As Kevin Pietersen marched from an overcast Old Trafford wicket to the pavilion in burning rage, the growing sentiment around the ground was one of disbelief at yet another blunder involving the controversial Decision Review System (DRS).
England had battled hard to save the third Test, which ended prematurely in a draw after rain stopped play.
But once again, just as the clouds rumbled above the Lancashire ground, the cricket was overshadowed by a storm brewing over the umpiring of the series. Pietersen appeared to miss the ball, but was given out nonetheless, the debacle certainly not helped by the inept ‘hot-spot’ device.
Although hot-spot generally picks up any contact between bat and ball, it struggles to detect faint touches, making the third umpire’s job extremely difficult when reviewing a decision. The third umpire must have the absolute burden of proof in order to undermine the on-field umpire’s decision – which in Pietersen’s case was a resounding “out”.
The snickometer faces similar problems, and increasing player power with the ability to call the umpires into question is bound to cause disputes.
England’s first innings was hit by problems of the opposite nature; Tim Bresnan decided to walk despite clearly not hitting the ball when caught behind. The First Test at Trent Bridge erupted over Stuart Broad’s decision to stay put with umpire Aleem Dar oblivious to his nick to first slip – Australia were powerless having already used up both of their reviews for the innings.
Misfortunes at the hands of DRS are becoming a matter of swings and roundabouts, with both sides suffering cruel decisions, though Australia felt particularly aggrieved when the First Test ended – predictably – in the third umpire being called into action after Brad Haddin made the faintest of contact with the ball off Jimmy Anderson’s bowling.
Aussie captain Michael Clarke has publicly backed the system, despite his own players’ sometimes incompetent use of it. Likewise, the England camp support the use of technology, although coach Andy Flower admitted after the Third Test that “improvements” need to be made in the last two Tests.
This year’s Ashes have arguably been the most theatrical in terms of debate over DRS. In the past, the reviews have been a welcome addition to the game, but this contest has certainly seen the scheme mismanaged.
Part of the problem is the umpiring itself – the International Cricket Council (ICC) has an ‘elite panel’ of 12 umpires – eight of whom are either English or Australian and are therefore unable to take part in The Ashes.
Andy Flower stopped short of saying what changes he’d like to see, but while the review system has undoubtedly added unprecedented drama, the umpires will have to do an impeccable job for the remainder of the series to ensure the focus stays on the cricket – and not on DRS.
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