Over the Christmas period there was much debate once again on social media about the Video Referral system in a number of sports, in particular during the Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne and with the Video Assistant Referee on trial in the Hyundai A-League.
Most of the discussion was to do with the viewers at home believing that the video officials had erred in their decisions.
Certainly we are now seeing Cricket teams using a referral as a roll of the dice. It is a close call, and in need of a wicket they will refer in the hope that it may result in a wicket, ease the pressure and change the course of the game.
We had the ridiculous situation during the Melbourne Test where Nathan Lyon was given out and was the last wicket to fall for the Australians in their first innings. They referred the decision because they had a referral, all the players left the field of play and the umpires had to stay and go through the review, despite the players clearly knowing that it was not going to be overturned. This is not good for the game or the Review system
In Field Hockey we have witnessed a similar situation whereby teams use their one referral late in the game simply because they still have one. It may be a last roll of the dice or to break up the momentum of the game rather than to have a clear injustice overturned.
It was interesting to read that analysis was done of more than 2,100 Player Reviews between September 2009 and March 2017 by Cricket historian and statistician Charles Davis, and that it was found that only 26% of Player Reviews resulted in on-field decisions being overturned. That would once again back up the belief that most of the time the officials on the pitch have made the right decision.
The other interesting facts to come out of this analysis were that reviews by batsmen were more likely to be successful, with a 34% success rate, compared to a success rate of about 20% for bowling teams.
Not surprisingly 74% of referrals were for LBW, 18% for wicketkeeper catches, and the rest for catches elsewhere or indeterminate reason. The success rate was only 22% for LBW, compared to 40% for wicketkeeper catches.
It is the LBW tracking that causes most viewers the biggest issue as Hawkeye almost always shows the ball moving in a perfect arc from where it pitches. Anyone who has played the game of cricket, or any sport with a ball for that matter will tell you that you can never predict perfectly how the ball will react once it pitches. It is believed that there will be no Hawkeye for sports at the Commonwealth Games, so it will be interesting to see how those sports that use this technology fare without it.
“Hotspot” too has had some questionable moments during this series, with the Third Umpire feeling that the contact shown on the bat was definitely from the ball, and the batsman has had to walk.
The A-League and the VAR has been embarrassing to say the least. The two red cards against the Central Coast Mariners as a result of the VAR were harsh. Then there was an offside goal rubbed out for Sydney in their match against Perth Glory due to offside. The VAR was spot on this time, but the question has to be asked how the linesman/Referee’s assistant missed it. Officiating at that level it was one of the easier decisions to make.
However this leads us into why the video referral system came into being. It was there to ensure that there were no obvious clangers made by the officials on the field of play. The last example shows the system working well. The linesman, or referee’s assistant as they are called today made a bad mistake, a mistake that could have resulted in a goal. The Video referral corrected that mistake and cancelled the goal; although it ended up making little difference to the outcome.
Are we seeing the referral system used in Cricket purely to eradicate an obvious error? With LBW decisions it clearly is a lottery, and some batsman decide it is worth challenging, and the same goes for the fielding side.
The fact that in this review of the cricket Decision Review System it was found that there were on average about 1.4 batting overturns and 1.2 bowling overturns per match, it would tend to indicate that once again in the main the Umpires are getting the decision right. You could argue that they are making one howler per game, although that would be harsh.
What it possibly does indicate is that maybe the number of referrals per team should be reduced to one per match. The umpires themselves can have unlimited referrals. This will then see teams only use the referral when they are sure the umpire has made an error, which was what it was always set up to eradicate.
In football, hockey or cricket, most of the officials will soon realise when there maybe some doubt over their initial decision in the reaction of the players around them. So if they feel they want to make sure that their decision is correct, then they can opt to use their own referral. Of course the problem with this is we will see players increasing their acting skills to try and force an umpire to question a decision.
Already we have seen footballers diving at the slightest contact in order to be awarded a penalty, this type of behaviour has already started creeping into other sports, so we do not want to encourage more of it. In fact many have advocated that with the video referral this could be eradicated if post match players received a suspension for diving.
Those charged with administering sport need to start supporting the officials and backing the decisions that they make on the pitch. It would appear that statistics show that most of the time they get them right.
Certainly more work needs to be done in the video booth to ensure that if a decision is over-turned there is absolutely no doubt as to why that has happened. Unfortunately as viewers sometimes the decisions made by the video officials, based on the same vision we the viewer see, is baffling. Which raises the question are the right people in the video umpire position? Should this be a specialist role? Many believe that it has to be.
Video referral has added a new revenue stream to sport. Sponsorship of this segment of a broadcast and at the venues is a huge earner as all attention is on the screen in the stadium and also in the living room. Video Referral is here to stay, of that there can be no doubt. However is it not time we remembered why it was created? To eliminate the clearly wrong and bad decisions made on the field of play, decisions that could have a huge impact on a match. A batsman given out caught when he wasn’t, a goal allowed when the player was offside, or a penalty corner conceded when there was no infringement inside the circle. This is what is was created to do, but unfortunately we are forgetting that. Also the players know that the system is fallible and hence they will try their luck in having a decision overturned.
It is not perfect and never will be, but with a few little tweaks across many sports there is no doubt that the review system can be improved and become less frustrating to the viewers and the players.