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The DRS system

A friend asked me over the weekend whether the DRS system would permanently change the game. I think the answer is yes, but it’s too early to tell to what extent. One impact will be on batting technique, as batsmen reduce the risk of being given out LBW; another will be on bowling as slow bowlers, in particular, adopt a more wicket-to-wicket line. But over the course of Test match history, the batting/bowling balance has remained remarkably constant, in the sense that the average wicket has pretty much always cost around 30-35 runs. In other words, in the arms race between the batsman and the bowler, measure has always been met with countermeasure. I suspect this will happen as the players adjust to the DRS system, once it is universally used, as it surely must be. What should we look for over time as a measure of its impact? I suspect the most telling statistic will be the average number of overs required to complete a Test match, as the game is speeded up by more frequent dismissals.

Simon Wilde has written a nice article on the DRS system in the London Sunday Times today (5 February, 2012). I would provide a link, but it’s a subscription only article (and I don’t have one!). Amongst other good points, he notes how the different Test sides differ in how skilfully they use the system. In other words, what percentage of reviews are successful? Ignoring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, on the grounds that they have only played one Test each under DRS (and had a 0% review rate!), the success rate ranges from 31.18% for England down to 17.02% for West Indies. That means that England are nearly twice as likely as the West Indies to make the right call – clearly, there’s a skill set here that the Captains and their closest advisers need to master. Australia are also pretty good at 30.88%, while Sri Lanka (20.00%) are almost as dismal as the West Indies.

I must say that, as a slow bowler at amateur level, I wish we had the DRS system in our games. Of course not only do we lack it, we don’t even have neutral umpires. Instead, in the manner immortalized by time, a member of the batting side adjudicates on the fate of his own team mates. And what joy for the bowler that generally brings… In our club, we invented the term “Gazunda” for plumb LBWs that are turned down by the batsman’s brother/father/son/best friend. The derivation was that the bowler would argue, fruitlessly, that the only way the ball would have missed the stumps would be if it had a little shovel attached and burrowed its way under them! We would also commiserate with the suffering bowler by offering words of sympathy such as “looked a bit too low mate, definitely going under ‘em” – the irony was often lost on the opposition, but the fielders got the point…

And even with neutral umpires, the long suffering bowlers don’t always get their due reward. I vividly remember a game in the Philadelphia International Cricket Festival a couple of years ago. It was a hot afternoon, the batsmen were big and meaty, the pitch was Astroturf, and my deliveries were getting tonked around (and, as my dear colleagues were keen to point out, deservedly so…). But off the fifth ball of my final over, there was a run out (and, as my dear colleagues were also keen to point out, it had seemed like I was bowling for one…). In strode the new batsman, and I figured I had a chance of nailing him before he adjusted to the light, the pitch, the conditions, etc. So I rammed down my quicker ball (it’s all relative), with just enough cut on it to beat the defensive prod and rap the pads as the batsman played back, standing right in front of all three stumps. My many years of experience told me that the ball would have hit half way up middle stump. Thrilled and relieved, I bellowed out my appeal, looking at umpire Ernie, a man I had known for years, playing in the same side and sharing many a pint. Surely Ernie would give it! But no, the old bugger stared right back at me and said loudly and clearly “That is Not Out”. And so the 8 year old survived… Such is the life of the poor suffering bowler in the world of amateur cricket. DRS? Yeah, I wish…

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4 Responses to "The DRS system"
  1. Rajan Sahay
    Reply rajan February 6, 2012 09:58 am

    I did an article about technology in cricket just before the start of the Aus-India series, where I state that technology adds to the entertainment of the game but should not undermine the on field umpires.

    What the Pak-Eng series shows is that technology has impacted the umpires themselves. Emboldened by the fact that a ball, theoretically clipping the leg bail by 2mm is a dismissal (poor Kevin), umpires can go wild! Batsmen have to alter their game, spinners in partiucluar can celebrate and test matches will reduce to 3 or 4 day events.

    Not sure where this leaves us. Time will tell.

  2. Moore
    Reply Moore February 6, 2012 18:40 pm

    Yes, I think the concern here is that the traditional concept of “benefit of the doubt” going to the batsman is being overlooked in the truly marginal calls. Of course DRS does work both ways, in that some bad calls against the batsman are now being reversed (provided the batting side has an appeal left available). Overall, time (maybe a year or two?) will tell whether Tests truly do become shorter when DRS kicks in fully.

    • Nikhil Puri
      Reply Nikhil Puri February 6, 2012 19:20 pm

      Was actually going to make a comment on the “benefit of the doubt” issue. This new system undermines that concept and it must be addressed by the umpires and administrators alike.

  3. John Woodbridge
    Reply John February 14, 2012 13:57 pm

    Some interesting stats for DRS from the WC:

    I heard the Sky commentators during the Eng v Pak series banging on about how bowlers are changing their techniques (bowling flatter – only 1 bowler by the way) and batsman are adopting new methods because of DRS. My opinion is that LBWs have always been there as a method of dismissal and a review of whether someone is out or not doesn’t change the result, we just get the correct one. I’d love to see more stats on whether DRS has increased the number of dismissals or simply improved the accuracy of decisions (remembering it works both ways).