Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hawkeye

West Indies batsman Chris Gayle leaves the field after being dismissed against England at The Oval.
The Slow March

On the whole, I think that the DRS has been a very good thing for cricket. Back in the dim and distant past, umpiring shockers could blight an entire career, with some players seemingly magnets for the sort of decisions that make you sell your kit and take up tennis. I remember poor old Nasser having a terrible time in Pakistan in 2000/01, in one game getting sawn off lbw off the middle of the bat in the first innings, and caught behind off his pad flap in the second. Go further back, and you'll find England winning the Ashes in a six match series in Australia without getting a single lbw decision in their favour in the entire series.

Neutral umpires helped stop some of the rot, but even without bias (unconscious or otherwise) mistakes are a feature of umpiring. If a way can be found to reduce these, so much the better. The difficulty with the DRS is that so few people seem to understand what it's for. It's there to correct clear mistakes by the umpire - not to re-assess what the 'correct' decision is from first principles.

The Chris Gayle dismissal yesterday was a perfect illustration of this. Gayle had just changed up from first gear to fifth, on a pretty flat deck, and had all but hit Tim Bresnan out of the attack. Graeme Swann was brought on as a change of pace and, as you can see from the Hawkeye analysis at the Telegraph, bowled full and straight - every one of the five balls he bowled at Gayle would have hit the stumps. Good thinking this, because Gayle doesn't move his feet much, and just props forward in defence to the spinner. The fifth ball pitched just outside the off stump, went on with the arm and hit Gayle in front of the stumps. Bat and pad were jammed together, and the only question was whether it hit the pad first then bat or both at the same time.

Tony Hill thought about it, then lifted his finger. Gayle knew that he'd hit it, so called for the review straight away. On the replays it wasn't clear which had been hit first.

Now, in the Caribbean, opinions are clear on what should have happened next: it wasn't clear, so benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman. Not Out. Here's how Nagraj Gollapudi describes it at Cricinfo:

A hush immediately enveloped at the Oval as Kumar Dharmasena, the Sri Lankan third umpire, deliberated on the decision. As the minutes ticked, the intrigue only deepened. Hot Spot displayed two spots but the replays remained inconclusive about whether the ball hit pad first or bat. Some television pundits said that the time Dharmasena had taken to arrive at a decision meant Gayle should have been given the benefit of doubt. But Dharmasena ruled in favour of Swann. Hill raised his finger for the second time.

But here's the thing. While there is nothing in the Laws of the game to the effect that the benefit of the doubt should go to the batsman, it is very clear in the playing conditions for the DRS that the benefit of the doubt must go to the onfield umpire. Dharmasena didn't rule in favour of Swann. He ruled in favour of Tony Hill. When Gayle's decision was referred, the question wasn't "was he out?" It was "was I definitely wrong to give Gayle out?"

On that basis, if Dharmasena couldn't tell for sure whether it was out or not, what that means is that he can't say that Tony Hill was definitely wrong to give it. Not enough evidence to overturn onfield decision; decision stays. It was a tight call to give Gayle out (and I just wonder if it would have been given in Kingston), but it wasn't an obvious mistake - and that's what the DRS is there to correct.

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