DRS: why i want to be 3rd umpire when I grow up

 In Insights, Realizer Blog

Hawkeye is one of the tools used in DRS

When I was a lad, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be in sport and I’d usually say I wanted to be a professional golfer. Not too strenuous, lots of travel.

But if I was growing up now, I reckon I’d want to be a third umpire. What a job this is. You get to be the equivalent of the Roman emperor signalling from on high whether the gladiator has done well, or should be fed to the lions. You don’t need to justify the decision. You have an air of mystery. No-one knows exactly where you’re sitting, what you look like, or what you’re thinking.

And you get some really fun technology toys to play with. Snickometer. Stump mike. Stump camera. Hawkeye. So, the decision is pretty straightforward.

Over the last few days in the Ashes we saw the Decision Review System used to go upstairs to the 3rd umpire for 13 decisions across 5 days. With around 27 hours of cricket played this means the 3rd ump had to work for about 1 minute every 2 hours. So it sounds like a job for me. A free seat at the cricket, and the occasional need to fire up some super-powered toys to make the decision for you.

Michael Clarke v Alistair Cook: when to use DRS

Much more difficult is the job of the team captain in deciding when to use DRS. Captain Clarke used DRS differently to Captain Cook.

Captain Clarke used the DRS 9 times and was successful twice, a 22% success rate. The impact of this was that Australia had none of his review quota left when Broad clearly edged one.

Captain Cook was more circumspect, not wanting to run out of options too early. As a result, he used DRS only four times and the result was favourable to England on three occasions, a rate of 75%.

So how does a captain pick when to review and when not to? They should have a strategy, and measure the results over time. Let’s say they listen to the bowlers, of course the bowlers want to do well for themselves so they will consciously and subconsciously be biased towards thinking they got their man. They will push for a review more frequently than they should. The best source of opinion is said to be the wicket keeper who has a good view of line and length, and also the best position to hear any nicks.

When you’re out in the field you are ultimately relying on the different viewpoints of your team who saw it from different angles and from near and far away, and ultimately you have to use a bit of gut feel. It is proven that gut feel works best when the decision is one you have lots of experience in, and where you get rapid feedback about whether you were right or not.

How can Clarke improve his use of DRS?

Both these conditions apply to Michael Clarke, so there’s no excuse for him not to improve his use of the DRS. Before the next test, he needs to write down why he called for a review each time at Trent Bridge and note against it the result of the review. Then he can reset his criteria for asking for a review, according to the data he has available to him. And he should set a threshold of confidence to reach before using up a precious review. He needs to be prepared to let some of the 50/50’s go. While a captain can be desperate for a wicket now, Clarke should have learnt that wasting reviews can cost you big time.

Captaining your country in cricket relies more than any other sport on your ability to make decisions about reviews, and field placements and bowling strategies. It’s not good enough to be a great batsman, you need to be an excellent decision-maker. And you’re always in the middle of the spotlight.

While I’d love to have captained my country at cricket, I think if I’m honest I’d make a better 3rd umpire. So, to the ICC: if you need me, I’m available for the next test if you want to fly me over.

Posted by Rob Pyne