Clarifications needed regarding DRS outside assistance issue

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Boiling point: The dressing room referral issue was hotly debated after the Bengaluru test. Image source: 1.

The aftertaste of victory in the Bengaluru test match—in what has been an already enthralling series—was soured by Kohli’s allegations of the Australian team conspiring to gain an advantage by seeking the input of the dressing room in the case of a DRS call. Given the fiercely contested nature of the series so far, and the tendency of Kohli’s men to stand their ground, this had the makings of a much bigger controversy. Both the board didn’t step back from the matter, backing their captains to the hilt. The ICC tried to defuse the tension by not taking any action (presumably, due to lack of evidence). The BCCI first lodged the complaint, and later withdrew it. Former players weighed in on the issue, and some articles appeared in Indian and Australia media tinged with jingoism. In short, this had all the makings of a full blown masala flick, replete with punch dialogues from both sides.

In the midst of all this, fellow Scroll and The Hindu’s thREAD contributor, Kartikeya Date has stated his opinions on the matter. In his article on thREAD, he makes some good points. For the sake of this article, let us assume that two players A and B are in the midst of this entanglement. Considering that frayed tempers have accompanied back-and-forth viewpoints, it is best not to view this with the lens of partisanship while making arguments.

Kartikeya invokes 3.2(c) of Appendix 1 of the ICC Playing Handbook,

“The captain may consult with the bowler and other fielders or the two batsmen may consult with each other prior to deciding whether to request a Player Review. Under no circumstances is any player permitted to query an umpire about any aspect of a decision before deciding on whether or not to request a Player Review. If the umpires believe that the captain or batsman has received direct or indirect input emanating other than from the players on the field, then they may at their discretion decline the request for a Player Review. In particular, signals from the dressing room must not be given.”

Karthikeya proceeds to say that the rules prohibit signals from the dressing room, and also asking the umpire about any aspect on the decision made before deciding to use the DRS. He then proceeds to say that a player A was guilty of asking the umpire and player B was guilty of signalling to the dressing room. He then concludes that neither was an attempt to cheat, and were honest mistakes. He’s spot on in his reading of the law, but there are inconsistencies in his argument and the spirit of ICC’s law.

Both the transgressions are not of the same degree, in terms of asking an interested party and the advantage that can be gained. It is also wrong of the ICC not to explicitly clarify and distinguish the degree of offence.

Law 27 pertains to the issue of appeals in cricket. For a dismissal to take place, the fielding team has to appeal. It covers all possible modes of dismissal (bat-pad catches and LBW can overlap in some cases), and the umpire has to clearly state his decision. He is under no obligation to explain his decision (this law is silent on this matter). In the pre-DRS era, many cricket fans would probably remember many bowlers having a mini conference regarding what was wrong with their appeal. The points of contention in an LBW call could be an edge, point of impact, ball pitch location, and impacting the stumps (ignoring no-ball). Asking an umpire his grounds for decision might give a team an idea about an option that they may not have considered (out of the limited options available).

Since the bowling team or batsman may gain an advantage in terms of whether or not to use/waste a review by asking for the technical grounds for dismissal to the person professionally trained to make the decision (umpire), this route has been explicitly blocked. In terms of the event, both the players and the umpire are speaking about a lapsed event. What is more, the neutral umpire is the deciding authority, and has no gain if a particular team wins.

Coming to the other point, asking the dressing room in the pre-DRS age was irrelevant. According to the DRS guidelines, the batsman or fielding team has to make a review within 30 seconds (though this is not strictly enforced)—this is where the problem is. In the era of instant replay and DRS, the dressing room is at a considerable advantage (even more than the umpire) since it has the necessary tools to relive the moment which has lapsed.

This is also the reason why big screen replays are banned until before the player review is taken. As a case in point, in the recent India Bangladesh test, replays of the last wicket dismissal were beamed on the giant screen, in clear contravention of the DRS protocol. While the right decision was made, it is not hard to imagine heated arguments about gained advantage under more drastic circumstances.

Additionally, even if both the events are viewed as seeking assistance from an external party (dressing room or umpire), they are not the same as the dressing room has the same interest in winning the match for their team, compared to the umpire. In terms of potential advantage that can be gained and conflict of interest, this is far higher in scale compared to the first transgression, and it is wrong for the ICC to bracket both of them under the category.

Kartikeya then finishes his article chronicling various examples of cheating “A batsman who does not walk when he knows he’s out is cheating. A wicketkeeper who appeals when he knows the batsman is not out is cheating too. Both these actions involve trying to cheat the umpire. Sneakily trying to tamper with the ball is cheating too. Cheating requires subterfuge — an underhanded attempt to gain an advantage.”

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Bursting at its seams: The Mike Denness- Tendulkar ball tampering affair was a controversial one. Image source: 2.

Now this is where things are a bit tricky. When a situation like this arises, one of the first questions that is asked is what was the perpetrator’s intention while gaining the advantage, i.e. was the attempt intentional or unintentional. In many cases, it is clear (In football, Luis Suarez’s handball in the 2010 World Cup and his admission of guilt, many players diving in the penalty box etc. come to mind); in many other cases, there is plenty of ambiguity. Many a times, the player’s body language and prior track record are often used to make subjective judgements about whether he/she was guilty. For example, in the case of the infamous Sachin Tendulkar-Mike Denness ball tampering allegations, it was Sachin’s spotless record that was propped up an evidence of non-intention. Things would have been viewed differently if, say, Waqar Younis were to be the player under the spotlight.

Therefore, even in the examples that Kartikeya has offered as “cheating”, whether or not it was intentional is not obvious. A repeat offender could have bowled a bouncer with a view to maim the batsman; a player could have been appealing when it’s not out while not having a clear view of the event; a batsman may not walk since he’s not sure if he has nicked the ball. Unfortunately, until we find a way to read minds, none of these can ever be resolved satisfactorily.

If I may add, in the same category, a player claiming a bump ball catch is not always cheating—especially in close cases with the hands near to the ground. For example, it is debatable if Tendulkar aimed to deliberately cheat by claiming bump ball catches; his body language claiming both catches is very confident. Particularly, the second catch off Dravid in the IPL match reveals a lot more about the role of the “interested party”: Dravid was right to stand his ground to confirm the dismissal via TV replays; Gavaskar was mildly suggesting that he could have taken the word of Tendulkar, a national teammate of impeccable character; TV replays later confirmed that Dravid was correct in standing his ground.

This is the precise reason why “trusting the fielder’s word” for a catch is flawed. 100 years ago, with no replays, a supposed moral code, and the fielder being placed in a better position to judge the catch, it may have been acceptable; but since the fielder is an interested party who has an advantage to gain from the dismissal, this practice is dubious in today’s era where better tools are available.

Therefore, even though both player A’s or B’s actions were illegal, they are not cut from the same cloth. The ICC should act to make a clear distinction between the two. The key part of the saga involves whether the Australian team were deliberate in their intention; stereotypical undertones of “typical unfair Aussie behaviour” aside, video evidence could have established intent if they were repeat offenders. For what it’s worth, Kohli’s account of seeing the transgression in action while he was batting does not match with the account provided by Mid-day.

While it is great that the tension has been lightened with a practical decision having been made, and the spotlight is back on the cricket, the ICC should take this opportunity to set the record straight and not imply false equivalences in terms of the level of the violation.

Disclaimer: The images used in this article are not property of this blog. They have been used for representational purposes only. The copyright, if any, rests with the respective owners.

 

 

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