Decision Review System and the Dressing Room Intervention
Technology has undoubtedly embraced almost all domains of human life and sport as a human activity is of no exception to that fact. A recent controversy emerged during second test in the ongoing India-Australia test match series-2017 about the on-field behavior of the Australian captain Steve Smith gives us an opportunity to understand some of the ways in which the game of cricket evolved after the introduction of DRS technology. Such technologies which Emily Ryall (2016) calls as adjudication technologies in sports has remarkably changed sporting activities in various respects. Many of the sport administrative bodies have had reservations about the implementation of such technologies in elite sports. In cricket, there are two kinds of DRS are available at present; Umpire Decision Review System (URDS) and Player Review System (PRS). In the first, the umpire can take the help of a technologically aided TV umpires help to decide the otherwise less accurate instances. The latter gives the opportunity for the playing teams to review the on –filed umpires’ decision with the same process. Till recently, the Board of Control of Cricket in India was reluctant to adopt PRS (Player Review System) technology due to the alleged non-reliability of the mechanism(s) which enables the latter. They resisted the use of PRS for bilateral series till last year, but now started showing some faith in such technologies perhaps with the claims of improved reliability of the latter.
However there is only a limited number of reviews are available for each team in elite cricket. So clever decisions from the part of teams is required for the careful use of the reviews. The instruction given in the rule book tells that the striker from the team which bats should take a decision on whether to review or not review the decision of the field umpire. It can be done in consultation with the non-striker who is physically positioned closer to the umpire who makes the decision at the time of making the decision. For the fielding team, it is the captain who should request for the review in consultation with the concerned players. This is considered as a fair means of strategically making use of the available reviews. Rule 3.2 (c) of the ICC categorically says the following.
“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” (p. 35)
The underlying presumption upon which this practice is based is that the ‘play’ must happen within the field and not outside of out. The importance of ‘field’ in any game of sport as a space of ontological importance is not disturbed by this practice. The test of sporting abilities should happen transparently in a given space called the field. On the other hand, when the players decide to take reviews in consultation with some agency which is positioned external to the `field of play it is an unfair practice given the existing rule. This has a strategic importance which can affect the ontological course of the game, the winner/loser, statistical records etc.
With the advent of television replays and DRS based on the video footages and other allied technologies, the sole epistemic superiority of the filed umpire has diminished. An important change is that the video footages are made available to the spectators, television viewers and to the dressing room. Any one belong to these groups, if she is knowledgeable regarding the rules is a much better epistemic position compared to the field umpire. But the ontological authority that is the authority to make decisions in the field is mostly remains with the field umpires except in cases where the decision is reviewed by any one of the teams.
The dressing rooms’ access to the live video footage of the game gives them a privilege which we shall call ‘technological privilege’. Though no replay would be shown in the screen between the on –filed decision and the players’ decision to review the former, the dressing room has access to the video of the particular bowl bowled. They may not be able to look at it repeatedly but that real time access on an electronic screen is enough to give solid clues with regard to the accuracy of the decision. In real-time telecast of cricket matches at the elite level, every ball bowled is shown from a best superior position as that of an umpire. The camera facing the batman from a straight position may not give the accurate information to the viewer in real time (for lbw decisions), but it is still an advantage that the batsman lacks.
What if the players decide to quickly consult their dressing room about reviewing a particular decision of the umpire? Steve Smith’s gesture of turning back to the dressing room when he was declared OUT for lbw by the filed umpire is such an attempt, though he claimed that it is a ‘brain-fade’. This goes against the spirit of the game, if we see that in terms of fair play because by asking the dressing room, the batsman is trying to rely on a piece of information which is not otherwise available for him. The batsmen by doing that is already taking the help of a proto-adjudicating technology, (if not the technology itself) well ahead of time, which the TV umpire later relies on. The use of technological privilege to determine the strategic use of DRS amounts to cheating in the present scenario. The player’s dressing room act as a strategic factor which it shouldn’t be, given the rule. This is a clear case of trespassing the ontological territory of the play and this is an undesirable act given the existing rules of the game.
We may thematically conceptualize the notion of field of play is part and parcel of sporting activity. It is a clearly defined space where only players and a few officials have the permission to enter into. The game begins and end within the field. Any other intervention would be unauthorized and counted as trespassing. Information flow is even restricted between the field and outside the boundary when the play is on.
But with the advent of technology, especially adjudicating technologies, the notion of field of play started getting changed. There is exchange of information and intervention by the factors from beyond the boundaries to the actual course of the game. So the game goes well beyond the boundaries set around the field. In this backdrop, the Steve Smith incident however would not be a problem of cheating in future. The dressing room may be one day part of the acceptable norm of the game. I submit that this is an open possibility. This concern emerges from the fact that game of cricket like any other sport is a technological mix now a days which does not give importance to the within- the –field matters of the game alone. External technological intervention is not completely alien to sports in general now as it happens in the case of umpiring. Moreover technology blurs the traditional boundary between the field and non-field. Technological privilege of the dressing room may have a role in future DRS