Everyone believes that this World Cup will be one of the most interesting Cups ever. This is because at all earlier world cups there was just one front-runner; this time there are at least four, if not more. Aren’t we lucky to be the major hosts of what’s going to be one of the most open world cups ever?
There is one other attraction in the 2011 World Cup and that’s technology coming to cricket. Never before has it had as much of a say as in this edition. The UDRS (umpire decision review system) or the DRS (decision review system), as the ICC would like to call it, is being used for the first time in this World Cup. The DRS has been around for a while now at the Test level but it’s a very recent introduction in the 50-over format. It will also be the first time that Indian fans are getting a really good look at what the DRS is all about.
India has famously resisted the DRS in all their international cricket so far. After the Sri Lanka series from a few years back, Indian fans will only now be getting to have a long, close acquaintance with the DRS. Interestingly, it’s in spite of India’s reluctance that the DRS is being used in this World Cup. In effect, the ICC seems to have disregarded India’s position on two very important issues—the Calcutta fiasco that led to the shifting of the India/England game from the venue and having the DRS. Now doesn’t that tell us something about India’s influence in the ICC?
As it happens, India is now the most inexperienced amongst all major nations when it comes to DRS “skills”. Is that a weakness for India? My answer: not as much a weakness as our bowling can be. The reasons for India’s resistance to DRS is well-known. They didn’t have a good first experience of the system when they encountered it in Sri Lanka a few years ago. They made many mistakes with its use and paid the price for it. Since then, India has been allergic to the DRS. But in this World Cup, they haven’t been given a choice. Not only the players, I am told even some senior BCCI officials passionately oppose the use of technology in cricket.
And it’s not just the Indians, there are quite a few others around the world, especially in Australia, who are not great fans of technology becoming an integral part of cricket. It would be wrong to assume that they are just old-fashioned purists who want the game to remain exactly the way it was. We are talking here about modernists who, like those in India, are sceptical of the technology. The fundamental reason for this is that they, the non-believers, are still not convinced that technology makes for a better judgement than what a human being brings. Many of these non-believers also do not have a good idea of how the technology actually works to produce the results it does. Some non-believers, though, have actually taken the trouble of finding out why, say, a hawkeye can be a better tool than the umpire on the field to make decisions like lbws. Yet they remain unconvinced for a variety of reasons.
The non-believers, however, are now in a decreasing minority as they find themselves outweighed by the majority—the sheer mass of cricket fans. Fans have seen on TV several examples of technology exposing serious umpiring errors. They are absolutely convinced that technology is the way forward; for them, instances of technology faltering have been rare.
What the cricket fans think is terribly important for they unknowingly wield great power over the sport they love. No other sport has allowed TV to rule the game as much as cricket has in recent years. And it’s the fans who drive the demands of television, and television in turn dictates most of the policies made in cricket. Because of its tremendous popularity worldwide, football is not as insecure a sport as cricket is, and hence does not feel the need to let TV determine all the rules of the game.
It is my belief that fans will decide the future of cricket vis-a-vis technology. In the years to come, it’s for the fans to decide whether in aspiring to make this a zero-error sport the considerable appeal of the game is lost. This is something we will not know very soon.
I must confess I don’t know where I stand today on this issue. When I first saw the impact of the DRS in that Sri Lanka series, I too hated it. I felt that it was not only taking too much time from the real action of bat and ball, it was also shifting the focus towards umpires and technology from where it should be—the players.
I see things a little differently today. What strikes me is that the DRS actually makes for good television. You will see a sudden spike in viewer interest every time there is a DRS call. They will lean forward in their seats sitting at home, straining their eyes to make their own judgement on the situation. That way the DRS can at times provide lively moments for spectators—and the media too—in what could otherwise be a dead game.
Supporters of DRS say it makes the game fairer. I disagree. “Unfair” is when there is one set of rules for one team and a different set for the other. Ever since neutral umpires came into international cricket, good and bad umpiring has had its effect on both teams, not just one. Above all, we have to also remember one thing, which is that a bad umpire can give a batsman out when he is not out, but he can also give a batsman not out when he is out.
People like us, who grew up in a technology-free world of cricket, saw and accepted the experiential truth that it all evens out in the long run. We found that good batsmen still got lots of runs, and good teams won more matches than the rest. So the DRS does not make it fairer for teams or players; that said, it does reduce human errors and thereby reduces the anguish of the fans.
In the tied India-England game, we saw a DRS situation pertaining to Ian Bell raising the hackles of the Indians and with it, the fans and the media. It was not the first time that we have been reminded that technology may reduce human mistakes but it certainly does not put an end to controversies around umpiring decisions. Which is another box ticked on the DRS for me, for what would cricket be without its controversies?
(Sanjay Manjrekar is a former Test player)