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Will empowering the third umpire be the right thing for the future?

WPL 2023: BCCI have allowed teams to use DRS for wides and waist-high no-balls. Will empowering the third umpire be the right thing for the future?

Waist Height no-call, Wide can be reviewed by Third Umpire in WPL 2023, BCCI announces | Walking Wicket (Source: ©Google Images)
BCCI allowed teams to use DRS for wides and waist-high no-balls. (Source: ©Google Images)

In a first, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have allowed teams to leverage the Decision Review System (DRS) technology to flawlessly adjudicate wides and waist-high no-balls in the inaugural version of Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023. This is viewed as a step in the right direction by several cricketing experts and gurus from around the world.

BCCI has extended the scope of DRS technology in a bid to eliminate erroneous umpiring that can prove costly in closely contested T20 games. So, the question arises “Will empowering the third umpire be the right thing to do for the future? Or is it likely to affect the credibility of on-field umpires in the long run?”

Let’s delve deeper and try to better understand its implications on the game.

Roping in the third umpire could make matters smoother on the field

Several controversies have erupted in the past where umpires would become the focal point for their inconsistent decision-making on judging waist-high no balls and wides. Remember the infamous incident when a furious MS Dhoni stormed on to the pitch after the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) were denied a sureshot no-ball in the Indian Premier League (IPL)? The incident took place during CSK’s game against Rajasthan Royals (RR) in IPL 2019, where Stokes bowled an obvious looking waist-high slower full toss that was dispatched by Mitchell Santner for a six. The bowler’s end umpire Ulhas Gandhe extended his arm up to call and signal no ball only to be overruled by square leg umpire Bruce Oxenford. The lack of coordination between the on-field umpires was clearly evident and was frowned upon by many players including both the batters at the crease. The CSK players and the on-field umpires later got embroiled in an ugly spat which certainly could have been avoided had the third umpire stepped in to settle this matter. It was a serious umpiring goof up which triggered a massive backlash from the cricketing fraternity.

Such events have often depicted umpires in a bad light and have led us to undesirable `outcomes. To put such endless disputes to rest, BCCI made an extraordinary move to introduce DRS in the ongoing WPL edition which will empower teams to cut all the unnecessary drama around controversial waist-high no balls and wides. BCCI believes that this move will help officials to minimise or best put, eliminate costly umpiring blunders that can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game. One extra run or one extra ball can either make or break the entire match which can leave a bad sense of feeling amongst the players. And with technology on offer, the right calls can be made with ease by the TV umpire who will have the luxury of slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles at his/her disposal, unlike the on-field umpires.

Several experts like Aakash Chopra and Daniel Vettori have weighed in on this topic. Vettori has lauded this move and reckoned that the third umpire must be involved in making such decisions as on-field umpires often get it wrong time and again. Chopra went further and said that these calls should be made by the third umpire with him stepping in without burning the reviews.

It goes without saying that the third umpire is doing a commendable job in reviewing tight run out and stumping appeals immaculately. Back in the day when there was no technology available, the on-field umpires had to rely on guesswork and their instinct to manually adjudicate run out and stumping appeals using their naked eye. On several occasions, the decisions would turn out to be inaccurate and a lingering debate on whether the umpires got the decision right or wrong would definitely loom. But with the availability of technology, the on-field umpires can now breathe a sigh of relief as they can always call upon the assistance of the third umpire whenever in doubt. Besides, the role of the TV umpire in meticulously adjudicating front foot no balls is nothing short of remarkable. On-field umpires can now focus on what is happening at the business end, thus alleviating the pressure of frequently checking the front foot in real-time. In the past, umpires have been found guilty of omitting some glaring no balls in match-defining moments. One such instance came in the 2019 World Cup match played between West Indies and Australia where Mitchell Starc dismissed an in-form Chris Gayle off a massive front foot no ball that became a big talking point for all the wrong reasons. West Indies ultimately ended up losing the game and the on-field umpires were yet again scrutinised by the media and the public for committing such a grave error.

Pitfalls of usage of technology

Whilst the deployment of DRS in T20s is considered a revolutionary move, there are some obvious pitfalls that we need to consider before drawing a definitive conclusion. With the growing influence of DRS technology in every aspect of the game, the credibility of the on-field umpires can seriously get undermined.

Nowadays, the TV (third) umpire is pulled in to make just about every umpiring call. From front foot to boundary checks and validating whether a catch is fair or not, nearly everything is being dealt with by the third umpire. If waist-high no balls and wides are further added to a TV umpire’s extended task list, then we may witness a trend wherein the human face in the field of umpiring will completely cease to exist. It is certainly imperative to maintain a human presence in umpiring as on-field umpires have a myriad of responsibilities to attend to apart from decision-making alone. Without them, it would be impossible to address matters on the field pertaining to player management, conflict resolution and restricting unfair play to name a few. But with an unprecedented infiltration of DRS technology, on-field umpires may be at a high risk of becoming redundant and could soon be replaced by TV umpires alone in the future.

Although it is a very far-fetched assumption, but the way things are progressing, such development is certainly on the cards. Another downside to consider is the amount of time that is taken to make such referrals. Unlike other sports, cricket is the longest sport in terms of duration due to which it often lags behind in terms of popularity. As a general rule, all teams are allowed a maximum of 2 unsuccessful reviews. If they were to use both reviews, playing time could potentially get extended by an estimated 10 minutes. Such an extended pause in the game may disrupt the flow of the players which often hurts the continuity of the game.

Another challenge that surrounds the use of DRS is its implementation, especially by lower-wing cricket associations. DRS technology involves the use of a sophisticated network of cameras and microphones coupled with the incorporation of snickometer and hotspot technologies that are required to be deployed in several pockets of the ground. Lower leagues or associate nations may lack the technical capability or the budget to deploy DRS technology at such a wide scale.

Just to sum it up, the use of DRS is certainly beneficial for the game that can potentially prevent negative consequences for the players and the match officials. The third umpire ought to have more say in decisions where the human eye can falter. But with that being said, its use shall focus only on rectifying the errors of the on-field umpires and not replacing them altogether.

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