Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS): The On-field Umpire’s Soft Signal Should Remain Soft and not Become a Determinant

The Decision Review System (DRS) or the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), as it’s more formally known, was introduced in 2008 in a three-Test series between Srilanka and India. At no stage since its introduction has the DRS been perfect and from India’s viewpoint, in particular, they have yet to come to terms with using the DRS effectively. The addition of soft signal to the decision-making process—soft signal isn’t a part of the DRS, but the on-field umpire’s decision for LBWs and caught-behinds effectively acts as one—has only complicated matters further.

The Visakhapatnam Test, which India went on to win by a whopping 246 runs, provided a classic example of how India remain naive in making use of the Decision Review System to get a Leg Before Wicket (LBW) or a caught-behind decision in their favour, after the on-field umpire has ruled the batsman not out.

On the third morning of the Vizag Test

In case you are wondering why I say India remain naive in using the DRS, on the third morning at the ACA-VDCA Stadium, England were in a spot of bother and had their last recognised batting pair—Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow—in the middle. Ravichandran Ashwin, bowling the 51st over of England’s first innings, made a claim to Kumar Dharmasena for a leg-before against Bairstow. The England wicket-keeper, in trying to sweep the ball, had gloved it, albeit in real-time, the ball seemed to hit Bairstow’s pad.

Ashwin, who is the No. 1 Test bowler in the world currently, was way more excited than any other Indian player, including the usually exuberant Virat Kohli. Even before having a discussion with his team-mates on whether to go for a review or preserve one, Ashwin insisted on reviewing the on-field umpire’s decision and, on the very first replay that Chris Gaffaney, the third umpire for the Vizag Test between India and England, looked at, he could clearly see the ball striking Bairstow’s glove and be nowhere close to his front pad. India lost a review because they were on a whim.

Now, you can cut India some slack because this is the first time that the DRS is being implemented in India, where the nature of pitches makes the umpires’ job extremely difficult, and India themselves are using the DRS after a long time. Yet, the Kohli-led India are struggling to make effective use of the system just as much as the previous Indian side featuring the Virender Sehwags and Sachin Tendulkars did when this system was first introduced. In their three-Test series against Srilanka in 2008, India were successful with just one of their 21 reviews compared to the then Mahela Jayawardene-led unit’s 11 from 27.


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As far as England are concerned, they have been advocates of the DRS and because it has been a part of almost every one of the series featuring England, against a team other than India, they exude a lot more calmness and the nous in making optimum use of the DRS. That is, however, not to say England have never been on the receiving end of the still imperfect DRS: in the 2013 Ashes played in England, the hosts had a couple of DRS decisions go against them in the first Test in Nottingham, and they have already had a harsh call in the ongoing five-Test series against India.

Now, the on-field umpire’s soft signal or simply a decision made by the two on-field umpires, remains a near-decisive factor in whether a batsman or the fielding side get a decision in their favour. Which is what makes me reiterate that this system remains imperfect or at least isn’t being used in a way it should ideally be. And, over the last couple of months, India, in various formats, have been victims of the on-field umpire’s soft signal, which is essentially not a part of the DRS, though their opponents too have been on occasions.


Instances When the On-field Umpire’s Soft Signal was OP

Below are a couple of instances in the last couple of months of the on-field umpires’ soft signals proving to be overpowered.

India v New Zealand 2016, Second ODI (Delhi)

Australia’s Bruce Oxenford was the umpire who gave Ajinkya Rahane out, after the right-hander hooked a bouncer from Tim Southee to fine-leg, where Corey Anderson was stationed. Anderson made a tremendous effort to get to the ball in the first place, with the ball dying on him. But he could not grab the ball cleanly and in hindsight, the ball seemed to ‘bounce’ off the ground into Anderson’s hands. Anderson expressed his indecisiveness about the attempted catch to the umpire.

Oxenford, however, devastatingly, had given Rahane out and I simply could not fathom how he was sure while the fielder said he wasn’t. Under lights, how could Oxenford say with certainty that the ball had landed in Anderson’s hands, especially when it was dying on the big New Zealander?

Fine-leg, third-man, long-on, and long-off are the sort of positions where the two on-field umpires cannot always spot the ball if it lands just in front of the boundary cushions or hits them on the full. Which is why they ask the third umpire for a decision. From that viewpoint, Oxenford’s instant decision was unbelievable and unfathomable.

