Tuesday, 28 June 2011

DRS: what's the point?

Sidharth Monga writes about the DRS discussion, particularly the fact that the discussion should be going on. The focus on the stubborn BCCI as the sole hold-out in the face of the unquestioning rollout, while to some extent necessary, is way too prominent in the media coverage. Much of the thought we could see when the proposals weren't aligned to "sides" has been obscured. Many of the objections currently are serious whatever your view of technology, especially when it comes to cost and governance.

Having said that, Monga's pices goes off the rails when it comes to the paragraph on the original purpose of the review system. Yes it is true that the ICC's cricketing committee originally wanted to
spot edges (or their absence), balls pitched outside leg and balls hitting the batsman outside off when offering a shot for lbws.

and didn't want to use technology
to predict whether the ball would have clipped the leg bail.

I could raise the minor quibble that this intention was overruled very quickly, with the restriction on the use of projections dumped even before the start of the trial, but let's move on to the more serious misconceptions.

The first error is the obvious one. Monga claims the system was introduced for the odd big mistake (true enough) and for “umpires who have trouble grasping basic umpiring rules”. I don't know where this idea came from, but it doesn't make any sense at all. International umpires shouldn't be there without being able to grasp basic rules. Even facing evidence of trouble with slightly less basic rules (2007 WC final and so on), surely the answer to that problem lies in training, selection and people management. Most of all, how does a review system help? Whoever reviews the decision (third umpire or original umpire with third umpire input) is just as likely to be wrong in that regard. For wrong understanding of the rules, the very best we can get is a forced consultation with another umpire, which might help in a small minority of cases.

The second, less obvious error, comes after another reflection on pitting computer and human predictions. He seems to be urging the ICC to make decisions based on the premise that the system is meant to eliminate howlers, with the implication that it should not adjudicate on non-howlers, or in other words, marginal decisions. That this principle sets the boundaries of the DRS has been repeated for quite a while, at least as early as December 2009, but it doesn't quite do the original explanations justice.

When the "eliminate howlers" line was first used, it was addressing high expectations, pointing out that doubt wouldn't be eliminated, stating a minimal aim rather than trying to put a limit on what umpires should overturn. Put simply, we could only expect howlers to be corrected, and others might or might not be. It was aimed at observers, but also at players, who were given the choice to review and the risk of using them up where the mistake wasn't so obvious - the 'economy of error' was put in their hands, and they needed to be aware “it was not designed to remove all errors”. As Simon Barnes put it in March 09, “It is not designed as a charter for chancers”, even if the potential for pure tactical use was obvious from the start.

It's not hard to see how the stricter interpretation gained such currency. To start with, there's a quite reasonable way of looking at referrals where the only question is whether the umpire was justified or clearly mistaken, leaving each umpire their own approach to the marginal decisions, however you define such things. Once the trials got under way, we also saw the system applied by umpires inconsistently, even overturning decisions without compelling evidence. It's only natural that thoughts turned to limits on what's overturned, and the howler statement had a whole new context.

Now, the ICC members seems to be working on what are acceptable compromises (from their point of view), with room for further developments. There's a lot more to be said, a lot of it referred to in that article by Monga (along with a couple more red herrings), but for that conversation, it's better to speak of how we think the technology should be used, not bring up twisted explanations of what it was meant to do.

Monday, 7 March 2011

More DRS rubbish

The latest twist in the DRS use of Hawkeye when the batsman comes down the pitch is hard to get a grip on, mainly because the reporting seems amazingly confused. There might be something we can get form the latest Cricinfo article, but it's hard to know exactly what, since it's riddled with nonsense.

Why do I say that? Let's start with last paragraph boilerplate that CI has been adding to all their article on this topic.
“The 2.5m clause was included in the DRS rules following the expert view that the ball-tracker technology, in this case Hawk Eye, lost its accuracy when the distance between the point of impact and the stumps was greater than 2.5m.”

The only expert view that seems to be published online is that of the proprietors themselves, and they firstly consider the 2.0m mark more relevant than 2.5m and more importantly don't think the loss of accuracy is great enough to make that much difference, saying the 2.5m rule is their for historical consistency, not technological reasons. Yes, the CI line follows the recent comments from the ICC, but they are speaking just as much nonsense (if accuracy were the issue, it should be relevant to “out” decisions as well), and journalists really should be holding them to account. If there was an altogether different expert view given at some point, is there any reason they can't publich it and point us to it?
The article also says that there has been a change to “rule 3.3” in the DRS code, and that the previous rule said a leg before could be reversed “only if the replay showed that the ball was hitting the middle stump dead centre.” Even if we assume that the writer meant “a not out leg before decision” rather than simply “a leg before”, there are a lot of problems with how the article describes this:
  1. The 2.5m rule (part of clause 3.3i)iii) can't by any stretch be related to a necessary condition for a not out decision to be reversed. The clause deals with when the umpire should be told definitively that the ball was hitting (or missing) the stumps. This is not the only factor.

