The DRS Debate Is Starting To Annoy

It’s annoying chiefly because I suspect most Australians aren’t necessarily that angry that DRS isn’t available; they are angry more because one nation (i.e., not theirs) is supposedly being irrational and preventing the technology’s wholesale adoption. Listen carefully, and this theme of the unfair application of power keeps emerging; approximations include: “Can anyone explain the BCCI’s stance?”; “Why can’t Indian fans just stop blindly defending this stupid decision?” and “It’s not right that some Tests have DRS and some don’t!”

These are all valid points, but they are not quite appropriate for the debate over the DRS; they are about a separate argument about how wealth and power is distorting the administration (and future?) of cricket. So, Australian fans perceive an all-powerful board throwing its weight around on an issue; that weight means, occasionally, Indian players get a bad rap; and Australians get to laugh and say, “See? These idiots who are running this game into the ground can’t get anything right! They’re even eating their own!”

Well, I sympathize with this point of view (though the smugness and sanctimony that so many Australian fans exhibit on Twitter on this issue is starting to wear thin). But, again, it seems a bit off: as S. Monga pointed out on Cricinfo recently, the Indian team also benefited from “bad” umpire decisions (the Adelaide Test would have been over a lot quicker if a few LBWs had gone the other way against Vijay and Kohli). In the final tally, the BCCI’s stance on DRS stance may help India; it may hurt — that’s all beside the point.

Which is that there are still legitimate arguments against the DRS in its current form! I won’t go through the lot, but one that has struck me lately is what Dhoni was sort of talking about in last week’s press conference, when he said that players use DRS to test or “justify” the umpire’s decision.Do you know how annoying it is to see a crucial player decide to use his team’s last review because, well, what the hell, maybe technology will save me? There’s a real cost to the fact that the majority of DRS reviews have actually upheld the umpire’s call — they waste time, they undermine the umpire’s authority (who was right in the first place!), and they support this problematic notion that whatever a ball-tracking estimate says is Absolute Truth. When we see a “bad” decision, we go on and on about how terrible umpiring is and how we should allow reviews; then, when we see how stupid players actually are when they use two reviews, we…what, exactly? Simply have to take it as part of the package?

Now, yes, there have been a few howlers lately, and they would have been caught by simple replay. But that’s not an argument for the current DRS system that the BCCI opposes; it’s an argument for an entirely different set of rules. So, Australian fans: go ahead, enjoy your bout of schadenfreude when the next bad decision comes along. But don’t be so sure that the DRS is ultimately the best thing for cricket either.

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