Technology that pushes the Boundaries

This summer’s first Ashes test match at Trent Bridge certainly lived up to all expectations of a thrilling dramatic clash.  It had everything – tumbling records, an astonishing debut from Australia’s number 11 batsman, shock decisions, a question of morale, and an extremely tight finish.

What has stirred a lot of the conversations and debates since is whether technology has ruined ‘the spirit of the game’ – because of how much the ultimate result depended on it.

I believe that technology has actually done an incredible amount for cricket – it’s when it gets misused, as it did on a couple of occasions in this Test match, that we get into murky waters. 

And even then, there is always a human being behind it all, making the decisions.  Technology, as it should be in any situation, sport or business, should be beavering away in the background, not centre stage.

There are a couple of things to understand when looking at this match:

Firstly, this is the Ashes.  Controversy is part of it and always will be – for reason or not, they just go hand in hand.  In a way, I’d be largely disappointed if everything went smoothly.

Secondly, cricketing body the ICC (probably in response to those who have suggested technology should be removed from cricket altogether) released an analytics report of the decisions made by during the match.  They’ve never actually done this before.

The on field umpires made a total of 72 decisions – which is well above the average of 49 for a test match.  That puts the umpire under a great deal of extra pressure, never mind what they must be feeling given the hype of the Ashes.

Of these 72 decisions, 7 were deemed to be incorrect – so that gives them a success rate of 90.3%.  When put into context with the number of appeals, wickets tumbling all over the place and an uneven pitch, that percentage is excellent.

True, some of the incorrect decisions, like the one to give Stuart Broad ‘not out’ after he had clearly nicked the ball with his bat to slip, were pretty horrendous.  And I’m sure Aleem Darr, the umpire behind it all, did one heck of a face palm when he saw the TV replays.

However, when you look at the 7 incorrect decisions in more detail, 4 of these were overturned because there was a decision by the affected team to review them – i.e technology came into force to improve it.  That takes the decision success rate up to 95.8%.

The three decisions left couldn’t be overturned because the team who wanted to question them had used up all of their official reviews (each team get 2 reviews per innings – if they decide to use it and the original decision was deemed to be incorrect, then they keep the review for use later.  If they were wrong to question the original decision, that review gets lost forever).

Looking at it this way, technology actually helped get more decisions right – as it should have done, and it’s why the DRS (Decision Review System) was introduced in the first place. 

The reason for the controversy – let’s take the situation of Stuart Broad for example – all comes down to human action, not technology.

The tradition in cricket is that if you know you are clearly out, but the umpire hasn’t sent you on your way, you walk anyway.  Broad didn’t; he stood his ground despite him, both teams, and a good proportion of the earth’s population, being fully aware that he should be sat back in the pavilion, taking his pads off.

This has called Broad’s character into question, with former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi saying ‘What Broad did was really horrible’.

This is despite there being nothing in the rules that says a player has to walk if they themselves believe them to be out.  Actually – it’s the opposite.  You stand there until told otherwise, according to the rulebook.

However, the tradition of ‘walking’ has faded away with the introduction of DRS technology – as surely if you wanted a decision overturned that badly, you would just review it.  But what if you didn’t have any reviews left?  I believe that it’s the management of reviews that’s important – and that’s done by the individual.

In total, there were 13 reviews made at Trent Bridge, five of which managed to overturn the original on field decision made by the umpire.

Of these 5, 3 were England captain’s Alistair Cook’s.  He made 4 reviews altogether, so most of his decisions to review were absolutely right.  2 were Australian skipper Michael Clarke’s – although he made 9 reviews altogether; a pretty poor ratio in comparison.

But who does he have to blame for that?  It’s certainly not the technology – he can only look to himself.  Yes it was unfortunate his team were left baffled by the decision not to give Broad out, but had he not been so rash with his reviews, he might have had one left to send Broad on a one way trip back to the pavilion.

My point here is that technology in cricket is there to help, not hinder.  Use it as it was intended – to overturn the really poor decisions, the ones that your gut feel strongly tells you should be questioned – and the system brings massive benefits to the game.

Use the technology rashly, as Michael Clarke did, and it will never work in your favour.  It’s like business – technology helps us to achieve momentous things in collaboration, productivity and opportunity to name a few – but if we don’t use it properly or it isn’t used in line with the business objectives, you are always going to spend more time chasing your tail than benefitting from all that the technology has to give.

There have been talks about using technology to speed up the review system.  So when we’re looking at replays, hotspots etc. that will all happen super-fast, and the interrupted game can get back to it more promptly.  

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think this is when technology goes too far.

The television viewer sees exactly the same images as the third umpire does when they’re reviewing a decision – that means that we get to give our verdict as well.  OK, so we don’t get to actually make the decision to send them off the field or not, but we still get to come to our own conclusions.   That’s an awesome benefit of technology.

Also, the tension when you’re awaiting the third umpire decision really adds to the atmosphere.  I’ve been to matches when they’ve actually played the Jaws theme when waiting for the decision to come through.  It’s brilliant – so why speed all this up and therefore remove the pleasure of audience interaction?

Technology brings massive benefits to cricket – for the crowd, the players, and the umpires themselves.  But if it’s not used in the right way, it’s certainly not the technology that should be begrudged; like anything else it needs to be managed properly, and brought in line with strategic decisions.