England captain Ben Stokes made his opinion known after the Visakhapatnam Test that technology had got Zak Crawley’s second innings lbw verdict through DRS wrong. The dismissal may or may not have mattered in the final analysis. But imagine the uproar if the home team were at the receiving end of the DRS (Decision Review System) call that no one, even after so many replays, can convincingly say, if technology indeed got it wrong?
At 194/4, Crawley and Jonny Bairstow were about to head for lunch, with their promise of chasing down 399 runs yet to be stalled by Bumrah’s magic and extinguished under the burden of a last innings chase. That’s when Crawley, batting with much authority on 73, was struck on the legs by Kuldeep Yadav. Given not-out on-field, India took the review after much deliberation. To the naked eye, it appeared the left-arm wrist-spinner’s 85.6 kmph ball may have barely pitched on leg-stump and spun down the leg side of the right-handed batter. The ball-tracking technology ruled that the ball pitched on leg, held its line and would hit leg stump. The decision was reversed, Crawley departed, and the match turned.
“Technology in the game is obviously there. Everyone has an understanding of the reasons; it can never be 100% which is why we have the umpire’s call. That’s why it’s in place. When it’s not 100% as everyone says, I don’t think it’s unfair for someone to say ‘I think the technology has got it wrong on this occasion’. And that is my personal opinion. I will say that,” Stokes said.
Stokes had chosen his words with care. He knew the ball-tracking technology, Hawk-Eye here, is not foolproof. Whether the ball would go on and hit the stumps from the point of impact with the pad is a prediction made by technology based on an algorithm fed with ball-by-ball data. Even though the 360 frames per second cameras – 6 of them that are in use to arrive at a judgement – are robust, it’s still a predictive path.
“The controversy is because the viewer in this instance was making different inferences from two different pictures shown in live broadcast from different camera angles,” an experienced broadcast hand explains.
Once the DRS was in play, the first slow motion replay appeared to be from the straight camera behind the bowler – it’s generally stationed at a height and not in exact line of the middle-stump, but more to off-stump.
“At this stage, the Ultra-Edge technology is only checking if the ball had hit the pad first. With the pitch map not yet in view, the impression viewers got with the naked eye due to foreshortening effect was that it was sliding down. Later the DRS using all the 6 cameras, predicted that the ball was hitting the stumps. Because it was a close call, the doubt lingers. But remember, Kuldeep was bowling from very close to the stumps,” the broadcaster said.
Another industry insider with DRS experience says even Ultra-Edge uses the Hawk-Eye straight cameras for uniformity. The ICC refused to comment, and the Hawk-Eye team has yet to respond.
The latest episode though, further illustrates how the Umpire’s Call has brought some order to the acceptance of DRS in its current form. Although Stokes was critical of the Crawley verdict, he accepted technology’s limitations and did not cry foul of home bias, which is when controversy takes shape.
There remain murmurs though in some quarters that DRS is prone to manipulation in bilateral cricket. Indian players had made their displeasure known by mocking South African broadcaster SuperSport during the 2022 Newlands Test match when DRS’s ball tracking trajectory showed a R Ashwin ball going over the stumps for a Dean Elgar lbw to be reversed at a critical juncture.
In the early days of DRS, the ball tracking stopped at the point it hit the pads and the third umpire had to predict the rest which was a subjective call made based on imperfect technology. Instead, the Umpire’s Call now gives weightage to the on-field umpires’ opinion, them being the closest to the action.
Soon after Crawley, Bairstow was declared out lbw to Bumrah as the DRS showed the ball clipping the leg-stump and upheld on-field umpire Chris Gaffaney’s ‘out’ decision. If Gaffaney had given him not out, DRS would have upheld the not out verdict and Bairstow would have survived. While the jury is still out on whether DRS’ call on Crawley was the right one, such instances will be fewer. For everything else, while the technology isn’t perfect, the on-field opinion still has its place.