The “Law” of UDRS

Written by  //  February 22, 2011  //  Science & Technology  //  7 Comments

“And so back to that final hurdle: India. All may rest on an early and successful referral by Sachin Tendulkar, or a profitable review against him. Simplistic and borderline insulting? Perhaps. Then again, for mankind in general and cricket-kind in particular, the future has a habit of hinging on molehills of fate rather than mountains of reason.”– Rob Steen

While Rob Steen believes that this world cup will decide the future of the Umpire Dispute referral System (“UDRS”) system and that the future use of the UDRS will be left to fate and not reason, I to the contrary believe that Sachin Tendulkar and Co raise a valid though badly articulated argument against the system.  While I believe that the UDRS does help reduce umpiring errors, there are some flaws that need to be ironed out for the UDRS to be a truly fair system. This piece is aimed at analyzing the UDRS from a lawyer’s lens.

(While the aid of third umpires may be used by the on-field umpires for calls relating to run outs and whether the ball reached the boundary, this piece focuses on referrals made by players and focuses on the most contentious of such referrals, i.e.  leg before wicket (“LBW”) decisions.)

The UDRS system

So, how does the system function?

Every team, is permitted to make two unsuccessful challenges per innings, i.e. each team may dispute an umpire’s decision every innings- the batting team with respect to a decision of “Out” and the fielding team with respect to a decision of “Not Out”. When an umpire’s decision is disputed, a consultation process begins between the on-field umpire and the third umpire.

The Third Umpire then reports to the on-field umpire whether his analysis supports the original call, contradicts the call, or is inconclusive.  The consultation involves the on-field umpire asking the third umpire questions which give the answer- Yes or No. Questions that require the third umpire to answer “based on a series of judgments” cannot be asked. These questions would include questions such as “Was that LBW ?”.

However, even if the on-field umpire does not ask a question, the third umpire shall provide the on field umpire with all factual information which may influence the decision. Firstly, the third umpire needs to check whether the delivery is fair, i.e. whether it was a no ball (both because of over stepping and height restrictions). The third umpire, should then convey the answer to the on-field umpire so long as he knows what the answer is (using the available technology) with a “high degree of confidence”.  Where he does not have a “high degree of confidence” in his answer, he should report that the replays are inconclusive. The Regulations stipulate when a third umpire ought to have a “high degree of confidence”.

Based on this information, the on-field umpire makes the final decision: either re-signalling a call that he believes is good or revoking a call that is being reversed.

The problems with the system and a tentative solution

The potentially troublesome standard is the standard for measuring when the third umpire ought to have a “high degree of confidence” with respect to LBW decisions. Some aspects of this rule are uncontroversial.

For a batsman to be given out LBW,

a)      The ball must have pitched in line with the stumps or outside the off stump (the ICC Regulations which lay down on what basis a third umpire should take a call are uncontroversial).

b)      The ball must hit the batsman in line with the stump. The batmsan can be given out LBW if the ball hits him outside the line of off stump but he is not offering a shot. (the ICC Regulations on this issue are uncontroversial. However what is interesting is that for a “not out” decision to be overturned, the evidence provided by technology must show that the centre of the ball hit the pad in line with the stumps, whereas in case of overturning an “out” decision, it must be shown that no part of the ball at the time of interception with the pad is in line with the stumps. This means that potentially, a batsman, could be “legally” “out” and “not out” in the same situation, i.e. when a fraction of the ball (and not the centre) hits him in line with the stumps. Such a situation is unnecessary and one uniform rule would work better. However, this does not seem to be the major concern that the Indian team has.)

c)       The ball must go onto hit the stumps. While the ICC Regulations do attempt to ensure that the “benefit of doubt” goes to the batsman, there is one aspect that can be modified to make the system further fool proof.

Rule 3.3 (i) of the ICC Regulations on the Third Umpire Decision Review System states:

“i) Specifically when advising on LBW decisions, the requirement for a high degree of confidence should be interpreted as follows:

iii  With regard to determining whether the ball was likely to have hit the  stumps:

-If a “not out decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is     hitting the stumps, the evidence provided by technology should show that     the centre of the ball would have hit the stumps within an area demarcated   by a line drawn below the lower edge of the bails and down the middle of the outer stumps.

However, in instances where the evidence shows that the ball would have     hit the stumps within the demarcated area as set out above but that the         point of impact is greater than 250 cm from the stumps, the third umpire shall notify the on-field umpire of:

a) The distance from the wickets to the point of impact with the  batsman b) The approximate distance from point of pitching to point of  impact c) Where the ball is predicted to hit the stumps.

In such a case, the on-field umpire shall have regard to the normal cricketing principles concerning the level of certainty in making his decision as to whether to change his decision.

– If an “out decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is         missing the stumps, the evidence of the technology should show that no           part of the ball would have made contact with any part of the stumps or         bails.

Clearly, the ICC recognizes that an LBW decision has important subjective elements. That is the only reason why factors a), b) and c) above have been specified. Given this subjectivity, it is fallacious to leave the ultimate decision making to the on-field umpire, based on information provided by the third umpire.