  2. There is clearly no mention of a middle stump criterion of any sort in the DRS code - the decision is to simply said to be made using “normal cricketing principles” informed by the ball tracking data. Something like “only if the ball is hitting middle stump” has been popping up a lot in discussion of the Ian Bell decision, but it's not at all clear whether it comes from a less formal umpire's directive (for this tournament or more generally), an off-the-cuff press conference example of what might qualify as normal cricketing principles, or a player or commentatorsa (possibly hyperbolic) interpretation of normal cricketing principles applied down the pitch LBWs.

  3. We are told that umpire Erasmus asked whether the ball was hitting “any part of middle stump”. The box claiming to detail the new “law” tells us that it has to be the centre of the ball hitting any part of middle stump. If that's the new guideline, then how restricted was the meaning of “dead centre” in the reported old one? In any case, by my eyes the situation shown in the graphic accompanying the article doesn't meet that criterion anyway - if this is the Cusack referral, perhaps they really mean that any part of the ball is hitting any part of middle stump?

  4. The box with the claimed new law has also clearly misread the code. The wording which is said to have been replaced comes before the 2.5m exception, and is about the more general condition for reporting (and effectively determining) that the ball was hitting the stumps. (It also isn't anything like “hitting the middle stump dead centre” - a much bigger area than middle stump is described!)

So what can we read between all the errors? There is talk of an umpire's directive, described as changing the protocol. I'd guess that the umpires manager has given direction to the umpires that a trajectory hitting middle stump (in some sense) can be considered out (in the absence of other reasons for a not out). It's not a change to clause 3.3 – it is easily seen as a clarification of a "normal cricketing principle", set in stone as a kneejerk reaction to the predictable inconsistency in interpreting that phrase. It's possibly a change to a similar earlier directive, although that doesn't seem likely to me. It's not all that strange - I've certainly heard similar sentiments (“That far down, I'd only give it out if it were hitting middle.”) from umpires relying on their own sight, and especially if technological accuracy really is the issue, the logic transfers well.

So it looks to me that as well as spouting clueless press releases, the ICC has had made a small concession in the name of consistency in response to the media drama round this issue, and this itself hsa been beaten up. Then again, there's so much we can't know, and so much rubbish in the reporting, that I may well be wrong.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Stepping down the pitch to DRS

There's (unsurprisingly) a lot of talk about how the DRS dealt with the LBW referral for Ian Bell, where umpire Billy Bowden chose to stick with his not out decision after the tracking system "predicted" the ball was going to hit the stumps. I'm going to take my own stride down the pitch on this topic - you judge whether I'm out, stumped or LBW!

The way the DRS works, the decision is ultimately up to the umpire, no matter where the point of impact is, but according to the regulations, if the point of impact has been less than 2.5m, the third umpire would simply have told him it was in line, hitting the stumps and so on, and I can't imagine that being ignored. However, in the over 2.5 m situation, the umpire not only given more details concerning distances and wherhe the ball is projected to go, but is told to use "normal crticketing principles" in deciding whether to overrule his original decision.

Cricinfo says that the reason for the 2.5m distinction is because that's where the predictions become less reliable. Of course the reliability of the trajectory prediction does depend on factors including distance from the stumps, and it's easy to believe that this was a factor in the minds of some of the people involved in accepting the guidelines. However, while the Hawkeye reports of MCC testing don't in my opinion rigorously address this issue, they also give reasonably different criteria for their "extreme LBW" classification, hinting (along with the dependence on the original decision being "not out") that this isn't what the 2.5m is really about. In fact, Paul Hawkins says the main reason for it is to ensure that the traditional dispensation for batsmen coming down the pitch "continues to be the case", even when the benefit is no longer founded in quite as much doubt.

The relevant document form Hawkeye is found online, and was first brought to my attention by Kartikeya Date. He has used the traditional approach to LBWs as a reason to oppose the use of technology for LBWs, and while he argues against the DRS even in this form on several grounds, I gather that he thinks it is better to include this clause than not.

In some ways, the 2.5m rule seems odd, but it is one of the more logical of the current systems oddities. The basic intention is that if either "traditional cricketing principles" applied to the trajectory or the projection itself say not out, it's not out. Of course, it's less transparent than simply using the calculated uncertainties of the systems, or even deciding on mathematical factors to simulate the traditional approach. Bell, Watson (v Zimbabwe) and Paine (v England in Perth) have all been given not out in a >2.5m situation where the computer said the ball was hitting the stumps. One decision was upheld by the umpire, two were overturned. We can't know whether this is because different factors were involved in the original decisions, the umpires have different ideas of what "traditional cricketing principles" are, or simply are differently inclined to overturn there own decisions. The first possible reason is in line with the aims of the clause, the second arguably so and the third clearly an unwelcome human factor. Describing the process more explicitly might help (if such a thing can be agreed on), but applying it to "out" decisions as well misses the point.

