DRS: the three letters playing tricks with cricket's numbers
When you have in excess of 500 Test wickets, it seems unnecessary to think about the ones that got away. Yet when Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, the three most prolific spin bowlers in Test history, watch the modern game they must wonder what the decision review system could have done for them.
Just as late-1980s footballers who missed the Premier League gravy train think of the money they could have earned, so spin bowlers will think of the wickets they could have taken. Muralitharan, Warne and Kumble took 800, 708 and 619 wickets respectively. In a parallel universe they could have ended up with 851, 755 and 670. These figures are based on a DRS weighting, which takes into account the percentage of lbws in 2012, each bowler's percentage of lbws, and the overall percentage of lbws during the exact timespan of their Test career.
DRS would have changed the life of many batsmen, too. Jimmy Adams, or Jimmy Padams as he was known, would have needed a whole new methodology, while Peter May and Colin Cowdrey would not have been able to kick Sonny Ramadhin away as they did during their famous 411-run partnership at Edgbaston in 1957. Bowlers such as Ramadhin might feel even more aggrieved than Warne, Murali and Kumble; in his day you almost had to put an application in writing to get a front-foot lbw.
It is clear now that DRS has changed cricket indelibly. If Warne and Murali revived spin bowling in the 1990s, then DRS has given it such an expensive makeover that it's barely recognisable. In Tests this year, 33% of wickets taken by spinners have been lbw. That is twice as many as in 2004, when the figure was 16%. Wherever you look, the numbers point to the dramatic influence of DRS. On the list of bowlers with the highest percentage of Test wickets taken lbw, three of the top five and five of the top 10 are contemporary spinners: Ajantha Mendis, Saeed Ajmal, Pragyan Ojha, Graeme Swann and Abdur Rehman all take at least 29% of their wickets through lbws.
Many spinners now bowl a straighter, DRS line, with lbws in mind. It has altered the fundamentals of the game in a way few could have envisaged. The system was first used in 2009, although its influence began before then. From the moment Hawk-Eye – the key tool in DRS – was introduced on TV in 2001, it obliterated received wisdom as to which deliveries would and would not have gone on to hit the stumps. For 11 years Hawk-Eye has been imperceptibly broadening the minds of umpires, who are now more than happy to give lbws that would barely have merited a second look 20 years earlier.
The balance between bat and ball, so weighted towards the former in recent times because of flat pitches, bigger bats, smaller ground and bowler burnout, has been wrenched back dramatically. A number of batsmen do not know what to do; everything they know is wrong, and they are left with the confused frustration of luddites. A new generation of batsmen will grow up using their bats, but for some it is too late to effect such basic change.
The result has been a kind of moral panic. "In my career so far, this is the toughest I've ever found it," said Kevin Pietersen in February. "Batters are not getting the benefit of the doubt any more. Umpires are giving a lot more lbws. It just has to be clipping and you're out. Two, three, four years ago you were never, ever out. I have had to change my game, but it's not just me. Left-arm spinners now are gold dust." Pietersen and England have had a winter of abbreviated discontent: SLA, OB, LBW and DRS.
The system has palpably gone way beyond its original brief, which was to eradicate howlers, and there is an increasing concern that the International Council has created a monster – even if the result has been some often thrilling cricket. Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager, said: "I think if we're totally honest, DRS has affected the game slightly more than we thought it would."
It was inevitable that the review system would be reviewed. The ICC has undertaken a detailed independent review, the results of which it hopes will be available in time for the next meeting of its cricket committee in May. One suggestion is that a batsman should automatically be not out if there are two "umpires calls" on Hawk‑Eye; another that a certain percentage of the ball needs to be hitting the stumps. Yet plenty would feel it is unfair to move the goalposts or, rather, effectively shrink the stumps.
Even if the ICC does tighten the DRS procedure, it is impossible to restore the mind's eye to 1999. Umpires, players and supporters now see lbw appeals through different eyes. It may be too late to put the genie back in the bottle.