Monday, August 22, 2011


After my previous post on The Dravid Selection Debate, this one is now on the 2nd innings dismissal of Rahul Dravid during the 4th Test at the Oval. It looks like Dravid debates are the fashion for this season! Already, this dismissal has been discussed and dissected all over Twitter and other cricket forums on the internet. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth!

First, let me state very clearly that I did not see the dismissal live and did not even manage to catch a replay till well after the end of day's play. When I did see the replay, I already knew that Dravid had admitted to have edged it. So whether I think there was an edge or not does not matter, because my eyes were always going to be prejudiced after that admission by Dravid. But here's what I do know:

1. Most English commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw a slight deflection from a certain angle, and so Steve Davis was justified in ruling Dravid out.

2. Most Indian commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw no conclusive evidence for Steve Davis to overrule the on-field decision. Since DRS over-ruling works on the basis of conclusive evidence, Davis was not justified.

3. Amongst the neutral, I don't recall many opinions. But I do recall Mike Haysman tweeting that he didn't think there was any conclusive evidence to rule Dravid out.

I think that based on these statements, we can assume that it was a marginal call either way.

Now what I am going to state here has been stated so often already that it's sounding more and more like a cliché, but it has to be mentioned nevertheless. So here it goes again - the DRS was meant to eliminate howlers, and not rule on marginal calls. Where marginal calls are involved, the ground umpire's decision should be taken as the final one. Only when there is overwhelming evidence against the ground umpire's ruling should that decision be overturned.

But while I state all this, lets not forget that the primary aim of the judiciary (and this includes the umpires as well as the technology that has been provided for their aid) is to come to the right decision. And in Dravid's case, the right decision was indeed reached, even though in a wrong way! I remember once an umpire (I think it was Simon Taufel, but I'm not sure!) stated that they would not want their walkie-talkie conversations ever recorded, because often they reach the right decisions in very wrong ways!

So what to make of this debate? Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, in my opinion and strictly in my opinion, I think that the right decision was made and Steve Davis was good to have spotted that faint edge and deviation. In his mind, he was must have been reasonably sure that the edge had been taken, however thin it may have been, and he relayed that decision back to the ground umpire. That's it!

But that's not the end of the story! What I have trouble comprehending is that why are umpires inconsistent in this matter. Some like Billy Bowden prefer to go exactly by the rule book and rule Ian Bell not out in the World Cup match against India even though the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that he should have been Yuvraj Singh's victim! And some like Steve Davis decide to use their initiative and overrule the foundation on which the DRS is based - i.e. the foundation of overwhelming evidence!

I know that the "Ian Bell - Yuvraj Singh - Billy Bowden" example is not quite an exact parallel to this one. And to be honest, I couldn't find any exact parallel. So I will give you the best I could find...

The following video shows the wickets and close calls during the Canada vs. Kenya match in the World Cup 2011. Watch this video from 5:02 onwards - the batsman is Kenyan Steve Tikolo, and the bowler is Canadian Rizwan Cheema.

Now, from what I see here, I think that the edge was clearer here on Steve Tikolo's bat than it was in case of Rahul Dravid at The Oval. I know that it may be a futile exercise to compare, since the situations were different and the umpires involved were different (Bruce Oxenford was the third umpire in the Steve Tikolo case). But the point I'm trying to make is that Oxenford saw it was a marginal call, and though some angles suggested an inside edge, he decided to rule it in favour of the on-field umpire's call. He saw no overwhelming evidence to overrule!

Here, I am not trying to blame Steve Davis in any way. I have already stated that with the benefit of hindsight, we can all agree that the correct decision was made. But the blame lies entirely with ICC's pathetic implementation of the DRS, and its use for marginal calls.

I understand that Bruce Oxenford may not have been as convinced as Steve Davis was to overrule the on-field call, but if I am allowed to judge the third umpires here, I am sure that neither Oxenford nor Davis could have been 100% sure about the edges. Even if Steve Davis was reasonably certain about the edge, I am prepared to bet that he could not have been a 100% confident about his call... simply because it indeed was a very marginal call and the replays could not have been deemed to be 100% conclusive. The varied opinions all over Twitter suggest nothing else.

