England bottled up a simple enough chase of 145 runs in the second Twenty20 International against India in Nagpur on Sunday. Instead of focusing on the obvious cricketing reasons as to why they lost from a “commanding position”, as their skipper Eoin Morgan put it, England –players and broadcasters (Sky Sports and BBC Sport) alike – have led a chorus for the inclusion of the Decision Review System in T20s and have placed the blame for defeat squarely at umpiring errors.
With England needing just eight runs in six balls, Joe Root was adjudged out LBW on the first ball of the 20th over. Video replays indicated an inside edge that umpire C Shamshuddin had missed. The in-studio experts at Sky Sports devoted an entire segment after the match to discuss the merits of the umpires and the need for the use of DRS technology in T20s. DRS is currently used only in cricket’s other formats, Tests and One-Day Internationals.
After the match, Morgan said, “[Root’s dismissal] shifted momentum – first ball of the 20th over, losing a batsman who’s faced [almost] 40 balls on a wicket that’s not that easy to time. It is quite a hammer blow. It’s proved very costly all things considered.”
Let’s evaluate the merits of that statement.
Ben Stokes, who batted at the fall of Morgan’s wicket, and Jos Buttler, who replaced Stokes, both scored at a strike rate in excess of 140. Stokes’s 38 runs were made in 27 deliveries and Buttler thrashed 15 in just 10 balls. So, Morgan’s claim that it wasn’t easy to time is evidently false.
What, though, is true is that Root scored just 38 runs in 38 deliveries. In trying to clear boundaries, he repeatedly skied balls that fell in no man’s land. It wasn’t just that Root was struggling to score but he was struggling to get himself out too, to make way for Buttler and others.
Morgan isn’t free of blame either, having scored only 17 runs in the 23 deliveries he faced, with just one hit to the ropes. In what should have been a comfortable chase, Morgan and Root twiddled around for too long, which opened the door for India in the final throes of the match.
In a game that is so abbreviated, and batsmen needing to take risks constantly to find boundaries, the impact of an umpiring error in a T20 game is insignificant compared to the number of times the batsmen themselves play shots that would invariably, and inevitably, get them out. Root’s innings was exhibit No. 1 in defence of it.
Even if DRS was available and each team had one review, like in ODIs, it is quite possible that Root may not have had that review to correct Shamshuddin’s error. In the 17th over, Stokes was dismissed LBW off a slower delivery from Ashish Nehra. Considering the hitting form the Stokes was in, and the general tendency of players to gamble with the DRS review, it was more than probable that the review would have been used on that decision.
That’s the other irritating aspect of players’ calls for DRS. While all and sundry proclaim the need for DRS to correct obvious umpiring errors, in the hands of the players it becomes a strategic tool, to challenge umpiring decisions not because they think the umpire has made an error, but they think technology might just overrule a perfectly reasonable decision.
Instead of putting the blame for the defeat on his own sputtering knock and that of Root’s, Morgan reportedly raised the issue of Root’s LBW decision to the match referee. Morgan even had the temerity to question umpire Shamshuddin’s experience, who by the way is in the ICC Emirates International Panel of Umpires and has stood in 21 ODIs, 11 T20Is, and countless other domestic matches.
Charles Dagnall of BBC Sport interviewed Moeen Ali ahead of the third match of this T20I series in Bangalore and posed the question of the need for DRS in the format. Ali said that “it was time to have at least one review” in T20s, as is the practice in ODIs. The second question from Dagnall to Ali was insidious in that he asked whether there was need for neutral umpires in T20Is as well, since Tests involve two neutral umpires and ODIs have one. It implies, at best, that Dagnall believes Shamshuddin is incompetent, and at worst that he is biased.
The introduction of technology to challenge umpiring decisions mainly originated from the broadcasting booth with ex-players regularly questioning umpiring decisions and stoking feelings of injustice in their home audiences, if their side was at the wrong end of any decision. In an essay for The Cricket Monthly, Kartikeya Date had argued about the replacing of expert judgment of umpires with a check list of technologies, and consequently the consistent erosion of umpire’s authority in the conduct of the game.
Dagnall did not do any favours to Shamshuddin or disabuse any thoughts of umpiring biases in his viewers and listeners by posing that question to Ali. Because it is the most obvious thing to do for a broadcaster – to blame the one impartial party on the field, instead of actually digging in to the game to find the real reasons to why a team lost. That would take effort on their part, and commentators, with very few rare exceptions, are wont to take the easy way out, as long as it shores up the numbers watching and listening to them.
In a match played between two teams, the umpire is the unbiased adjudicator. By adding DRS to the mix, and allowing players to challenge umpiring decisions, the sport has gone from player vs player to player vs umpire. To Ali’s credit, and Root’s as well, they chose not to blame umpire Shamshuddin for the mistakes, or support Dagnall’s idea of neutral umpires even in T20s. Morgan, Dagnall and other such could do very well to take cues from Ali and Root.