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.


David Barry said...

As I see it, the UDRS has two purposes: get more decisions correct (in the "letter of the law" sense; I am glad that bowlers are finally getting some justice on leg stump LBW's), and take the controversy and rancour out of discussion over umpiring decisions. It does very well in both of these most of the time.

Bowden probably failed on the first count, and definitely failed on the second. I don't think that any other umpire in this World Cup would have made himself the centre of attention like Bowden did. (I certainly hope there won't be anyone who follows his example.) It would be a disaster if the final were to turn on such an on-field decision.

Bowden could justifiably say that he was applying traditional cricketing principles, but traditional LBW principles have already been overturned in this Hawkeye-UDRS era, so I think that that clause in the DRS is a terrible one.

Jonathan said...

As I say, I think the clause is a pretty clear indication that the powers that be didn't want "letter of the law" in that situation, so you can hardly blame an umpire for failing that test.

Like I said, I'm also happy to overturn the "big stride" principle, and as a side effect that would reduce the on-field controversy, but I wouldn't go so far as to call this rule 'terrible'. Deadening the getting forward technique is a much bigger change than leg stump LBWs, and the argument against it isn't ridiculous.

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Kartikeya said...

The letter of the law necessarily requires that there be a few 50-50 decisions.

Kartikeya said...

And 50-50 decisions must necessary be interpreted according to an individual umpire's (or a given combination of umpires') tendency to be Out umpires or Not Out Umpires.

Jonathan said...

Sure, there will always be some decisions which could reasonably go either way, even more so with LBWs than other decisions. Umpires definitely individually tend towards some decisions rather than others. No problems from me there.

But are we talking about only the 50-50s, or the 90-10s as well? And if the existence of 50-50 calls were the only issue (of course, it isn't), how different is Hawkeye - it's simply got it's own tendencies.

Whether you use it for making decisions to start with, or reviewing them and letting even the 90-10s go to "umpire's call", it's not a fundamentally different process. The complication comes when you combine it with arbitrary, but arguably justified exceptions intended to maintain historical standards.