By Tony Cozier
FAR from simplifying the game’s most contentious playing condition, the chief executives of the International Cricket Council (ICC) member boards complicated it further at their gathering in Dubai last week.
They spent two days concentrating primarily on the umpires’ Decision Review System (DRS) that has created such confusion since its introduction, more especially over the past year.
The appraisal, the ICC stated, was prompted by the performance of the DRS during the summer’s Ashes series in England. A trial was conducted during
the third Test in Manchester; the Australian and English boards both filed reports on the issue.
Throughout, there was a host of contentious decisions, for and against, that tended to overshadow the cricket. It got so bad that the ICC dispatched its general manager of cricket, Geoff Allardice, to England mid-way through to try to quell the players’ dissatisfaction.
On that score, the Caribbean would also have been worth a visit during Pakistan’s ODIs against the West Indies in July. The DRS was causing mayhem here as well but this was a low-key contest set against a series between Test cricket’s oldest and fiercest rivals.
The truth is that, three years since it was established to “eliminate obvious mistakes as its first priority”, off-field umpires adjudicating on referred decisions from images fed to them on their television screens still seem baffled by the technology.
So what did the wise men of the chief executives’ committee come up with?
They unanimously turned down a proposal from England for teams to retain their review if an lbw decision comes back as “umpire’s call”. Instead, they decided to increase each team’s number of referrals by adding two after 80 overs of an innings to the original two. The condition comes into effect in all Tests on October 1.
(India are unlikely to be included. With the clout they presently possess, they, and only they, refuse to use the DRS).
As it is, the fans in the stands and the millions of others in their drawing rooms or in sports bars watching on their available screens are kept waiting while the television umpire seeks replay after replay to determine whether a boot is on or behind the line, there has been just a faint edge to the ‘keeper or a claimed catch hasn’t bounced between it enters the fielder’s hands.
All this can take as long as three minutes; even then, as has become plain, a flawed verdict can be returned.
With, say, six referrals an innings, some upheld, some declined, it can take up the equivalent to two or three overs, another issue that the Dubai confab considered. The addition of two more after 80 overs – and most Test innings extend beyond that – means more time wasted.
Jonathan Agnew, the BBC commentator and himself a former Test cricketer, called it “bonkers”.
“Reviews need reducing, not increasing,” he twittered (I believe that’s the correct terminology). “Paves the way for more speculative time-wasting lbw reviews.”
It certainly appears to negate the stated assertion from the meeting that the umpires intend to “become far stricter on poor over-rates.”
Perhaps Agnew shouldn’t get too hot under the collar. The ICC has assured us that it will be a trial; the results are to be “monitored and considered” by a yet to be created working group that would determine how best to use the available technology.
“The considerations of the group will be wide ranging and include a review of the objectives and philosophies of using technology, the technologies, protocols and procedures as well as the role and training of television umpires,” the ICC explained.
It was a paragraph that should have been written from the time it was decided to use technology in all its guises in 2009. It is an acknowledgment that television umpires remain unaware of their roles and haven’t been properly prepared for their specialist jobs.
Given the known divisions within the ICC, anyone with even a limited knowledge of working groups, at any level, may doubt whether this one can make an impact. Whether or not this is misplaced cynicism, the coming year will tell.
The CEOs certainly found no agreement on the recommendation of the cricket committee (comprised mostly of former Test players) that the use of one ball from each end throughout an ODI should remain.
According to the ICC statement, they “discussed the matter at length” but remained divided. India pressed for the reversion to one ball since they are convinced two reduces the effect of spin. In the end, with no accord, the regulation stays as is, except for one slight alteration.
Seemingly anticipating the deadlock, the cricket committee included an conciliatory rider that only one ball would be used in a match reduced to 25 overs or less prior to the start of the first innings.
The assertion that umpires are to become “far stricter” on slow over-rates (very rarely does any team maintain the acceptable 15 overs an over on a Test day) is not new.
Yet there are still constant, unscheduled interruptions of play – for changes of gloves or boots, for the delivery of helmets, for a drink or two for a weary player, for prolonged medical attention.
Even without such interludes, the game can be deliberately reduced to a crawl as a tactic by captains seeking to suppress the opposition’s scoring rate. England, for instance, managed to get away with 11 overs an hour during one period of the final Ashes Test, Australia weren’t much better.
At present, captains are fined for lagging over-rates in Tests or suspended in ODIs. Although the ICC made no mention of it, it is understood that penalty runs against the offending team gained plenty of support at the Dubai meeting.
That is a more sensible solution than the increase in DRS referrals. Whether it would be accepted by the ICC’s executive board, as all the other have to be, is another matter.