The third umpire, who was asked to intervene, looked at numerous replays and Rahane found himself awaiting the third umpire’s decision with bated breath. At least five minutes had elapsed from the time Oxenford asked for the intervention of the third umpire and here was Chettithody Shamshuddin, the third umpire for the game, unable to decide.

In fact, Shamshuddin was put under pressure by the on-field umpire’s soft signal  because even if Shamshuddin wasn’t sure if the catch had been cleanly taken, the on-field umpire’s decision would have stood. And, after Shamshuddin looked at countless replays from myriad camera angles, in a bid to gather conclusive evidence, Oxenford’s decision stood and his soft signal showed its transcendent nature.

That decision was nothing short of scandalous, in my opinion. And, although the DRS wasn’t part of this particular decision-making process, I simply could not understand how any batsman could be ruled out with doubts and question marks prevailing.

India v England Test Series, Vizag Test

Ben Stokes was the last recognised batsman for England, had forged a good partnership with Adil Rashid for the seventh wicket and was looking to take his team’s total as close as possible to India’s 455 in the first innings, on the third day of the second Test against India.


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The pitch seemed docile and the batsmen could score runs and play for long periods if they were willing to be patient. Stokes, a little uncharacteristically, was sedate and was willing to be patient; this spontaneous change to his batting approach was probably more down to England’s position in the game after they had lost the toss on the first morning.

England’s batting all-rounder was batting on 70 off 156 balls when the DRS became the cause for his annoyance. Ravichandran Ashwin was the bowler, mind you, and he had gotten the fourth ball of the 91st over of England’s first innings to straighten after pitching.

Stokes, who was half-forward and a little late on the shot, appeared to have inside-edged the ball onto his front pad. Mind you, he had appeared to inside edge the ball and Kumar Dharmasena, who was the umpire in question, would not have been able to spot the inside edge in real-time because the deviation wasn’t huge. From the umpire’s viewpoint, the ball seemed to strike Stokes’ front pad first and the impact was well in line of the stumps, as well.

Dharmasena gave Stokes OUT and the England all-rounder reviewed the decision, possibly confident of having hit the ball and the third umpire ruling him not out after looking at the replays.

But here too, because the on-field umpire’s decision was OUT, which acts as a soft signal in this case, the third umpire (Chris Gaffaney) had to have the proverbial “conclusive evidence” to “overrule the on-field umpire’s decision”. After looking at the first couple of replays, Gaffaney believed that the ball had caught the inside edge before hitting the front pad. And after viewing multiple replays and concentrating on multiple aspects, Gaffaney was also able to spot Stokes’ willow hitting the back of his front pad at the same time the ball appeared to catch its inside edge.

The ultra-edge showed huge spikes, as you can see in the image at the top of this article, but because Stokes’ willow had made a couple of contacts, one with the ball and the other with his front pad, Gaffaney could not decipher the actual cause for the huge spikes.

He proceeded to take a look at ball tracking and as aforementioned, the ball had struck Stokes’ front pad well in the line of the stumps. So, not only was the impact in line but also, the ball was expected to go on and hit the stumps, which is the fundamental rule of LBW. Dharmasena’s decision (OUT) stood and Stokes was palpably annoyed on his way back to the pavilion, possibly in view of being harshly given out when he seemed to have gotten an inside edge.

How Can the DRS Be Effectively Used?

The on-field and the TV umpires must work in collaboration when the fielding or batting side have asked for a review. The fundamental objective of the Decision Review System has to be to ensure that the right decision is made, and therefore, the TV umpire should be empowered to make a decision on his own, if need be, and not always be a periphery to the on-field umpires, who have to make a decision in real-time and in which case, the probability of making a wrong decision is more. And, unfortunately, elements such as “soft signal” and “requiring conclusive evidence” are hindrances to making the most of the DRS.

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Sachin Tendulkar concurred with Cricfooty‘s opinion about the DRS and has recommended a collaboration between the on-field and the TV umpires: “All three umpires should work together as a team and if the third umpire spots something, he should be in a position to tell the on-field umpire, ‘I feel this is not out’ or vice versa.” “You can overturn that decision. It’s all about getting correct decisions, so you must go all the way to get it right,” Tendulkar was quoted as saying by Mid Day.

So, reader, share with us—using the comments section below—your take on the on-field umpire’s soft signal and whether the TV umpire should have equal power as the on-field umpires to make a decision.

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