Now battle is joined between man and machine

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The Independent Online

One man's in is another man's out. Or put another way, one man's out is another man's in. Cricket is beginning to feel like a style guide. The reason is the trial playing condition known as Review of Umpiring Decisions. The series between West Indies and England is the third in which players have had the right to ask for verdicts to be referred for reconsideration by the third umpire.

On the evidence so far, it is a recipe for organised chaos, an illustration both of the limitations of technology and man's ability to interpret the results it is meant to elicit. The influencethat reviews can have on the course of a match has been abundantly clear in the First Test in Kingston.

Had the system not been in place the proceedings would undoubtedly have been very different. All that matters, of course, is the nature of that difference: was the decision that was eventually made the correct one?

There were obvious reasons for introducing technology to determine the big decisions in big-time cricket. So close is the scrutiny to which umpiring decisions are subjected and so intense is the pressure on umpires to get it right, it seemed like a noble idea.

It works like this: the fielding side can appeal if they think a batsman should have been given out; the batsman can do so if he thinks he should have been given in. In the first two series in which the trial took place, Sri Lanka v India and New Zealand v West Indies, three incorrect referrals per innings were permitted for each side.

In the present series in the Caribbean the number of referrals has been reduced to two because according to the International Cricket Council, although feedback from players and officials had been positive, three per innings meant there was "potential for frivolous or unnecessary reviews".

The frivolity has not been eradicated entirely. Stephen Harmison and Monty Panesar both appealed against their dismissals in England's first innings as their side still had their two review requests in hand. Although they were perfectly entitled, they were also, as they say, having a laugh.

As a rough guide so far, about a quarter of decisions are being overturned. It was 12 out of 48 in the series betweenSri Lanka and India, when India were completely at sea with the system, and six out of 20 between New Zealand and West Indies.

The trouble seems to be that the review itself is not foolproof. There was a glaring example in the First Test which England, bless them, will doubtless lick their wounds over for a few weeks yet. When Ramaresh Sarwan was five in West Indies' first innings, he was given out lbw to Harmison.

Sarwan, short of runs and with his side already a wicket down, reluctantly asked for a review. Umpire Tony Hill finally changed his decision with that peculiar combination of new signals: arms crossed on the shoulders and then waved in front of the waist.

Sarwan went on to make 107 and took the game away from England. But on another day the review could easily have gone against him. There was nothing conclusive about the pictures and graphics seen by third umpire Daryl Harper and predictive technology (ie Hawk-Eye) is not permitted. That makes leg befores as subjective as they always are. The game was changed on appeal.

The system is deeply flawed. It also delays the game and is open to abuse. Perhaps it would be more satisfactory if umpires themselves asked for reviews, but then players would be constantly badgering them.

In Kingston it may or may not be coincidental that most of the reviews have been requested at the end Hill has been standing. Not a member of the ICC's elite panel, he was an extremely late replacement for the original umpire, Asoka De Silva, who is.

It transpired De Silva was delayed in getting a visa, making the ICC look plain stupid. The players tested Hill like schoolkids testing a new teacher. Ultimately, the review system can be vindicated by the principle applying to justice everywhere: it matters not how many of the guilty go free as long as one innocent man is saved.