Personally, assuming the demonstration of the tracking and projection accuracy was more satisfying than indicated by the Hawkeye document, I would like to put more emphasis on the predictions of the tracking systems, but not on the grounds of transparency or lack of human involvement. Actually, even without using the tracking systems in real time, I'm happy to see umpires let them inform future decisions to some extent, as has already reportedly happened. I would rather make LBW decisions as literally as possible than maintain traditional levels of doubt in the process, but that's not because of a technological argument, but because I think I'd like the change it brings.

I'm certainly not pretending it wouldn't be a change. Which leaves us with the current clause in the DRS, intended to avoid a drastic change to interpretation of the LBW law. It might not be perfect in that regard, given that it depends on how the umpires use it, but criticism needs to either have the same intention, or tell us why it doesn't matter.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Under the arm of the law

For some reason the media feels the need to keep reminding me that toady is the 30th anniversary of the Chappell's underarm incident. It was a while later before I was in a position to have a reaction to it, and that initial reaction would tell you a lot about my character at the time!

Now, with a more rounded view of things, I still find it interesting that the sport saw almost Hair/Murali-type incidents in response to overarm, and before that even roundarm, bowling should end up removing the underarm or overarm clause from the rules (first routinely through playing conditions, then from the Laws themselves).

The changes have gone further than they need to. The rolling or excessively bouncing ball has been made a no-ball, and this deals with the real problem with the 1981 scenario. There's no reason to take away the underarm option as well, even if it is just a relic. It's not likely to be relevant to serious cricket, but can't hurt it anyway, and to my mind provides a nice link to history that should be allowed if it ever is wanted. Sure, it doesn't really matter whether the underarm balls delivered to kids in the backyard are sanctioned by the MCC, but you might have gathered that I think about hte rules a bit more than necessary.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Haddin('t) kept well

As World Cup squads are announced, there's chatter about their composition. MS Dhoni has no backup keeper. Australia have named both Brad Haddin and Tim Paine. Injured players can be replaced at any point (as a host, this should be particularly easy for India), so presumably Paine isn't there simply as a replacement.

Perhaps the tournament is considered long enough for Haddin to need resting even without injury. Perhaps the selectors want to be able to drop him if his keeping isn't up to scratch, although Hauritz is included as the only spinner (to India's three) despite the selectors recently considering other options in that department much more actively. (Not to mention the idea that a second spinner might be more useful than a second keeper.)

Perhaps the double choice is simply a symptom of the insistence that everyone have two strings to their bow, and the expectation is more along the lines that they could play together - neither would be completely out of place as a specialist batsman. Such a situation is hardly new, and I think will be more and more common. In this year's Big Bash, several teams have shown up with two or even three recognised keepers.

This has something to do with the trend towards keepers sealing their spot as batsman, especially explosive ones. There's plenty to think about in that story, but I'm particularly interested in the story of Haddin himself. I can't consider myself an expert, especially since I hardly saw anything of him during four and half years in England, but I've jumped to my own conclusions on him at various times based on more than his international performances, and I'd like to hear from anyone who can say the same.

I first saw Haddin in the the Canberra Comets' short-lived foray into List A cricket (he was a genuine local, while was also clearly a part of the NSW set-up - see what I'm thinking?) He left the Comets when Phil Emery retired, providing him a spot in the NSW lineup, then fairly quickly securing an apparent anointing as the successor to Gilchrist as Australian keeper.

Emery was a good keeper. Gilchrist had had to move west to get a keeper's spot. Haddin's keeping seemed to me be to better than Gilchrist's, and while he may never have been a Healy, he certainly had plenty of experience with Stuart MacGill and other spinners without looking a fool.I have heard it said the pressure to improve his batting to match the new standard set in part by Gilchrist led his keeping to suffer. I'm not sure about that, but his batting was good enough to get him not only the fill-in keeper role, but a match opening the batting with Gilchrist without taking gloves behind the stumps in 2004.

When he did permanently replace Gilchrist, we all saw some pretty poor keeping form. I had the impression this was out of character, and could come up with a few explanations. His performance in the recent Ashes series was much closer to my expectations. For some reason, a selector felt the need to come out in his support, proclaiming him the country's top keeper in all forms of the game. He was then promptly dropped from the T20 team. This isn't necessarily contradictory – this particular choice smells of picking Paine as vice-captain, rather than choosing the team first. His inclusion in the WC squad may also be as much to do with his development as the needs for the tournament, especially if the plan is to rest Haddin.

At my next opportunity to see Haddin, I was considering his keeping as the innings began. The Blues boasted two glovemen in their bash with the sandgropers. I would have had Smith behind the stumps, not as a reflection on Haddin's keeping, but on Smith's fielding away from the stumps. As it turned out, the innings featured the worst display of glovework I've ever seen from Haddin (or perhaps any professional cricketer) in the flesh, and his subsequent perfomances for Australia have not been much better.

Michael Slater suggests that the selectors should be held responsible for Haddin's latest deterioration. That didn't occur to me, but we've seen similar falling away corresponding to the selectors lack of consistency in the spinning department. The selectors make it very easy to blame them.

Now neither Haddin nor Paine are playing in the Big Bash clash tonight, and both are going to the World Cup. But what do you think? When has Hadding kept well, and when haddin't he?