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Mitchell DRS Call Was Not a Blunder

For the TV umpire, it is a lot trickier. He has to look at several things - he has a process to follow, a process that most viewers of cricket have become accustomed to - first, he has to check for the no-ball. All clear. Next, he has to check whether the ball did hit the bat on its way to the pad or not.

Hemant Buch |February 10, 2019, 7:00 PM IST
Mitchell DRS Call Was Not a Blunder

Another day, another umpiring controversy. Once again, it brings up the debate regarding technology in cricket. Krunal Pandya, bowling left-arm around to Daryll Mitchell spears one in towards the batsman’s pads in the second T20I at Auckland on Friday. As is usual for Krunal, the ball holds its line - an arm ball, skidding off the track at pace. The batsman is late on the ball and plays around it, hoping to half defend, half turn it away on the on side in a defensive manner, perhaps for one. The ball thuds into the pad, with the batsman plumb in front. A huge appeal, and the on-field umpire has no hesitation sending the batsman on his way.

But has he hit it? The batsman and the non-striker, skipper Kane Williamson, certainly seem to think so and the decision is sent up to TV umpire Shaun Haig for review. It’s a pretty tough decision for an on-field umpire - the bat coming around the pad and the ball in a flurry of movement, in the brief moment he has, he decides the batsman hasn’t touched the ball. If he hasn’t, the decision is a no-brainer.

On commentary, Simon Doull describes the delivery thus: “Oohhh…Little edge…no…no edge at all…looked good…back and across…I think this looks very good…”. So, umpire Chris Brown’s decision seems like a good one. It’s certainly no howler.

For the TV umpire, it is a lot trickier. He has to look at several things - he has a process to follow, a process that most viewers of cricket have become accustomed to - first, he has to check for the no-ball. All clear. Next, he has to check whether the ball did hit the bat on its way to the pad or not.

Daryl Mitchell

Here, unlike in a lot of other series, he has all the tools at his disposal. First, he looks at the best possible camera angle. The spin vision is perfect. Played at super slow-motion speed, around 150 frames per second, there does appear to be an edge and the ball looks to have changed course before hitting the pad. But then, Shaun Haig, not in the ICC’s elite panel of umpires, and not as experienced as some other umpires around the world, makes what I think is a slight error.

The process calls for what Simon Taufel has termed “Rock and Roll”, meaning, the replay operators jog the vision back and forth. The problem there is that since the pictures play out too slow, it is difficult to see any deviation which seems a lot clearer when the whole replay is played out seamlessly. He could have asked to see the super slow-motion replay again, or even for a full speed replay with the stump audio turned up high to check for two sounds. He decides against either.

Of course, he still has a few other tools at his disposal. The decision-making process has, when it works properly (as it does on the vast majority of occasions) a few safety nets that are built in.

Hotspot - an infrared technology developed in Australia - has been part of the DRS process since 2009, though at this point, it isn’t an essential element and most series around the world do not use it because of its limited availability and high cost. Available here, it shows a clear mark on the bat at exactly the height and point where the ball passed it. On the mic, umpire Haig says, “there does appear to be a mark…” The crowd, watching on the big screen at the ground sees the mark too and heaves a collective sigh - relief for the Kiwi supporters, dismay for India’s.

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Umpire Haig seems convinced. “If I can confirm with RTS, please…”.

RTS or Real Time Snicko, that matches up pictures from their high-speed cameras to audio from the stump microphones, is a vital part of the decision-making process. In fact, while Hotspot is optional, RTS is mandatory. If RTS had shown a murmur, Mitchell’s reprieve would have been complete. But RTS, incredibly, shows no spike at all.

“Flat line, flat line..there doesn’t appear to be any spike as the ball goes past the bat. Spike as it hits the pad. Satisfied there’s no bat involved. Move to ball tracking when ready please,” says the TV umpire.

Since there is a conflict between two technologies, he goes with the on-field umpire’s decision, his own take on the pictures, and on RTS. Once the intervention of any bat is discarded, ball tracking then shows the ball hitting the pad plumb in front of the stumps. Mitchell out. New Zealand 43-3.

There is an uproar, not just on the field, where Mitchell and Williamson seem aghast and have a few words with the Indians, but also in the commentary box, where Doull is incensed.

“Wow..goodness me. That is absolutely ridiculous. There was a clear inside edge and this is a horror of a mistake from Shaun Haig.”

Twitter too is up in arms at the umpire’s ‘incompetence” and even at the technology and its failure. Every expert on the game is roasting the decision. On Hotstar, the wicket has its own separate link titled, “Blunder! How was Mitchell out?”

Without making a call on whether the decision was right or wrong, I would just like to point out that whenever convenient, the cliche “DRS is for the howlers” is trotted out. If at first look, the decision did not appear to be wrong, it was certainly no howler. If one was to say that with the benefit of TV replays and technology, the TV umpire should have got it right, I would argue that he did not do much wrong here.

(AP)

There was no clear audio of the ball hitting the bat as it passed, and the two technologies being used gave two totally different conclusions. Of Hotspot and RTS, only RTS is mandatory in DRS, so if there had been no Hotspot, as in India, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Ireland home series, there was no way an umpire would have been able to give the batsman not out on the basis of the pictures. And there would have been no uproar on social media or commentary.

So even if a mistake has been made, it is not as big as it is being made out to be. Yes, he should have probably taken a closer look at the first replay and perhaps even at Hotspot, where the mark appears to come up after the ball passes the bat, but Umpire Haig will learn, and probably be a better umpire in time to come.

(Hemant Buch is a media professional with nearly 25 years of experience in sports broadcasting. He currently travels the world, directing and producing cricket. While not sitting in front of a bank of monitors, he’s indulging in his other passion – photography. He tweets @hemantbuch)

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