. Past Indian megastars’ qualms were effectively overridden by the current Captain Supernova’s quest for parity.
Another factor in the BCCI’s change of heart is perhaps the recent change in regulation reducing the “umpire’s call” margin of error for LBW decision’s given not out on field. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja must both have looked longingly at the ICC’s modification, wondering perhaps if they would have wreaked even more destruction among New Zealand’s beleaguered tourists than they were already. England’s batsmen, or at least their lower order ones, managed to eventually find some sort of solution to Bangladesh’s spin tasering in Chittagong this week. They will need even more resilience when they face India, with Ashwin, Jadeja and their captain now armed with this extra technological string to their already potent bow.
It is a good sign that India have finally relented and accepted DRS. It was increasingly silly that Test cricket was being officiated within uneven parameters, yet the BCCI’s years of reticence are not completely inexplicable, even if many see them as unjustified. India and Sri Lanka were the first two sides to trial DRS, in a Test series held in Lanka in 2008. For the tourists, it was a terrible introduction, leaving them feeling like a virgin smartphone user whose first ever mobile is a Samsung Galaxy Note 7. There seemed to be little ill-feeling towards the system going into the three Tests, but at the end of them India had managed only one successful review out of 21 while Sri Lanka had notched 11 out of 27. You can, of course, blame India for their own poor judgement but many incidents surrounding DRS’s debut were rather unsatisfactory.
In the first Test, Dilshan was reprieved on nought after being given out caught off an edge. The elements of DRS used failed to pick up any contact but Snickometer, set up at the ground but then considered too unreliable to use in DRS, registered a nick. The Sri Lankan proceeded to make a ton. India proceeded to feel a pick’n’mix of available technologies was unsatisfactory, a view posited even by Kohli as recently as 2014. In India’s second innings, Virender Sehwag was given out after Virtual Eye adjudicated the ball would have hit the stumps after hitting his back pad. It did not, however, also take into account the ball had clearly also diverted off his front one. Confusion reigned in the middle and in the commentary box, but India’s opener had to depart, possibly taking with him a fair amount of respect his team mates had for the system.
Rahul Dravid was left similarly miffed in the second Test at Galle, but it was an incident in the third match at Colombo, which was probably the most devastating in terms of how India would come to view DRS. Thilan Samaraweera was given not out for a leg before shout to Anil Kumble, but on review the ball was shown to be pitching in line and going on to comfortably hit the stumps. He was nonetheless allowed to continue to the consternation of his opponents and not least Sachin Tendulkar, who was injured and off-field could be seen gesticulating in annoyance in the dressing room.
Despite famously being saved by ball-tracking technology in the World Cup 2011 semifinal against Pakistan in Mohali, Tendulkar remained frosty (though not wholly opposed) to its use, his view a hugely influential iceberg in the path of the good ship of DRS.
In that same 2011 tournament, India’s loveless affair with the system continued when Ian Bell was reprieved in an LBW shout due to being over 2.5m from the stumps at the point of impact. This was a rule of which most of the home crowd (and doubtless most people watching everywhere) were unaware, the surprise fuelling the home anger. Skipper MS Dhoni was deeply unimpressed, observing curtly that “Adulteration is quite bad, whether it is natural or technology.” For an on field “not out” decision the 2.5m rule remains in place. In Tests, Dhoni and his misgivings over DRS significantly do not.
As powerful as Kohli’s views are, there is another figure whose influence has probably been very important in India finally adopting DRS. Though doubtless irritated by the 2008 teething problems, Kumble now holds the twin positions of Indian coach and chair of the ICC Cricket Committee. In the latter role, he chairs a gathering of cerebral ex-players who meet to ensure those in suits at the ICC are properly informed by those who used to be in kits. Some may quibble with a few of the committee’s recent end of days pronouncements on the dangers of big bats, but the arrangement undoubtedly ensures ICC administrators at least have access to a wealth of experience and even-handed advice. With DRS having been accepted in all other countries for some time, it is unlikely Kumble will have heard too many voices speaking up against it from within his sage committee. In fact, quite the opposite.
At a time when the BCCI is itself constantly under review from Justice Lodha for its deficiencies, it deserves credit for taking a rational step forward. Last week the company which manufactures Hawkeye gave Thakur and others a presentation of recent improvements to the ball-tracking technology and an explanation of the new Ultra Edge tool. Whether or not this satisfied the BCCI president’s threshold for the technology to be “100 percent foolproof” is not known, but what can be said is this: After years of fear and scepticism Indian cricket, prompted by Indian cricket’s greatest current star, has finally arrived at the correct decision.