DRS makes wicket 70% bigger

Decision Review System made wicket 70 per cent bigger
By Simon Hughes
Daily Telegraph
25 Mar 2012

There were 43 batsmen dismissed lbw during the Pakistan-England Tests, easily a record for a three-match series. LBW represented 42 per cent of the total dismissals in the series. That was about twice what it usually is in Test cricket.

Why? Various theories were offered. Batsmen with “poor technique” who use their pad too much and play around their front leg, was one, another was England’s inability to read Pakistan’s excellent spinners. But that explanation is muddied by Pakistan suffering 21 lbw verdicts (to England’s 22). Were the umpires trigger-happy?

Well yes. With good reason. The increasing use of technology in lbw verdicts has actually made the wicket significantly higher and wider. Or more precisely, the umpire’s perception of the wicket is larger than it was. The introduction of Hawk-Eye to help adjudicate lbws has enabled, even persuaded umpires to give batsmen out when the ball was predicted to barely graze the top or outside of the stumps. Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen both suffered such a fate in Dubai. Both reviewed their dismissal, believing they had tried legitimately to work a ball that was missing the leg stump only for Hawk-Eye informed us that the ball was clipping the top of the leg bail by 2mm. The batsmen looked aggrieved, but they had to go.

The wicket in the umpire’s interpretation – backed up by Hawk-Eye – has become higher and wider. In other words 30.5 inches high (instead of 28) and 14 inches wide instead of nine (an extra cricket ball’s width on either side). It has increased the bowler’s potential target area by a remarkable 70 per cent (much to the chagrin of many a retired bowler: 30 per cent of Swann’s test wickets are lbw; the corresponding figure for Derek Underwood, a phenomenally accurate spinner who took 297 Test wickets in the 1970s, is eight per cent). This ‘expansion’ of the wicket is the biggest change in any of the game’s fundamental properties since the third stump was introduced in 1775.

On the low-bouncing pitches of the subcontinent … [b]ecause the Hawk-Eye projection has only got to show the ball clipping the stumps to support an lbw decision, umpires think “out” more often than not. Batsmen who think it is their divine right to be spared lbw unless they are struck on the ankle plumb in front are now being summarily dismissed at the merest whiff of an lbw shout. It is quite a wake-up call.

It has also had a knock-on effect. Bowlers are getting closer to the stumps and trying to bowl more wicket to wicket and to get the ball past the inside, rather than outside, edge of the bat. Batsmen, brought up to play with bat and pad close together, are now anxious to keep their pad out of the way. Several England batsmen were bowled playing too far inside the line – trying to avoid being hit on the pad.

A thorough scientific analysis of Hawk-Eye is in progress to assess its accuracy (the MCC conducted an assessment in 2009 and declared Hawk-Eye accurate to 2.5mm). It may be decided that, in future, at least half the ball should be predicted to hit the stumps to guarantee an lbw decision. n the meantime, expect to see batsmen playing straighter than before, keeping their legs out of the way or skipping down the pitch.

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