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Dhoni wants simple DRS, unbiased umpiring

Wisden India logo Wisden India 14-01-2016 Saurabh Somani
George Bailey survived a caught-behind appeal off the first ball he faced before making a match-winning century. © Getty Images © Wisden George Bailey survived a caught-behind appeal off the first ball he faced before making a match-winning century. © Getty Images

It’s a familiar sight in cricket, whenever the Indian team gets an iffy decision. There is one group with a chorus of, ‘Well why don’t they use DRS?’ There is another group clamouring that ‘Just because India don’t accept DRS, it doesn’t make bad decisions against the team okay.’ There is a third group who thinks that India are, in fact, justified in their opposition to the Decision Review System, and that whole debate shouldn’t even come into the isolated event of an umpire raising – or not raising – his finger.

On Tuesday (January 12), Mahendra Singh Dhoni added a fourth category – the problematic decision-maker. India had just lost the first One-Day International of a five-match series, Australia gunning down an imposing chase of 310 at the WACA in Perth on the back of centuries by George Bailey and Steven Smith.

When Bailey walked out, Australia were 21 for 2, and an umpiring error meant Bailey was ruled not out after having gloved his very first ball down leg to Dhoni. Barinder Sran, who had taken out both openers, was the unfortunate bowler who couldn’t add a third scalp right away. It is a no-brainer that Richard Kettlebrough's decision impacted the match significantly, with the Bailey-Smith stand realising 242 runs in 223 balls, of which Bailey's share was 112 off 120.

If DRS, which India and Dhoni have steadfastly been opposed to, was in operation, in all probability, Bailey would have been walking back for a first-ball duck.

Dhoni was asked if his position on DRS had changed in the light of what had happened, but he turned the question around to counter with, “Are you indirectly saying that we don’t get decisions in our favour because we don’t use DRS?”

No, he was told, the suggestion merely was that the outcome of the game could have changed if DRS was in operation.

“It could have, but at the same time, we need to push the umpires to take the right decision,” responded Dhoni. “You have to see how many 50-50 decisions don’t go in our favour. And it always happens that you have to take it, but I’m still not convinced about DRS.”

Given the leading answer about 50-50 decisions not going India’s way, Dhoni was asked if he felt India almost get ‘punished’ for not using DRS, the umpires subconsciously going the other team’s way when it was an iffy decision. Enigmatic smile firmly in place, Dhoni simply said, “I may agree with you. I may agree with you!” and left it at that.

The implication was clear, and it had been made with good effect. It would be tempting to put the feeling of ‘they are always against us’ down to a misplaced sense of victimhood, or even a sore-loser mindset. Except, playing victim and being a sore loser are the last things you would associate with Dhoni.

He can take some strange calls on the field, yes. He can be circuitous in his explanations, several times. He can speak at length and end up not saying anything of course. But Dhoni doesn’t do weakness. So if he implies that he – and by extension the team – feels they are getting on the wrong end of umpiring decisions that could go either way, it might not be wise to dismiss it outright.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Dhoni is right. When you’re playing a national sport in front of an audience of millions, with your natural competitive juices flowing and lots at stake, you can’t always have a detached perspective, and some bias is bound to creep in. So Dhoni may feel that India are getting the short end of the stick more often than natural probability would dictate, but he may also be wrong in feeling so.

Where Dhoni was on much firmer ground was in elucidating his problems with DRS, as it exists today.

“Ideally what DRS should be is a decision making system,” he began. “If you see the deviations in DRS, there are quite a few and even the makers agree with that. Now you also have to take into account whether it [the on-field decision] was given not out or out. If it’s given out, the ball needs to touch the stumps. If it’s given not out, then half the ball needs to hit the stumps. That itself makes the variables too big. And in cricket, every inch matters – not even inches it’s millimetres that matter.

“DRS shouldn’t be umpires' decision justification system,” he went on, the trademark zinger line coming out. “It should be giving the right decision. Like in tennis, you don’t say if the umpire has given it out, half the ball needs to pitch on the line, or if he has given it in the scenario is different. It has to be plain and simple. You shouldn’t have to keep too many things into consideration.”

The projection that DRS allows for in lbw decisions has been a major bone of contention, as has the fact that ‘the umpire’s call’ runs both ways, pretty much depending on the day and the man in question. Dhoni didn’t shy away from offering a simplified – and workable – method for these. “You say this is what DRS is – it doesn’t matter whether it’s given out or not out, but half the ball hits the stumps you are out, irrespective of the decision. That makes it a lot simpler. Now for example, you take DRS and in an lbw decision, what really changes everything is whether the decision was given in favour or not. It can be a margin of one inch overall and in cricket that is very big.”

As for the Bailey decision itself, on the field, it was the bowler and surrounding fielders who went up first, and Dhoni didn’t wholly join in the appeal, explaining that he hadn’t been sure it was glove though he felt it was.

“From behind, when you’re moving to the leg side, unless it’s very clear you find it always difficult,” he offered. “I felt it sounded like glove, but if you ask me whether I was 100% sure, I wouldn’t say I was. I can obviously lie right now and say, ‘Ya, ya I was sure about it,’ but I was not 100% sure. It happens. You appeal, and it sometimes goes in your favour, at other times it doesn’t go in your favour.”

Dhoni has made an appeal, a very indirect and roundabout one it is true, but an appeal of a sort all the same. He wants subconscious bias, if any exists, to go. He wants DRS to be simplified. He can be disarmingly frank about it too.

Whether his complaint and his solution have merit is for the decision-making authorities to mull over.

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