DRS and the price of justice

I first played senior cricket for a village team in South Buckinghamshire. One of our neighbouring clubs, Jordans, had Bill Giles, BBC weatherman, a regular in their team. In 1994, a decade after I played there, Jordans Cricket Club was taken to court. The court case didn’t concern a misleading weather forecast, but an attempt by a resident of the village to put a stop to cricket because of the danger caused by cricket balls being hit into his garden.

The judge rejected the application for an injunction to stop the game being played there. His reasoning never matched the lyrical charm of Lord Denning’s in a similar case two decades earlier

In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. [Now, due to a High Court judge’s decision] The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much poorer. And all this just because of a newcomer who has bought a house there next to the cricket ground.

[Court of Appeal, 1977]

The judge in the Jordans CC case was more pragmatic, advising the complainant to use their more sheltered back garden or to go out on afternoons when the club had a home fixture. And in denying the request for an injunction, the judge awarded costs to the cricket club. There, for the unsuccessful complainant, was the price of justice: a hefty bill for his own and the club’s legal costs.

The principle that a party to a court case who is unsuccessful, particularly where their case is judged to have little merit, should pay the costs of the case is central to the UK’s civil justice system. It ensures that someone forced to go to court without good reason is not penalised financially. It also acts as a deterrent to people launching frivolous, capricious or vexatious legal actions.

In November 2009, the ICC introduced an in-play dispute resolution system for international cricket: the Decision Review System (DRS). Players can request that a decision made by an on-field umpire is reviewed by an off-field umpire equipped with video and audio technology. DRS remains controversial. The first major cause of controversy is the accuracy and reliability of the technology used by the third umpire. This post doesn’t address that question, other than to observe that technology refines at great speed, particularly where it is heavily used and investment is made available.

The second cause of controversy is that in its practical application, the system is being used for much more than its stated purpose of ridding the game at its highest level of the occasional rank bad decision made by on-field umpires. drs3Players are using it as part of the tactical armoury of the game, challenging marginal decisions, in the hope that the odd one may fall in their favour. This post looks at the question of how to promote responsible use of this form of justice. In all honesty, I wouldn’t pretend to have come up with a solution, but have pursued an idea which may develop our understanding of the place of the DRS in the game.

Currently, in matches where DRS is available, each side can continue requesting reviews each innings until it makes two unsuccessful reviews. The two unsuccessful reviews have become part of the resources available to each team and so there is a tendency to use them up. The tactical use of these reviews tends to be by or against star batsmen or, if spare, towards the end of the innings. Only one-quarter of reviews are upheld.

The ‘business model’ for DRS encourages the tactical use of reviews and not solely the righting of clear wrongs. Some cricket viewers see no problem with this, but there are well-constructed arguments against it: there is a progressive dilution of the on-field umpires’ authority as multiple challenges to their decision-making is sanctioned; it delays play while the off-field umpire considers the video and audio evidence.

I believe that these concerns could be allayed were the unsuccessful use of DRS to carry with it a suitable penalty. We will go back to Jordans Cricket Club to find an analogy for the current situation.

Imagine if the residents of each village were given free access to court, subject to them not losing two court cases in a year, to lay claims against their village cricket club for damages arising from balls hit into their property. The county courts would be pelted with claims like an IPL crowd is by white cricket balls. The penalty for misuse of the privilege to obtain court adjudication would simply be the reduction in the opportunity to misuse that privilege and then to use it at all.

Instead of creating a new currency in which to levy penalties for misuse – future use of the courts – the civil justice system exacts penalties in society’s mainstream currency, money. Cricket’s currencies are runs and wickets. If teams are to understand the value of, and respect, the DRS review, they should be made to pay for their misuse in one of those currencies. I would suggest, runs.

The idea is simply that a player (batsman or bowler) requesting a review of an drs jt umpire’s decision should stand a surety in runs, which would be deducted from their team’s score should the review prove unsuccessful. There would be no other restriction placed on the requesting of reviews. This could discourage review of all but the most glaring umpire errors.

It would have this desired effect if the penalty were set at the right level. And this – setting of the tariff – is I’ll concede, very tricky.

In microeconomic theory, a consumer will pay a sum for a good or service that represents the value that item has for them. The value of a wicket, which is what the DRS considers, varies according to the situation of the game and the individual player. A side facing defeat may be prepared to gamble a lot on a review if it could help turn an otherwise lost cause. A team whose innings is nearing a declaration would not be prepared to put much of their position at risk as their batsmen are to be called off the ground shortly.

But the producer sets the price, not the consumer, who merely decides if the price is right. The tariff could be set in many different ways: current score of batsmen reviewing/subject to review; the batsman’s own average; the average score across all test cricket; the average score for players in that series or for matches at that venue. The higher the figure the fewer reviews would be requested, but the more distorting to the game’s situation an unsuccessful review would be. Perhaps the most interesting observation is that there is no obvious equation for calculating the value of a wicket.

So, while penalising misuse of DRS reviews with run deductions may successfully limit their use to glaring errors, much depends upon the level at which the tariff is set. As a practical solution it piles complexity on an already complicated regulation. It shares with the current arrangements (i.e. the arbitrary two unsuccessful review limitation) the weakness that it does not guarantee that umpiring errors will be corrected as some deserving of justice may be discouraged from risking their team’s score. It may be that the only way to remove the tactical element from the DRS is to incorporate the technology fully into the initial decision made by the umpire, banishing all player-initiated reviews.


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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

6 responses to “DRS and the price of justice”

  1. growltiger says :

    In contrast to the problem of time-wasting (where there is as relatively clear relation between overs not-bowled and potential runs not scorable) run penalties for unsuccessful use of the DRS seem arbitrary and distortive. However, you are probably right, having floated this idea, to indicate that it is answering the wrong question. Experience with the DRS has now been long enough, and sufficiently successful, for all concerned to realise that its use has improved the game, particularly in Tests. It is not necessarily the case that decision making is improved, instance by instance, but it has been good for the standard of decision making overall, and there have been clear benefits in terms of fairness and transparency. As in tennis, the entertainment value of putting these decisions under the microscope massively exceeds the entertainment cost of the hiatus in play. Technology should be mandatorily included in the basic decision process for any appeal where there is any element of doubt at all.

    • chrisps says :

      We seem to have reached the same point: that technology should be integrated into decision making, not reserved for reviews of decisions. The notion of a run-penalty is more interesting than it is viable.

      Don’t underestimate the opposition to DRS. Its influence is clear (BCCI), but some of the arguments are very well honed, too. The blogger ‘A cricketing view’ could be the world’s expert on the subject. I recommend you check out his work.

      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Samir Chopra says :

    Chris: I wonder: why not simply reduce the number of reviews to one? That way, it is more likely that you will not use it tactically but only for blatant errors. And also, why not give more technological aid to umpires on the field, as opposed to off-field ones? They would simply check on the field to make their decision. No need for a referral upstairs.

    • chrisps says :

      Samir, Subash(?)
      I’m guessing you mean one unsuccessful review rather than a single review per innings. If the existing system is to be refined, it does seem to be the sensible next step. You also suggest that a better approach would be to integrate the technology into the umpire’s on-field decision-making. I am pretty certain we’ll reach that point eventually, but who knows when?
      Many thanks for your contributions.

  3. thecricketcouch says :

    I wanted to comment on the post but I see Samir has said exactly, to a word, what I wanted to say. So, with having nothing else to add, au revoir. Keep the discussion going.

  4. verbosityabridged says :

    Let’s go back to the old days when Test matches didn’t have a limit of days, and allow every review. I’d love to see a modern Test match go for two years.

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