Where the technology suggests that the ball is hitting the stumps, and the on-field umpire does not get to form his subjective opinion by looking at replays, it is highly unlikely that the on-field umpire will take a stand contrary to the decision reached objectively by following technology. In other words, the on-field umpire is not likely to consider factors such as how far away the ball is from the stumps at the point of impact, the amount of spin/ swing etc.

This is possibly where India’s objection to the UDRS system stems from. In the India-Sri Lanka test series in 2008, there were a couple of instances where Sachin Tendulkar was initially given not out (following an LBW appeal) but the decision was then overturned. While the technology use- Hawk Eye suggested that the ball would hit the stump, traditionally most umpires would have decided that there was enough turn on the ball and the batsman was sufficiently forward for them to decide that there was sufficient doubt and the umpire would have granted the batsman the benefit of the doubt.

The ostensible objection of the BCCI is that when a batsman plays a shot, there is a legitimate expectation in the mind of the batsman that the traditional LBW rule will apply. However, with a lot of the subjectivity of the traditional rule being removed, the rule that the “batsman gets the benefit of doubt” has been largely diluted.

In order to tackle this valid objection, the solution seems to lie in a rule that has been applied uncontroversially for run outs and stumpings. In case of run outs and stumpings, the third umpire gets to view the video in slow motion and take a call (the final call) on the decision. Imagine how absurd it would be if the third umpire had to clarify a bundle of facts and the on-field umpire take a decision based on these facts. The solution therefore is for the third-umpire to look at slow motion videos and use whatever technology that is available and then take the final subjective call rather than convey a bundle of facts to the on-field umpire who does not get a chance to see the videos. The technology can be used to form a de-minimis test, i.e. if Hawk Eye says that the ball will not hit the stumps, then automatically the batsman is “Not out”. However, if Hawk Eye suggests otherwrise, then the third umpire should look at the slow motion video, consider other subjective factors and then decide after applying the traditional rule that “the benefit of doubt should go to the batsman”.

Such a rule will ensure that technology is used to aid decision making while still not making decision making mechanical. After all part of the charm of cricket lies in the human involvement at every stage!

7 Comments on "The “Law” of UDRS"

  1. Vikas NM February 21, 2011 at 11:08 am ·

    I beg to differ.
    1. Given that the element of subjectivity is inevitable, the person best placed to assess the subjective elements should be allowed to decide. The third umpire is not expected to follow the match every ball (or even if he is, he does so on television – which clearly is not nearly the same as standing 22 yards away from the batsman and noting particular areas of the pitch where there is greater turn or movement that a particular bowler is getting off the seam and through the air etc.). Accordingly, the on field ump is best placed to decide on ANYTHING subjective.
    The third umpire is required to do the basics – give the umpire on field facts – where the ball hit and what distance away and what its projected motion is. Its not a huge bag of facts! If anything, on the basis of all of this if there is anyone who would ever even consider other variables and choose a result contrary to what technology suggests, it will be the on field umpire. And he is who should be given this responsibility. On de minimis, (unless the ump is bought over), the correct result will be reached even with the current system.
    2. On the point of slo-mo I think it is more distraction than helpful for LBW decision (except in finding out whether the ball hit the bat).
    3. On the Indian teams unwillingness to use technology – I think it stems largely from the fact that players are used to trusting the subjective element of the umpire and are happy to take the pluses and minuses as they think it ultimately evens out. They do not want UDRS to be used as a strategic tool. I think the piece fails to look at this aspect – which I think is the most crucial in its controversy!

  2. Anirudh Krishnan February 23, 2011 at 7:54 am ·

    1 and 2. Slow mo is very useful in showing whether the ball is likely to hit the stumps. My point is that umpires should first rely on technology and use it as a de minimis test and then use slow mo to make a subjective call. I agree that the on-field umpires are the best people to make this subjective call; however as of today it is impossible for them to get to look at slow mo. A friend (Vinod, while commenting on facebook) observed that the best way would be for the umpires to be able to see what the Third Umpires can see using a Smart phone and then taking the subjective call. This is a great idea; but I am not sure that Smart Phones are reliable enough today for this solution to work. This may be a practical solution 2 years from now. I believe that, as of today, if the on field umpire does have to make the subjective call, he definitely needs to look at slow-mo. One solution may be to have the giant screen show the replay (similar to what happens during Tennis matches)
    3. I do realize that there is a view that teams should not make any challenges and that the umpires should refer to technology whenever they have a doubt (like in cases of runouts). This would prevent UDRS from being used as a “strategic tool”. However, I am not sure that this is the issue that the Indian team has with UDRS. Moreover, I do not think this is a valid concern as not having a system of challenges will prevent teams from overruling confident yet preposterous umpiring decisions.

