Similar to every other aspect of life, history is often repeated in the playing field as well. As India embark on their first full tour to Sri Lanka in close to a decade; the Island nation being their first stop before sterner tests in South Africa, Australia and England, history will be repeated once more.
When India walk onto the field at Galle on Wednesday, it would be nine years and three days since the controversial Decision Review System (DRS), then called Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), first came into being.
Thus it’s quite amusing that the two teams — India and Sri Lanka — that were part of international cricket’s first experiment with the use of technology to improve umpiring decisions, back in 2008, will be locking horns again, in what also would be their first full series on Sri Lankan soil since then.
For the DRS, which has been overhauled countless number of times during all these years, the tour would be a home-coming in a sense, back to where it all started.
It is an open secret that it was India who initially pushed for greater use of technology in cricket, after being at the receiving end of numerous howlers in the Sydney Test in 2008. The clout of the BCCI, along with vocal support from other players and administrators meant UDRS became a reality within the short span of six months.
Cricket was never the same after this. And neither was the DRS.
Much has changed since then. From being one of the foremost voices welcoming the DRS, India became its staunchest opponent, after a bad series against Sri Lanka in 2008. In that series, India managed only one successful review while Sri Lanka made 11 successful reviews. The bitter experience of that series ensured that for a long duration, India were not convinced about using the DRS, arguing that the technology being used was not foolproof. Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest cricketers of all time, was one of the foremost voices from India who was not convinced by the review system.
Although it is debatable if refraining absolutely from using the system is the best way forward, the various changes and controversies surrounding the implementation of DRS haven’t helped it’s cause either.
Initially, a team was allowed three unsuccessful reviews per innings, which was later changed to two reviews per innings, as three was considered a review too many. If this meant that everything was resolved, one would have been mistaken by a long mark.
There have been many instances in the past few years, which suggest that DRS is not the panacea for all the problems. Although the larger consensus still tilts in favour of keeping the system, not many can argue that there still lie a plethora of issues that need to be worked out.
Consider the case of Ian Bell in the 2011 World Cup against India. The stylish English batsman went down to sweep a delivery from Yuvraj Singh, only to be struck in front of the wicket. As umpire Billy Bowden gave it not out, India reviewed the decision. The ball was in line with the stumps and would have gone on to hit them, but Bell wasn’t given out because he was more than 2.5 metre down the track, a distance from where the tracking abilities of Hawkeye weren’t considered reliable back then.
The incident caused much upheaval, with the ICC forced to give an explanation, and eventually tweak the rule in question. This tweaking has resulted in questionable decisions like the one during the Perth Test between Australia and South Africa in November 2016, when Steve Smith was given out to Keshav Maharaj even though he was a long way down the pitch.
In 2011, Rahul Dravid was given out in a ODI when Snickometer confirmed that there was some noise after the ball went past the bat. But the problem here was that the umpire based his decision on a technology that wasn’t to be used under the prevailing conditions.
More recently, in the case of Nathan Lyon during a day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand in 2015, even after a spot visible on Hotspot, the umpire didn’t think there was enough conclusive evidence to overturn the on-field decision of 'not out'. Lyon went on to make 74, that turned the match.
These cases clearly establish that there remains plenty of room for improvement in both the DRS, and in its confusing rules and laws, which make its interpretation an arduous task.
Another major issue with the DRS so far has been the issue of uniformity in the use of technology.
Hotspot, Hawkeye, Snickometer and so on are technologies that cost a fortune.
Not all cricket boards earn enough money to finance these technologies, leading to a situation in which the same game is played with different set of technologies in different parts of the world.
Ideally, the cricket’s governing body should take the matters in its own hands, but so far the ICC has lacked the spine to take such a step.
Now that India have finally relented, agreeing to have a look at the improvements made in all these years, maybe the DRS has a chance to be universal — if 'big brother' is satisfied. The change has occurred majorly because of two factors — the fact that the technology has actually made a giant leap over the years and that the generation of players who opposed the DRS are no longer active.
The frame rates of the cameras have increased from 75 frames a second in 2011 to 340 at present, greatly improving the accuracy of predicting a ball’s path, one of the biggest concerns of the BCCI. The other concerns of the BCCI were further calmed by former India coach, Anil Kumble, who oversaw the developments personally, in his role as the head of ICC Cricket Committee. Kumble further galvanised the support of Virat Kohli, who echoed his support for using the DRS.
Although the cricketing world is moving in the right direction with all the nations agreeing to the use of DRS, instead of gloating over it, one needs to take a step back and ask a few questions.
Is the purpose for which DRS came into being — of removing the absolute howlers, being met? Has the present DRS, with captains deciding on referrals, become more of a tactical gimmick, instead of helping umpires make better decisions? And while we are on the subject of umpiring, is challenging the decisions of umpires every now and then making them doubt their own abilities? And, finally, how long before umpires go the way of the dinosaur and technology completely takes over?
Maybe it’s time to call for a review of the Decision Review System itself. Maybe not. Umpire's call.