December 30, 2011

Time for the DRS debate to end

This year gave us an excellent World Cup, some quality Test cricket, and an exciting new league. But the discussions about technology have gone on for far too long

Plus ça change plus c'est la meme. And little really changed in cricket in 2011. Yes, players were arrested for fixing for the first time, but that was inevitable - at some point a player was going to say something to the wrong person. But apart from that, we continue to debate the DRS and the IPL, the future of Test cricket, the growth of commerce, the stubbornness of the BCCI, and an Indian defeat in the first Test of a series.

It was the year in which opposition to the DRS replaced the IPL as the source of all evil in the game. The world is increasingly being split between those for the DRS and those against. And, as a corollary, those for India and those against. It is an unnecessary division but one that is increasingly being felt because the BCCI refuses to explain its point of view. There have been occasions in the last two years when the board has had a sound, coherent argument but it has remained shrouded because of the reluctance to enter into a debate.

To be honest, the use of the DRS in 2011 did cause me to question my support for the system, especially with respect to ball-tracking and Hot Spot. The failure of ball-tracking at the World Cup - whether it was to be effective if the point of contact was greater than 2.5 metres from where the ball pitched, or indeed less than 30 centimetres - suggested it was only the speed of the cameras that mattered. In countries with large budgets for production, ball-tracking will work better than in those with lower budgets. So the inequity will remain anyway. And while the creators of Hot Spot will say they have a better product now, it had a forgettable tour of England.

Until we get reliable figures on accuracy for different versions of ball-tracking, we might have to stay with something that will be available everywhere. And so maybe we should stick to eliminating howlers - a pitch map to judge where the ball pitched and hit pad, for line calls, and super-slow-motion cameras to look at inside edges for lbws. But this debate must end soon. It is already boring.

Test cricket was excellent in 2011, as it has been for over a hundred years. If there was criticism at all, it had to do with the ridiculous two-Test series we were subjected to. There is an ebb and flow within a game as there is within a series, and the administration cannot ignore that. Luckily, players are expressing their point of views more strongly now. Hopefully it is a trend that will continue in 2012. Gagging cricketers doesn't help.

The spectators and the patrons seem to like Twenty20 cricket, and it polarised, to borrow a phrase from the Hindi film industry, the classes and masses. The ratings for the IPL, a percentage rather than absolute number, dropped, but the number of viewers still went up, and the first edition of the Big Bash League in Australia opened to encouraging viewership numbers. I will be delighted if the BBL does well, because for cricket to be financially strong, T20 has to be strong. The IPL, which bears the brunt of the assault from the traditionalists, isn't faultless; it isn't entirely virtuous but it is still a teenager, and they are allowed the occasional wildness that they can remember as grown-ups. At one point in England I had to remind people that the problems with the euro, the trouble in Afghanistan, or indeed the 2G scam, weren't all direct outcomes of the IPL.

Meanwhile the subcontinent produced an excellent World Cup; the final had two classic innings from Mahela Jayawardene and MS Dhoni. England, at last, became the team they could always have been, and Australia produced an excellent new crop of fast bowlers.

There was deep personal sadness too. My first cricket hero and an outstanding gentleman, Tiger Pataudi, left us, and so did a person I always looked up to for his writing and intellect, Peter Roebuck. These were custodians of the game and we need as many as we can get.

My image of 2011 was the moment immediately after the World Cup win for India. As the cameras searched for Tendulkar, as the players held him aloft, as sound bytes flowed, the captain receded into the background with dignity. He let Tendulkar have his moment, and for that it will always be Dhoni's World Cup for me.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here