ICC must not leave DRS technology in hands of broadcasters, says former umpire

DRS gives Zak Crawley out
Ben Stokes sparked controversy by claiming DRS was wrong when it gave Zak Crawley out

The International Cricket Council has been urged to take control of technology away from broadcasters and introduce greater transparency in ball-tracking by Simon Taufel, one of the game’s most respected umpires.

The Decision Review System was criticised during England’s tour of India, with captain Ben Stokes and Telegraph columnist Michael Vaughan among those raising concerns.

Taufel believes that the technology used should be fully controlled by the governing body, removing broadcasters from the process entirely.

“Because the technology’s not owned by the governing body, there is an element of a lack of transparency,” Taufel told Telegraph Sport.

“It’s not in the technology or broadcast provider’s interest to identify errors or shortcomings in the accuracy, that undermines public confidence.”

The ICC’s statistics suggest that technology has improved the quality of decision-making in Test cricket from 92.8 per cent of decisions being correct prior to its use to 98.9 per cent since.

DRS was first used in 2008 and has become standard in all Test matches since 2016. Hawk-Eye, which is owned by Sony, is the main provider of ball-tracking, using its technology at ICC global events, as well as in England and India. The New Zealand-based Virtual Eye, which is owned by Animation Research Limited, provides ball-tracking in Australia and New Zealand. Hot Spot and Real Time Snickometer, used to identify whether a batsman has edged the ball, are also involved in other aspects of DRS.

“Look at Fifa, look at other world sports that have owned the technology and looked to provide mechanisms in place that try to create an environment of transparency,” said Taufel, who is regarded as one of the sport’s finest ever umpires, having won five consecutive ICC Umpire of the Year awards during his career.

“If they make a mistake, if something’s not right, who do we hold accountable? You can’t make the umpire accountable for it – it’s not their decision, it’s not their technology.”

Taufel currently works in three major Twenty20 leagues and sits on the MCC Laws sub-committee. He believes that the use of technology in the game has been driven by broadcasters, rather than the ICC.

Snicko in use
The use of technology in cricket has been driven by broadcasters - BT Sport

“When the game doesn’t pay for something it doesn’t have control over it,” he said. “The broadcasters are the ones who promoted technology in the game, not the administrators. The administrators have never been in control of technology in the game and they’ve never owned it, it’s always been the broadcasters that have tried to add entertainment value.

“The reason why we are where we are is because the game’s administrators have been under a lot of public scrutiny. We can see this on TV. But why is this information not being made available to the decision-makers?”

Taufel defended the use of umpire’s call, however, after recent calls to scrap it by Stokes and Brendon McCullum, while calling for major reforms in the use of ball-tracking. “A predicted path by its own definition is predictive, it’s not fact,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got umpire’s call.”

“When the ball is seen to be pitching in line or hitting the wicket, I’d like to see a percentage. What we have currently, a rule where more than half of the ball has to be landing within or hitting within or whatever it is, graphically that can be confusing for people at times. I’d like to see a graphic come up on screen to say hitting, 51 per cent of the ball, or umpire’s call, 49 per cent.

Joe Root delivery pitching in line
Despite evidence of Hawk-Eye, Joe Root's dismissal against India was questioned - TNT Sports

“People can then say that was close but it’s not quite half. I’d also like to see it assessed more regularly for accuracy, independently, openly, so we know.

“When technology isn’t there, a camera shot isn’t available, I’d like the on-field umpire’s decision to stand.”

While Taufel fears that the umpire’s call could eventually be removed entirely, reducing the role of the on-field umpires, he believes that the ‘soft signal’ should be reintroduced. The ‘soft signal’, under which the on-field umpires gave a signal of out or not out for disputed catches before they were referred to the third umpire, was abolished last year.

Taufel also warned of the growing risk of umpires retiring from being on the elite panel for international umpires to focus upon short-format leagues, which can offer both more money and a better work-life balance.

“Because I’m involved in three leagues, I’ve got umpires and referees who contact me every month saying I’d like to be part of the franchise league and I’d like to give up officiating for my home board, and I’d like to officiate franchise cricket. I’ve got it happening now,” Taufel explains.

“You can work two or three of those events a year and not have to work anywhere else. You see that with players, why would umpires be different?”

Taufel believes that the demands on the 12 elite-panel umpires, who regularly spend well over 200 days away from home a year, risked damaging standards, as well as driving umpires away from the international game.

Umpire Simon Taufel speaks with England captain Andrew Strauss in 2007
Simon Taufel (centre) is one of the most respected umpires in the game - Reuters/Darren Staples

“There isn’t enough focus on how do I get better game-by-game, year-by-year. Complacency and that element of being comfortable sets in, that’s just a normal thing that happens with everyone. There has to be an environment where that’s challenged and acted upon,” he added.

“It does get you down, six to seven months a year away from normal life on the road, with all the extra tournaments, ICC events you’re contracted to attend - you want to participate in various franchise leagues because the money’s attractive. That has an impact on standards and overall performance. Fatigue sets in.

“You’ll see a lot of change in the ICC panels coming up. Umpires and referees will leave a little earlier, saying you know what, I don’t need to do as much cricket with my board, I just need to do a couple of franchise leagues and make more money that way. Not being away from home, not having to work as much.

“That trend is real, it’s here, it’s now. And it will only continue.”

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