Why T20 doesn't need DRS

An unfair umpiring decision is an unfair umpiring decision. But Eoin Morgan would have gained little if Joe Root hadn't fallen to an umpiring error in the Nagpur T20 International

January 31, 2017 04:46 pm | Updated 06:07 pm IST

It is not clear if the powers governing T20 understood that DRS would not be worth it in T20 games as a sporting matter, but if they did, then they were probably right. | K.R. Deepak

It is not clear if the powers governing T20 understood that DRS would not be worth it in T20 games as a sporting matter, but if they did, then they were probably right. | K.R. Deepak

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England have reportedly expressed “extreme frustration” to the match referee about the umpiring decision against Joe Root in their Indian tour's second T20 international, at Nagpur on Sunday. It has been reported that Morgan said: “It shifted momentum, first ball of the 20th over, losing a batsman who's faced [almost] 40 balls on a wicket that's not that easy to time [the ball on] is quite a hammer blow. It's proved very costly all things considered. A couple of decisions didn't go our way and we still should have won the game and that's a big positive for us. That we didn't is disappointing.”

 

While the expensive DRS has system has been a fixture in the less lucrative, more traditional forms of cricket, it has not been involved in the more lucrative T20 form — not in international T20 games, at any rate. And not in the wealthy franchise leagues around the world. Given that one of the ICC’s core arguments against universal DRS has been that it is too expensive, as a financial matter, this exclusion of DRS is bizarre. But there is a logic to avoiding DRS in T20 as a sporting matter.

Among some observers, it has become a truism that when games are contested over a small number of runs, every decision (and as a consequence, every umpiring decision) matters more. Umpiring decisions have a smaller influence on games in difficult, or more precisely, more uncertain batting conditions than it does on featherbeds. Umpiring decisions also have a smaller influence on shorter games than they do on longer games like Test matches. Just as batting is more difficult on pitches which are not featherbeds, so is umpiring. In general, if we accept that better batting conditions produce higher-scoring games, it follows that umpiring decisions matter less in low-scoring games than they do in high-scoring games.

Here is why this is the case.

An umpire’s mistake bothers teams because it is something over which they have no control. The umpire is not a contestant in the game and without DRS there would be no way for a player to challenge an umpire. The umpire’s decisions are of the first consequence. A mistake is a source of uncertainty for the players. It creates a sense of futility which is well-founded. An innings which is wrongly terminated or extended due to an umpiring decision matters to a game.

Therefore, how much an umpiring decision matters depends on what other sources of uncertainty there are. The most conventional ones are misfields, dropped catches, missed run-outs and other obviously evident mistakes. These events are missed opportunities to interrupt the opposition’s momentum. Momentum develops when one sides demonstrates the ability to control proceedings for a sustained periods of time.

 

When a batsman is not in control so frequently, as is the case in T20, the consequence of the additional uncertainty caused by an umpiring decision is smaller.

ESPNCricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentators record a ‘control’ statistic for each delivery in the cricket matches they cover. They compile these numbers to produce a control percentage of each player’s innings. For example, the control percentage for Joe Root during his century in the Rajkot Test was 92%. This means that Root was in control of 166 of the 180 balls he faced in that innings. He was beaten — or not in control — 14 times, for 1 ball for every 11.9 balls in which he was in control. In contrast, he was in control for 70% of the 38 balls he faced in the Nagpur T20 game. At Nagpur he was beaten — not in control — 12 times, one ball for every 2.2 balls in which he was in control.

For the match as a whole, England’s batsmen were not in control for 36 balls in the 20 overs they faced. They were not in control of 1 delivery for every 2.33 which they were in control of. These figures are not unusual for T20 cricket. For example, batsmen are in control about 75% of the time in the IPL. The average IPL game is higher-scoring than the Nagpur T20 international.

These low control numbers say that momentum is extremely fragile in T20 innings. When the batsman is not in control, it is a matter of good fortune that a dismissal does not result. And when a batsman is not in control so frequently, the consequence of the additional uncertainty caused by an umpiring decision is smaller.

Root was 26 (20) at one point in his innings. He was dismissed for 38 (38). He made 12 runs from his last 18 balls, and 4 of those came from two mis-hits which dropped safely into the leg side. Other than the slow scoring rate this, again, is not unusual. T20 innings are in large part accumulated accidents, especially when the wicket is not a featherbed. Virat Kohli was not in control of 5 of his 14 deliveries too.

In a Test match, where the technical skill of Virat Kohli and Joe Root is of great consequence — they can string together large periods of absolute control and accumulate runs with certainty — it would matter a great deal if Kohli got a lucky break from the umpire and Root got sawn off by a rough decision. In a T20 game, where about a third of the events are a matter of chance, a couple of umpiring decisions matter very little.

The England captain’s comment would be applicable in a Test match or ODI, but it flies in the face of the logic of the T20 contest. It is not clear if the powers governing T20 understood that DRS would not be worth it in T20 games as a sporting matter, but if they did, then they were probably right.

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