Decision Making System

When a practical philosophy student asked the septuagenarian teacher, “Where does happiness go?” he succinctly replied that it is hidden inside and merely needs to be uncovered.

It is easier to be against something and I have been anti-DRS all along. It is a little harder to be pro-something else but I could not think of a satisfactory alternative. I was reminded of the need to uncover when this appeared on my Twitter feed:

What if we replace the Decision Review System with a Decision Making System? Or does that smack of a solution too simple it of course should never even be considered?

Umpires and no one but the umpires should decide without a provision for referrals. Working together, umpire trio should make use of available technology without disregarding the limitations of the same while giving the benefit of doubt to batsman. Does that smack of a solution too simple?

As a kid I used to dislike the aggressively marketed ‘new and improved’ detergent or a pain relief tablet. What was the quality of earlier product which was sold with the same zeal? Of course, I know it now that a product can be put to use immediately if a core solution improves existing alternatives in most situations. Based on its success, further improvements can be made to address the ‘less probable but no doubt possible’ scenarios. These days I have a better understanding and appreciation of the ‘new and improved’ but still dislike the lack of transparency about ‘current and in use’.

It is common knowledge that a video camera does not capture continuous images. It captures a set of discrete pictures which can be played back to recreate the original in most situations. Without knowing the details, every cricket viewer appreciates that a very close stumping/run out call can’t be entirely resolved because both the successive frames fail to capture the precise instance when the timber was disturbed. We have a technology. It offers a solution in most of the situations but there remains a doubt in few cases. With time, the technology will improve, a few more of these tight situations will also get covered, and yet there will remain a doubt in even fewer cases. I think cricket has dealt with this limitation and will continue to do so.

Cricket is not baseball. The two innings format is designed to last 3 or more days and even the shortest version is 3 hours or more. Three strikes does not mean that the batsman is out. Person holding the bat must not run if a contact with ball has been made. Unlike cricket, baseball rules favour frequent dismissals. Umpires should be absolutely sure before raising the finger. The element of doubt has always been a part of cricket. And the benefit of doubt should always be given to the batsman. It is OK to be not sure as long as the remedy is applied uniformly.

There are plenty of modes of dismissals and most are ‘discovered’. A discovered mode does not require a change of rule, There is no need for a fresh interpretation. LBW is an ‘invented’ mode of dismissal. The rules have modified and will perhaps change in future again. The technology to approximate the trajectory of ball has also improved the direct calls made by umpires. But the keyword approximation does not get highlighted or underlined often.

It is so easy to locate the position of a device using a Smartphone or a SatNav. The device needs to get a signal from at least 3 satellites but the accuracy improves with ambiance when signal from 4 or more satellites is interpreted. It is a wonder that a device can be accurately located within 20 feet at a tiny cost. (See, isn’t it better to include the margins of error while appreciating the benefits of technology.) It matters less when the device is moving at a rapid speed. But the results are less satisfactory when the smartphone is stationary. Technology should be used to our advantage but it should also be ignored when the margin of error creates a doubt.

3 stationary devices placed inches apart appear meters away from each other

3 stationary devices placed inches apart appear meters away from each other

Any system that approximates the trajectory of ball makes a whole lot of sense in tennis and football where only the actual trajectory needs to be known. There is a predictive element in cricket which requires greater transparency. Are we certain that the actual trajectory is always identified correctly. Were all the cameras able to track that particular delivery accounting for ambiance, technical and human errors?  Can the umpire get a visual record of the discrete data points that represent actual trajectory in the form of crosses and the interpolated continuous path derived in the form of a line? There is an impression that ball tracking systems are able to provide the precise trajectory of ball before and after the obstruction. It can’t. ‘New and improved’ technology will deliver even better results reducing the margins of error without eradicating it altogether.

If an error exists in actual trajectory surely the margins are higher in case of Projected Trajectory.  The guidelines like ‘point of impact is more than 250cm but less than 300cm from the stumps and the distance between point of pitching and point of impact is less than 40cm‘ indicate that the margin of error increases with distance. I cringe at the sight of ‘magic numbers’ like 2.5m, 3m or 40cm. What is so special about these specific boundary values? The TV umpire will benefit far more if the specific projected path in the form of a line is replaced with an ever increasing band of possible path. A projection must be presented along with the margin of error and probability of the outcome. The umpire can deal with doubt. A batsman is likely to an LBW candidate even if the distance is 4m and may not be out even if the distance reduces to less than 1m. There are recorded instances of a ball hitting the stump without dislodging the bail. Batsman, who should always get the benefit of doubt, should not be declared out if the ball is brushing the stumps. LBW is an invented mode of dismissal. A little more restraint in its use will benefit the game.

I am glad that errors in Hot Spot are at least getting mentioned now.

Hot Spot, while it has improved, can still produce misleading evidence, sometimes because of extreme conditions, but sometimes because of simple human error.

The biggest drawback of Hot Spot is that it does not guarantee that a  genuine edge will always get recorded. Independently a batsman should not be given out if the white dot is visible with the aid of a magnifying glass only. The evidence should be significantly higher compared to the margin of error. Snicko captures several sounds and brings its own set of doubt. The best available solution is to combine evidence from available technologies wisely and give the benefit of doubt to the batsman.

I don’t like it when a fielder claims a catch that wasn’t. There is no need to take the fielder’s word. The lack of action from the same player with pads on and bat in hand speaks volumes otherwise. The simple thing to remember is that a batsman does not get a second chance. The player might be in wonderful touch but slightest of a mistake (by anyone concerned) or a slice of fortune sends the player back to the pavilion. The benefit of doubt must go to the batsman. Either the umpires are sure about the fall of wicket based on available tools or the batsman is not out. I hate it even more when a bowler in not rewarded by a hard earned wicket. Wickets are uncommon. Bowlers toil to force an error off a batsman. The odds are stacked against them. Just use the same tools available to a TV viewer and make the right decision.

The two on-field umpires are at par. There is no seniority. They take turns to do a primary and a secondary task. The TV umpire should join these two to make common sense decisions based on available technology and known margins of error. What if three umpires took turns? Each one gets a maximum two sessions per day to be on-field and one session behind the screen. They are all at par, consulting one another to arrive at the right decision. There shouldn’t be any 5 or 7-ball over and If the evidence points to a nick than the umpire trio should declare the batsman out sparing everyone from the ‘spirit of cricket’ verbiage.

Umpires have always made the decisions and with DMS the power will once again be vested to them. There are enough ‘strategic’ delays on field. If the captains can take as much time as they need to set fields and bowlers are allowed to retie laces minutes before a break to avoid bowling another over then the umpires too should be given as much time as they need to make the most informed decision.

The third umpire checks the front foot, checks Hot Spot, freezes the frame if necessary at the point of supposed impact to see if there is perceptible daylight between bat and ball, and reports his findings back to the on-field umpire. Who, now armed with as much data as is available, then makes the call yea or nay. And that is that.

Today the use of technology has created a game within a game (You are playing against the system, you’ve got three throws of the dice, let’s see if you are good enough to put your chips on the table at the right time).

What if we move the debate away from whether or not to use tech, to when to use tech?

What if we replace the Decision Review System with a Decision Making System?

Or does that smack of a solution too simple it of course should never even be considered?

Well, I couldn’t agree more. Umpires and no one but the umpires should decide without a provision for referrals. Working together, umpire trio should make use of available technology without disregarding the limitations of the same while giving the benefit of doubt to batsman. Does that smack of a solution too simple?

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