India’s jumbo change in stance on DRS

First as head of ICC cricket committee & now as coach, Anil Kumble has played a big role in convincing sceptics who didn’t trust technology.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Updated: October 22, 2016 8:27 am
Anil Kumble, Kumble, India coach, India head coach, coach Anil kumble, DRS, India DRS, MS Dhoni, DHoni, Hawk Eye, India cricket, Cricket news, Cricket Former India cricketer, Anil Kumble, is into his third month as India head coach. (Source: PTI)

“CAN KUMBLE convince the BCCI? First of all, we must convince Mr. Kumble.” Dave Richardson’s statement sounds almost prophetic, especially on Friday. But when the ICC CEO and the longest-standing DRS advocate had spoken about trying to use the former India captain as a conduit to try and alter the Indian board’s intransigent views on umpire referrals, Kumble was heading the Cricket Committee.

He was still more than two years away from even considering, or being considered, as a candidate to be the Indian team’s head coach. If anything, he was dealing with being in the awkward position of adjudicating on what extent DRS is used around the world while the country he represents — and did so successfully for two decades — continued to scoff and turn a blind eye to it.

Kumble, now into his third month as India coach, and BCCI chief Anurag Thakur were both present at the Hawk-Eye presentation on Wednesday in Delhi where the ball-tracking technology company exhibited their upgraded version. As we know now, both Kumble and the BCCI seemed to have been convinced, in tandem that too, with the board announcing that DRS will be used on a ‘trial basis’ during the five-Test series against England starting next month.

The BCCI press release admitted that the decision for India to finally join the world on the other side of a debate that they have kept alive for nearly a decade was based on their ‘concerns’ being addressed to a ‘significant extent’.
It spoke in particular about the introduction of two innovations in this matter, ‘ultramotion cameras’ and Ultraedge — which aligns ultramotion cameras and stump mics to adjudge the point of impact more accurately than ever before. And also about how they had been endorsed by engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who have been working on enhancing the efficiency of DRS.

Kumble’s visit to MIT

Kumble was already aware of the two new innovations. Last year, he had visited MIT for a lecture on Indian sports but made it a point to visit one of the labs working on the two products and even given them his thumbs-up.

“The apparatus that they have prepared is very impressive. The device will help us check the range of inaccuracies rather than other way round. Then we can take a call,” he had said last July. It’s no co-incidence that he is in-charge of the team when that ‘call’ has eventually been taken.

Kumble, however, has played an integral role in India’s relationship with DRS all along, though he hasn’t always played the chief protagonist.

When the cricket world decided to finally stop letting the two officials in the middle be the judge, jury and executioner, and rather embrace the use of technology, Kumble was the first captain to go for a review in a Test match.

He was the first cricketer to signal ‘time-out’ – otherwise so synonymous with all American sport—on a cricket field. Ironic when you think about it that DRS was fast-tracked into existence following the aftermath of the Sydney Test where the Indian team felt hard done-by with a number of contentious decisions that they believed went against them and almost threatened to distort the tour itself.

DRS didn’t’ really make a great first impression on him or the rest of the Indian team during that Sri Lanka series, otherwise remembered with dread for the impact of Ajantha Mendis, in 2008.

The series was blighted with a number of blunders — both human and technological — and it didn’t help either that India lost both the series and the DRS battle getting only 1 out of 21 reviews right. To an extent, India were guilty too for their faulty use of the referral system during the series, considering Sri Lanka got nearly 40 per cent of their reviews correct.

“I was not convinced with the tools used and the accuracy of it,” he would go on to say. It was his word to a great extent that formed the basis for India’s never-ending gripe about umpiring decisions being revaluated.

MS Dhoni of course who took over and then became the most predominant and unrelenting naysayers of DRS. He would come up with a variety of analogies — the one about how you would never get into a bullet-proof vehicle if told it wasn’t a 100 per cent secure especially gaining unprecedented notoriety—to support his stance.

He went through his entire Test captaincy career without ever having to bother about taking a second opinion about an on-field call, except briefly during the 2011 series in England. He had also incidentally opted out of that Sri Lanka series — though DRS cannot be blamed for that.

Predictive function

Dhoni’s gripe throughout was about the predictive function of the technology and the ‘umpire’s call’ element. A number of senior cricketers would talk about how ‘umpires’ call’, which basically made it nearly impossible to reverse a marginal lbw decision, was there more for to justify an umpire’s decision more than reduce his errors, which was the original rationale for using technology for officiating during cricket matches. And it’s no surprise that when it was used in England five years ago, the BCCI insisted on leaving out lbw decisions — or the predictive part of ball-tracking anyway considering that it wasn’t foolproof.

Neither the BCCI nor the Indian players though quite managed to go past the ‘not quite 100 per cent’ theme to their arguments, which added to the rest of the cricket world’s confusion over their continued opposition. Dean Jones once barged into a VVS Laxman press conference in Australia and demanded to know whether the players were as unanimously against DRS as their board.

The Indian team though did use DRS during ICC tournaments, and the only time decisions have gone for referrals on Indian soil was during the 2011 World Cup that the hosts won. And the most contentious technology-based umpiring talking point went in India’s favour when Sachin Tendulkar had a lbw decision reversed against Saeed Ajmal with ball-tracking showing the off-break turning well past his leg-stump.

But on a day world cricket seems to have finally achieved a sense of uniformity when it comes to moving on from the old adage of ‘the benefit of doubt always goes with the batsman’, you have to sit and wonder what the English batsmen have to say about the BCCI’s call.

It’s understandable if they are thinking, “why couldn’t they have just waited for us to leave the subcontinent in December before finally changing their mind.”

For, with DRS in place, their job to thwart the challenge of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja only becomes that much more arduous. Jadeja in particular becomes that much more dangerous, especially when it comes to scoring front-foot lbws.

There’s no way an English right-hander can just plonk his front foot out confidently without dreading the left-arm spinner’s flat straighter one that is perennially zoning in towards the stumps, or not ensure it hits his bat anyway. Specially now that Jadeja, who anyway doesn’t die wondering, armed with the chance to get a second opinion on whether the ball has struck the batsman in line or not.

We’ll still have to wait and watch to see whether relations between BCCI and the DRS have indeed thawed, and that they are prepared to live happily ever after.

For now, Indian audiences will finally get to see their captain form the ‘T’ with their arms donning whites.

Journalists covering the series will no longer have a readymade question at press conferences. Indian cricketers will no longer have to look sheepish when asked about their team’s stance against DRS and then try their best to conjure up a response that doesn’t belie the collective stance and more crucially doesn’t give away their individual views.

And just maybe, Harbhajan Singh will be tempted to tweet about how many more wickets he and Kumble would have ended up with if DRS was in place during their time…