Yes, T20 should be fast-paced and fun but let’s cut out these howlers

Alison Mitchell looks back at the controversies in the shortest form recently and suggests that the game must have integrity

A few recent and high profile umpiring errors in T20 cricket have re-ignited the debate as to whether the Decision Review System (DRS) should be used in the shortest form of the game.

When the technology is available it is difficult to find a convincing argument against it – not only in international cricket, but also in televised domestic leagues around the world, which are carrying increasingly high stakes.

The instances which have stood out over the last ten days have included the Sydney Sixers’ Johan Botha being incorrectly given out caught behind off the bicep in the Big Bash League semi-final, which could have cost the Sixers a place in the final; Perth Scorchers’ Sam Whiteman being judged not out after he edged behind in the other BBL semi-final against the Melbourne Stars, and at international level, England’s Joe Root being given out lbw in the final over of the second T20I against India, despite a clear inside edge.

Earlier in the same game Virat Kohli was judged to be not out lbw, when he was shown to be out on replay. Yuvraj Singh was similarly saved from an lbw dismissal. England went on to lose the game, which can never wholly be attributed to one or two incidents in a match, but the umpiring errors were painful, and they had a significant impact.

The umpire responsible in Nagpur was Chettithody Shamshuddin, an Indian official from the ICC’s International Panel. It begs the further question as to why neutral umpires can’t be employed across T20Is and ODIs as well as Tests.

This is not to accuse Shamshuddin of bias – umpires makes mistakes – but the appointment of neutral umpires protects officials from any perception of bias, the likes of which swirled around social media in the aftermath of the India-England match.

But back to the matter in hand, and the absence of DRS in T20 cricket. The argument against it seems to centre wholly on time. Cricket Australia have indicated that they wouldn’t contemplate introducing DRS into the BBL unless it was first brought in by the ICC at international level.

The ICC have resisted that so far, and with the permitted length of innings in a T20I having crept up over recent years, authorities are keen not to further lengthen a match that builds its appeal on being short and fast paced.

It is a reasonable argument, but if teams were allowed just one unsuccessful review per innings, the amount of time added on – if the review was used – would be minimal and also justified if it prevented an incorrect decision clouding the outcome of an international, World Cup match, or high octane domestic final.

What is worse: win a trophy after a match lasted a few minutes longer than normal, or lose it due to a glaring umpiring error and have teams and spectators going away feeling wronged, when there was a well-drilled mechanism that could have prevented the mistake from happening?

Of course, India are only just coming around to the idea of using DRS in bilateral series in any form of the game and that’s a whole other conversation to be had, but by denying T20Is the DRS, the ICC are saying that the result of a T20 match doesn’t matter very much.

Try telling that to any team who has attempted to win a T20 trophy.

However, if you’re expecting players to be clamouring for the right to review obvious errors, think again. Eoin Morgan and England, having lost in Nagpur, took their complaint to the match referee, but in the BBL, Sixers’ captain Moises Henriques said he wasn’t in favour of bringing in reviews.

It is possible his stance would have been different had the Sixers failed to recover from the erroneous caught behind and not made it through to the final, but his view is simply that the game needs to stay fluid and keep moving.

His opinion is shared by T20I Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell stressed recently that the crowd comes for excitement, and he believes instant decision-making is part of that.

Perhaps the players have bought into the mantra of Big Bash chief Anthony Everard, who stands proudly by the ethos that the BBL is about entertainment first and foremost. Cricket Australia and Network Ten, the free-to-air channel that televises the tournament, share the view of not wanting to slow the game down.

They believe that leaving decisions to the umpire is part of the BBL’s appeal. Certainly, games flow, and what’s more, you could say that the occasional poor decision gives fans in the stands and at home something to get animated about.

Then again, with the huge number of BBL fans being new to cricket and the enormous number of young children attending games who I’ve seen more excited by flames, fireworks and cheerleaders than appeals, repeals and reversals, you wonder what proportion are watching the game closely enough to even realise when a decision is a bad one.

A short, fast-paced game is good, but T20 is also about being a good product with sporting integrity. It is a serious business, bringing in new fans but also appealing to the old.

Cricket has definitely made itself look foolish at times en route to embracing technology; from the occasions when batsmen remained out despite TV replays showing it was a no-ball even before the player had left the field, to the times when the TV umpire wasn’t allowed to help assess a clean catch unless the view of the square-leg umpire had been impeded.

If the powers-that-be don’t want to slow the game down by sanctioning the use of reviews, the third umpire should at least have the power to inform his colleague of a clear-cut error before a batsman leaves the field.

Over time the use of TV has been modified, tinkered with, and improved. Now is the time to improve televised T20 cricket and show that the results of those games really do matter.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, February 3 2017

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