The Ashes: Andy Flower demands a review to end the shambles of DRS
England's coach wants ICC to adopt a smarter attitude towards technology and for those using it to make 'calm, clear decisions'
The Ashes have come home again, the series is still to play for. England are not quite as good as some observers expected, Australia are nowhere near as bad. It is a fascinating contest.
If it moves from Durham, where the fourth Investec Test starts on Friday, to The Oval, where the fifth is being played in a fortnight, with Australia having pulled back to 2-1, it may yet be gripping once more.
But the overriding feature of the confrontation so far has not been the fragile batting on both sides, the incisive pace bowling of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle of Australia, or the manipulation and swing of Jimmy Anderson and the patient, clever off-spin of Graeme Swann for England. It has been the application and the interpretation of the umpire decision review system, or the infernal DRS as it is now known.
No series has been so fraught with debate since this particular piece of technology, with its various strands, was introduced four years ago. Equally, no series would now be complete without it (although on the other hand it did not seem to lessen the drama of England's series in India last winter, when DRS was not in use and both sides just got on with it as of yore).
The players have become increasingly tetchy. Kevin Pietersen was the most recent victim of DRS in the drawn Test at Old Trafford on Monday, which ensured that England retained the Ashes for the third successive time and the fourth in the last five – not that anyone is counting.
Pietersen was given out caught after essaying an expansive drive away from his body at Siddle, the sort of shot about which it might be said that if it does not come off, you deserve what's coming to you. When there was insufficient evidence to overturn the verdict, mostly because Pietersen hit the ball, the batsman was extremely vexed.
The anger did not look to be directed at himself for an understandable error made in the heat of the moment but at the technology. He was convicted on sound, not on Hot Spot, the infra-red system which indicates that the ball has made contact with the bat.
Pietersen's annoyance was probably twofold: he did not think he had hit it and Hot Spot showed that he had not hit it. Actually, he had hit it and one of the troubles with Hot Spot is that while its presence convicts, its absence does not automatically discharge.
Hot Spot has had a poor series, though not as poor as a few of the batsmen, and its obvious fallibility – it appears to have worsened instead of improved – renders it unreliable. But the way in which umpires have adjudicated on decisions has been understandably criticised. Sometimes it has looked as if they are siding with their mates.
Andy Flower, England's coach, is advocating change. "I thought DRS had worked pretty well in international cricket prior to this series but in this series it hasn't worked well at all," he said. "I wouldn't necessarily blame technology – what we have at the moment is the best we've got. I might question whether we're using it as wisely as we can. I think we, the cricket community, can use it better."
DRS was established to eradicate obvious error from the umpiring lexicon. By and large it has achieved that. But it has become a tool and a tactic.
Players are quite willing to use it in the hope of survival, or pray that the other team has run out of both their reviews, thus enabling an incorrect decision to stand. England undoubtedly deserved their 14-run victory at Trent Bridge in the first Test but they might well have lost. When Brad Haddin, having made a gallant 71, got an inside edge to Anderson he was given not out by the umpire, Aleem Dar. Fortunately for England they had a review left and sent the incident upstairs. While the evidence was being sifted England's wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, asked Haddin if he had hit it. Haddin confirmed that he had.
Hot Spot showed a fatal mark. Had it not done so, Haddin might have escaped. The course of the series might have changed. It is that influential.
Flower said: "There is technology there to use and there are protocols that go with it. I think the people in charge of using the technology have to make very calm, clear decisions.
"We also know that going back to using just the two umpires in the middle is not the answer because that isn't going to get us a greater percentage of correct decisions.
"Just being smart about how we use the technology – where the third umpire sits, who he sits with, is he sitting with experts in technology so that he sees the best pictures and can run forwards and backwards the various screens and the pertinent screens – those are the things that the ICC need to get right."
DRS is the ICC's official policy, made nonsensical by the fact that India want nothing to do with it. Reports that India are coming round to the idea are premature and probably exaggerated. India have repeatedly made their position clear.
The ICC, in any case, must make amendments in view of the shambles permeating the Ashes. That may entail greater use of the Snickometer, better training for the third umpire. There is plenty of mileage left in this series.
In a hot spot: Problems with DRS
Jonathan Trott LBW, Trent Bridge
Hot Spot was unavailable and Marais Erasmus overturned Aleem Dar's not-out call, a decision made after it appeared Trott had touched the ball.
Stuart Broad edge, Trent Bridge
Dar somehow missed Broad's edge to slip but Australia could not appeal, having used both their reviews.
Usman Khawaja edge, Old Trafford
Despite no sign Khawaja had nicked a Graeme Swann delivery, Kumar Dharmasena did not overturn the out decision.
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