  3. Arghya March 2, 2011 at 8:26 am ·

    So, what do you make of the Ian Bell not out? According to the rules, the not out decision stands because the 3rd umpire relayed everything to Bowden, who subjectively, using the ‘normal principles of cricketing certainty’ decided that a ball which hit the batsman so far forward is not out.
    Now my point is that- it is immaterial who makes the decision. The question is- on what basis. And once you’re getting technology in, ostensibly to reach the right decision, phrases such as normal principles of cricketing certainty tend to look stupid. That’s because you can see (assuming the technology is reliable) whether it is out or not out. To vest discretion in the umpire, on-field or off-field after that, is problematic. I agree with the fact that those which are shown as not out can in limine be given as not out and that’s one way in which the benefit of doubt can be preserved. But for those which the hawk-eye shows as out, pitched in line or outside off, hitting in line, and going on to hit the stumps like the Bell decision, I see no logic to it being given not out. The normal principles of cricketing certainty have no place in this because they are premised on the human eye making a call and not hawk eye.

  4. Suhrith March 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm ·

    I think this rule of according the benefit of doubt to the batsmen needs to go. When they played games on uncovered pitches, with the ball tending to do all kinds of things off the wicket, it made sense to accord the benefit to the batsmen. But in what has increasingly become a batsmen’s game, it is time to remove such a benefit and ensure that the right decision is reached, even if its only marginal.

  5. Anirudh Krishnan March 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm ·

    @Arghya and Suhrith- I think Suhrith provides the rationale for the “benefit of doubt” rule. The reason I believe that the rule should still be applicable is that even though there are no uncovered wickets these days and the percentage of wickets that do strange things have come down, you do occasionally get wickets which are dust bowls and in that sense cause the same problems that uncovered wickets used to cause.

    The reason I believe that subjectivity is essential is that it is a cricketing convention that generally when the batsman is well forward and is playing a shot, there is always a doubt as to whether the ball is going to hit the stumps (this is not a blanket rule and where the ball is doing nothing like in the Ian Bell case, even traditionally umpires would have given it out) and in such a situation the benefit of doubt is given to the batsman. Batsmen who have grown up playing certain shots to certain balls and padding away certain balls based on this rule. For instance when a bowler like Murali bowls an off spinner pitching on middle and leg a batsman traditionally plays the sweep shot instinctively as even if he is struck on the pad they he is most likely to be given “Not Out” as the ball might be slipping down the leg side. What a blanket objective rule does is change this position. Hawk Eye might suggest that the ball is clipping the edge of the leg stump and hence the batsman may be given out (this is what happened to Sachin Tendulkar in Sri Lanka in 2008). I am not making a principled argument against an objective standard, but I believe introducing such a standard overnight is unfair against batsmen. Perhaps we could explore introducing such a system at the domestic level in every cricketing nation and after a period of say 5 years introduce it internationally. This would give batsmen a chance to acclimatize to the rule.

    Going to the 2.5 metre rule- it is not a rule recognized in the ICC Rulebook. It seems to be a rule introduced for the purpose of the World Cup. I think the 2.5 metre rule makes no sense- how can you have a uniform 2.5 metre rule for Perth and Colombo where the bounce of the pitches are clearly different? I believe that irrespective of how far away the ball pitches the subjectivity should continue to exist and the umpire/ third umpire should take a call after seeing the slow motion pictures.

    You may argue that subjectivity resulted in the Ian Bell decision going wrong. I think this was just a blatant error on the part of the umpire. It is like the third umpire making a mistake while deciding on a run-out call. Merely because these errors occasionally occur, it does not mean that subjectivity per se should be done away with.

  6. Anisha March 3, 2011 at 8:31 am ·

    Hi Anirudh. Just wanted to point out that the 2.5 metre rule is very much a part of the ICC rulebook (see Apparently it has come up before in the seventh ODI between Australia and England, earlier this year. Tim Paine had walked down the pitch to flick Plunkett to the on-side but missed the ball. He was given not out and the decision was reviewed. Hawkeye showed that the ball was hitting the stumps and the umpire decided to go with the technology despite the fact that Paine was so far down the wicket. The cricinfo commentary is interesting: seems to suggest the lbw decision was a real surprise because the batsman was so far down the wicket.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth: the DRS (apparently the umpires object to the name UDRS) is used in a restricted format with only 2 reviews per innings. When it is used, then surely we must let the call be made on the basis of the technology! If the technology is so bad that we cant trust it, then why are we using it anyway?

    If it is strategically used, it only makes the game more interesting. If it does eliminate the occasional howler, then that’s great news. It certainly doesn’t devalue the importance of the onfield umpire in such a limited context. And if occasionally a borderline decision goes against a batsman, well, too bad. It happens all the time with the onfield umpires anyway and it happens to the bowlers all the time!

    But, as Arghya says, attempting to use technology, flashing it on television sets, and then randomly overruling it just makes the ICC and the umps look incredibly stupid. If nothing else, it’s bad PR and adds little to the game in terms of “fairness” or “justice” or whatever they’re going for.

  7. Anirudh Krishnan March 3, 2011 at 9:37 am ·


    Agreed, I made a mistake in my reply to Arghya and Suhrith about the 2.5 metre rule not being part of the rule book (in fact I have myself quoted the rule in my post !).

    I stick to my stand regarding the need for subjectivity in the UDRS. I agree with the benefits of relying wholly on technology, but as I said in my reply to Arghya and Suhrith, I do not think it is fair on batsman if this is done overnight.

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