UDRS – whose responsibility is it anyway?

Ever since India was outplayed by Sri Lanka in the 2008 Test series they have been rather reluctant supporters of the UDRS (Umpires Decision Review System) introduced by the ICC (International Cricket Council) to eliminate umpiring errors from Test cricket. It has become a controversial and touchy subject for the Indians who failed to use it to their benefit in the series. For the record Sri Lanka profited from the review system winning 11 of their 27 appeals while India won one solitary review out of 21.

The home captain Mahela Jayawardene showed the acumen to use the system better than his counterpart Anil Kumble, but it brought diversified views with the winning team captain supporting it and the losing captain complaining of ‘teething problems in the technology’ and concluding that it was not 100 percent foolproof.
On that occasion it provided one instance of the UDRS being trialled as an ICC experiment and after several similar trials involving other Test playing countries, the ICC made it mandatory for all Test matches by launching it officially on November 24, 2009 during the first Test match between Pakistan and New Zealand at Dunedin.

The moment the governing body puts it into the rules and regulations it applies to everyone. A rule should be either mandatory or not exist at all. If the ICC believes the UDRS is needed for cricket to progress then it should get all its members to toe the line. What has happened with the UDRS today is that there has been no consistency of its use in Test cricket. While some countries are for it like Sri Lanka, there are others like India who are against it. In such circumstances where does the ICC draw the line? It cannot just leave it hanging loosely hoping that all Test playing countries will one day come to some form of agreement and use it constantly. As the governing body the ICC has its responsibilities to ensure that once it takes a decision it is mandatory to all and sundry, not leave it in the hands of the host country to convince their opponents of the merits of the system.
In the Test series that followed in 2009-10 India did not employ the UDRS at home and Sri Lanka were unhappy as they lost the series 2-0. Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain said, “It cost us close to 500 runs and lots of wickets”. Now Sri Lanka as the host country find that they cannot use the UDRS because the ICC clause implies that the UDRS would be used at the discretion of the host board in consultation with the visiting board which means that unless both boards agree to it, the UDRS cannot be used in the series.

The ICC’s directive on the UDRS is as ambiguous as the body’s role in international cricket. It states: “The host member would determine whether to use DRS in home Test series (following consultation with the visiting country).” In one sentence the ICC directive gives the home board the power to “determine” whether the UDRS should be used, but at the same time also empowers the visiting team to contest it.
Thus the new Test series beginning at Galle today will be sans the UDRS which once again brings us to the point that the ICC lacks the backbone to get some of its membership to toe the line the way they want maybe because of the financial clout they have. Or is it that the Sri Lankan board as the host nation did not exercise control of it strongly due to the clout of its Indian counterpart who was generous enough to give them an unscheduled three-Test series without which they would have been left high and dry with a mere two Tests against West Indies for the entire year.

If the ICC thinks the cricket world is not ready for the UDRS then it must wait till it is. It cannot leave it in the hands of the host board to bear the cost of technology that is required to implement a successful UDRS. As Sangakkara said the other day, “the ICC should perhaps pay for the technology needed to implement the system successfully, because it is something the ICC wants to introduce and the broadcasters have usually paid exorbitant monies for their rights and might not be able to afford extra costs for sophisticated tools such as Hot Spot”.

“The role that ICC has to play here is to make sure that all boards are bound to have the DRS rather than when one side refuses, the other side can’t enforce the DRS, as is under the current playing conditions.”
With the ICC recommending the UDRS be implemented at the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent, it should now play a more responsible role to ensure that it becomes mandatory for all Test matches as well. But then again the ICC has left the door open that it is subject to its broadcaster partners ESPN Star Sports agreeing to bear the cost of implementing the system. As it has been the case for years, the fact is that the ICC doesn’t want to pay for the diagnosis, but is still hopeful it will go through. Will they ever learn?