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Why is India reluctant to use the UDRS?
As other Test-playing nations agree to adopt the Umpire Decision Review System, a stubborn India stands isolated, with both its team and board not too convinced of the new technology's efficacy. How long can they hold out?
There's an intriguing mini-war brewing over the use of technology in cricket. But amid the hectic parlaying between involved parties, the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, it seems, can rest easy for the moment. Both are avowed critics of the new Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), with Dhoni reluctantly reluctantly viewing it as a lastgasp measure for arresting declining umpiring standards. So it might come as a relief that Indian cricket's big bosses are not planning to give the UDRS the thumbs-up any time soon.
This is disheartening news for the International Cricket Council, which is busy pulling out all stops to convert skeptics and ensure a successful implementation of the UDRS technology to minimise umpiring errors. With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) though, the ICC might run into a brick wall: world cricket's richest and most powerful body appears convinced the UDRS is all bells and whistles and doesn't warrant the extra cost and headache. India, though, stands isolated, with almost every other
Test-playing nation agreeing to adopt the system. How long can the BCCI hold out?
In detailed discussions with TOI-Crest, top BCCI officials explained that the system wasn't foolproof and that putting the onus on the players to refer decisions was a flawed concept. The fact that some of the technology suppliers operate in a largely monopoly market is also a sore point with the BCCI. Some of the claims were hotly contested by either the ICC or the technology suppliers, leading to a piquant situation where the UDRS risks becoming a political and financial tool.
The howlers involving Kane Williamson, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan in the first India-New Zealand Test gave the impression that India's squeamishness over adopting the UDRS had been a self-defeating exercise. Yet, the influential Tendulkar has stood firm in rejecting the system, even though some others in the team like Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh have agreed to disagree. It has emerged that India coach Gary Kirsten, who recently enjoyed a first-hand demonstration of the technological aids from Hawk-Eye Innovations, too is not averse to its use.
For the BCCI, though, the UDRS is an absolute no-no, as Cricket South Africa - which is having a hard time persuading the BCCI to adopt the system in the upcoming series - is finding out. One top BCCI official went so far as to say, "I'm an engineer, I can't accept this nonsense. " The BCCI seems to have thought it out, and is not dismissing the UDRS flippantly. Is the apprehension justified?
"Whatever happens we are not going to allow the UDRS in bilateral series, " said a BCCI source, "There are many problems. No two pitches have the same bounce, the same nature of surface, the same weather conditions, so how does increasing the number of camera frames per second or using vector graphics improve the predictability aspect of the technology? There are parallax and mapping errors too. And after all the costs involved, all the hassles, the ICC says the percentage of correct decisions goes up from some ridiculous figure of 92 per cent to 97 per cent. It is not even 100 per cent. "
Another BCCI official said: "For the players involved, it becomes a lottery. Why not refer every tough decision automatically, put the onus on the umpires to double-check ? Why put the onus on the players and give them only two appeals per innings? If a captain is a wicketkeeper, fine, but what if he is standing at point? Will he know then whether or not to appeal for an LBW decision? If the philosophy is to eliminate umpiring error, why not go the whole hog? The ICC will only end up eliminating umpiring error when a player makes a right call to appeal. "
The BCCI has many other objections, but the first part of the argument was rejected by Paul Hawkins, managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations, one of two main UDRS technology suppliers to cricket along with the New Zealand-based Virtual Eye, which was used during the India-Sri Lanka series in 2008 and will also be in operation later during the Ashes.
"I wish I could sit down with the BCCI and clear these misconceptions, " said Hawkins. "The ICC is trying hard to arrange a meeting, but India doesn't have confidence in the technology. BCCI will undoubtedly make money if UDRS catches public fancy. Firstly, the broadcasters already have Hawk-Eye, and upgrading from there to total UDRS use will not be prohibitively expensive.
"We use vector graphics for projectile mapping, which is loosely based on the missile tracking technology in the military, so how the pitch behaves is immaterial to us. In an LBW, the key is mapping the flight of the ball from the interception point, which is after the ball has bounced. And the odds of wind conditions changing 180 degrees in that precise moment are low. But skepticism is healthy. We are having a hard time convincing FIFA as well to adopt goal-line technology."
UEFA chief Michel Platini recently said using goal-line technology would lead to "Playstation football", and Hawkins says negotiations are on. "It's our job to convince critics but we need an opportunity. As far as we are concerned, our technology is quite error-free, can be safely trusted, and makes everybody's job easier. Just look at line calls in tennis, where Hawk-Eye has been so successful."
Faced with vehement opposition from BCCI, the ICC at its executive board meeting in October even agreed to "explore sponsorship" for the UDRS to cover cost concerns, but that only made the BCCI more suspicious. "We are not in the business of promoting Hawk-Eye or some such company. We are not their agents, " said a BCCI member, "The technology suppliers operate largely in a monopoly market. This is why FIFA is reluctant to use goal-line technology too. First the ICC put the onus on the host board to bear the broadcaster's cost, and when we refused then they said they will try to rope in sponsors. The ICC is trying its best, through the media, through its commentators, to promote UDRS at any cost."
Both Hawkins and the ICC denied that technology suppliers operated in a "monopoly market", dismissing the BCCI's views as "another misconception" and insisting there was fierce competition in this area. But a BCCI official said, "I have only one question to ask them: Why? There were clear errors in the technology when India played Sri Lanka in 2008."
That 2008 series was the genesis of this present dislike for the UDRS among Indian players and officials. That wasn't Hawk-Eye but rival Virtual Eye, and sources revealed that Virtual Eye's markedly different system of using fibre optic cables leading to cameras, in an attempt to produce more frames per second and track the ball better, went awry quite often during that series. "Those were early days. There were problems mapping the intersection point, the software crashed quite often, often their cameras didn't get sufficient light even though play was on, and these problems convinced the BCCI that UDRS was a headache, " claimed a source, "But the company now flaunts more sophisticated gear, as you will see during the Ashes. Research is continuously on and chinks are always being removed. India also got it wrong tactically."
Technology issues apart, why should improvement in umpiring be subject to tactical acumen in the first place? At its heart, there is a difference of philosophy between the ICC and BCCI when it comes to this aspect. "Suppose it's a fifthday turning track in India, there are fielders crowding the bat, and there is an appeal almost every ball. Can the umpire play safe and refer every appeal upstairs? The game will never end, " said an ICC official, "So we decided to put the onus on the player, and eliminate at least the basic umpiring errors which can change a game. UDRS is meant to take care of howlers and thereby improve umpiring standards. We agree the technology is not 100 per cent at times, but enough to overturn blatantly wrong decisions."
The BCCI, though, is standing firm. "Our job is to safeguard Indian cricket, and maintain the character of the game as far as we can. Baseball is hotly contested, but it's not heavily dependent on technology. We are going to assert the right of the home board to refuse, " said another board member, "Also, in cricket, in principle you do not allow a player to contest the umpire's decision. And here you are unnecessarily giving him a legitimate method to challenge the umpire, when the umpire himself can do the job."
The ICC has a lot of convincing to do both with the BCCI and the senior Indian players. The UDRS will be used in the upcoming World Cup in the subcontinent, and also include the Hotspot technology (for tracking edges and points of contact) to which Tendulkar has given his thumbs-up. India has agreed to its implementation "subject to the reliability of the ball-tracking technology", a debatable grey area. The ICC is hoping India's experience with the UDRS in the World Cup may eventually tilt the scales, though before that it is trying to fly out some BCCI officials to Australia to witness the Virtual Eye first-hand during the Ashes. There's likely to be much more song and dance over the UDRS in the coming months.
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