In the second Ashes Test at Edgbaston in 2005, Michael Kasprowicz gloved a rising delivery from Steve Harmison to Geraint Jones behind the stumps. The umpire, Billy Bowden raised his crooked finger to a vociferous appeal. That was the last Australian wicket remaining. They lost a nail-biter by 2 runs.
The replays suggested that Kasprowicz’s hand was off the bat when he gloved the bouncer. According to the rule book, he was not out. However, it was nearly impossible for Bowden to spot that in the split second during which the ball passed the batsman.
It was quite similar to marginal run-out and stumping decisions, called by the on-field umpire until 1992. They did so standing yards away from the action with the event taking place in a fraction of a second. In cricket’s first introduction to technology, the third umpire (or TV umpire) was employed to assist the on-field umpires to make such decisions through TV replays. It turned out to be an extremely helpful exercise becoming a necessity in modern-day cricket.
Fast forward to January 2008, Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland told the Australian, "There have been some advances in technology that cricket can continue to explore”. Sutherland’s comments came during the course of a controversial Test match between Australia and India in Sydney.
The match constituted a series of howlers by umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson. It led to a furore and Bucknor, who was supposed to officiate in the subsequent Test was sent back home. Sutherland advocated the concept of player referrals after a second consecutive poor day for the umpires.
By March, ICC approved the trial of the review system during a Test series in the calendar year. The England and South Africa boards failed to reach an agreement to implement the new system in the 2008 Basil D'Oliveira Trophy. But Sri Lanka and India agreed. The Umpire Decision Review System (popular as DRS) made its debut on this day in 2008 at SSC, Colombo.
India’s skipper, Anil Kumble was the first captain to use it when the umpire turned down Harbhajan Singh’s lbw appeal against the left-handed opener, Malinda Warnapura. The replays cleared that the on-field decision was right.
On the same day, Tillakaratne Dilshan became the first man to continue batting despite being adjudged out by the on-field umpire. Sending the question upstairs, the decision was overturned in the batsman’s favor. Later, the snick-o-meter (not used in the review process then) cleared that Dilshan was indeed out caught behind.
In a similar vein, Virender Sehwag became the first unfortunate batsman to head back to the pavilion under the process. The procedure to overturn the decision included questionable application of technology and human judgement.
The three-match Test series witnessed only one successful review from India and 11 from Sri Lanka. The review of the Review System deemed it a promising concept but with a big scope of improvement.
Journey & early jitters
No other cricketing rule has gone through as many changes as those determining an LBW decision. The DRS falls on the same line undergoing a plethora of changes in every aspect to achieve its intended goal - removing umpiring howlers from the game.
The number of reviews available per side, the technologies used, the interpretation of the umpire’s call have changed across the brief 12-year old history of DRS.
With the uncertainty surrounding around these protocols, the use of DRS stayed dependent on the participating sides.
Holding the short end of the stick in Sri Lanka, India showed strong opposition towards the system doubting its accuracy. They refused to use DRS for their home Tests against Sri Lanka in 2009 and stayed away from it whenever possible.
In 2009, ICC introduced Hot Spot as a DRS tool, implementing it on trial basis in two Tests between South Africa and Australia. The real-time snickometer and UltraEdge came into the picture later.
The Hot Spot, however, was an expensive commodity and in countries except England and Australia, the homes sides could not afford it. This highlighted more inconsistency in implementing the method.
The Hot Spot was eventually shelved for the 2011 World Cup, the first ICC event with a vast use of the system.
The tournament saw another DRS controversy. In the tied game between India and England, the ball-tracker showed a straighter delivery from Yuvraj Singh clattering straight into the stumps if it had not hit Ian Bell’s front pad on the way. Seeing the replays, Bell started walking back to the ground. The on-field umpire, however, stayed with the not out decision by the virtue of the dubious 2.5-metre rule. This rule too was discarded later.
The number of reviews per side have fluctuated from one to three depending on the format.
After various experiments and modifications, ICC pushed to make DRS mandatory across all international games in June 2012 but was again opposed by BCCI.
It was not until 2016 when BCCI warmed up to the DRS. The system started producing consistent results for an appreciable period after further refinements. The BCCI agreed for a trial run in the five-match Test series against England at home. Coincidentally, the first Indian skipper to use the system, Kumble was the coach of the Indian team alongside heading the ICC Cricket Committee.
The current state
The current version of DRS (pre-COVID) has yielded consistent results since its initiation in November 2017. While T20Is allow one unsuccessful review per side, teams are assigned two unsuccessful reviews in both ODIs and Tests. In the current COVID circumstances, teams have an additional review (in Test cricket as yet) to make up for local umpires.
A time limit of 15 seconds has been set to take the review after the umpire’s decision to avoid teams from taking excessive time. Ball-Tracking and Snickometer have become irrevocable parts of the process.
However, the umpire’s call - a situation of stalemate where the doubt persists, the on-field umpire’s decision is upheld and the review is not exhausted - still evokes polarised opinions.
In the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in 2013, Brad Haddin was adjudged out on a DRS call by England when Australia were only 15 runs away with one wicket in hand. Michael Atherton in the commentary box said, “England have won in inevitably controversial circumstances”, mildly questioning the Hot Spot which showed a faint edge on Haddin’s bat.
Seven years down the line, DRS is accepted by all cricketing nations. Its present form seems closest to fulfill its purpose to eliminate questionable decisions. There are more slip-ups in players opting for the review now instead of the actual umpiring decisions which are corrected through this system. The DRS is spreading its wings too. Once rejected by BCCI, it's now a part of their premier T20 competition - the IPL. Also, ICC is planning to delegate the duty of calling front foot no-balls to the TV umpire.
It is a win-win situation for both sides releasing the pressure from the umpires. Let’s face it, they are also humans. They can have bad days, like a batsman getting out for a duck, a bowler missing his mark or a fielder dropping a sitter. The onus is on the respective sides to value the reviews as a resource and use them in the best way possible.