So what does the ICC have to state? Are the on-field calls to be over-ruled where the third umpires are just reasonably sure about the evidence on offer? Or are they to be over-ruled only when the third umpires are a 100% certain about the error in the on-field decision? Till the ICC does not answer this question clearly and decisively, we will continue to have such vagaries in decision-making even in the future. How this decision might affect the result of this match will be known only tomorrow (and even then, just speculatively), but what it did was that it ended a marathon effort by India's best batsman on this tour on a very sour note!

Well played, Rahul Dravid! Much respect!


Russ said...

Shridhar, your premise is false, which makes your questions irrelevant. The third umpire does not make the decision. The third umpire answers questions and relays information to the central umpire regarding the decision.

Hence, the person who over-turned it was not Davis, but Tucker: his original belief in the decision was sufficiently weakly held that the evidence Davis provided, even if that was only evidence of a deflection, was sufficient for him to over-turn his decision.

Once you move into the correct realm of who made the decision, then there is no way to argue the review was right or wrong to over-turn, without knowledge of what Tucker thought prior to the review. Because the review is derived from existing beliefs, the umpires can be inconsistent with the tv evidence and remain consistent with the DRS procedure. Even if that procedure, is to outside eyes viewing only the tv footage, a mess of contradictions and inconsistencies.

Unknown said...

Russ, I know that the third umpire can only relay answers in objective terms to the on-field umpire's questions.

That is exactly why I blamed Billy Bowden (the on-field umpire) for Ian Bell's LBW review in the World Cup. But here, the responsibility lies with the third umpire for a bat-pad call.

What will the on-field umpire ask the third umpire? He'll most definitely ask if there was an edge. So the judgement of whether there was an edge or not was entirely Steve Davis', and not Rod Tucker's.

I admit that the latter part of what you say might well be true. Tucker's original belief in his not out decision must have been weak. That is why he overturned it.

So like I said in the post, I don't dispute the decision. The right one has been made, and the batsman himself admitted to an edge. But the question on umpires' consistency still remains, and is I have tried to highlight it with the help of Steve Tikolo's dismissal.

You say that the procedure "is to outside eyes viewing only the tv footage, a mess of contradictions and inconsistencies." That may be so! But if the DRS has to become a daily exercise in cricket, it has to sort out that mess for the outside eyes too, for it is these outside eyes that ultimately run the game, don't they?

Russ said...

Shridhar, Davis cannot say whether there was an edge, or if it was out either, only what he sees on the various pieces of vision, including anything important not being asked by the on-field umpire. Hence all he could say was: there was/wasn't a deflection, the hot-spot is/isn't inconclusive/blocked, the sound is isn't there and is or isn't certainly bat.

It isn't inconsistent if the central umpire in the Tikolo case held a strong opinion (rightly or wrongly) that there was no edge, and concluded (rightly or wrongly) that the further evidence was insufficient. It is a problem of Bayesian reasoning, with two stages, not an independent review. The ICC is very clear about the process, even if it doesn't quite match the supposed motivations for the implementation.

As to whether it should look consistent, perhaps. As you know I wouldn't have a review system, because marginal calls will always be marginal. But if there is to be a review, then most decisions will be made on marginal calls, and there is reasonable grounds for making the highest probability decision, rather than merely over-turning howlers.

Unknown said...

Russ, Davis may not be able to say directly that it was out / not out, but he is allowed to say that there is / isn't an edge. That is an objective factual information being transmitted, just like all the other examples you have given.

The third umpires have to decide whether, in their opinion, there is an edge or not. In Tikolo's case, there Oxenford didn't find conclusive evidence to call it an edge. In Dravid's decision, Davis found the evidence conclusive enough to relay to Tucker that there was a slight deflection that could have been the edge!

I know that comparing these two decisions in different situations by different umpires is no scientific way of deducing things. I stated in my piece that there is no real "parallel" case that I could find to compare it with. So comparisons may well be futile!

But I still went ahead with the exercise because these decisions need to start looking consistent if DRS has to gain credibility around the world. Every now and again, someone flings mud at it, and it's not just in India. Just because VVS Laxman was ruled not out, the English team suggested that they don't think Hot Spot is a good enough tool!

Yes, no tool is perfect as it will never be. But consistency, like in run out / stumping decisions where we have the age-old saying that the line belongs to the umpire, will help in a big way to garner some credibility for a still developing system.

Run outs and stumpings where the bat is on the crease are marginal calls too. Yet, they are never (or hardly ever) debated today! The DRS needs to take a step in that direction!