Cricket’s DRS is the greatest innovation in the history of sports.
And not just because it took the unspeakable pain inflicted on Kiwi cricket fans in Melbourne in 1987, nurtured it, honed it to a razor’s edge, and then stabbed Australia right between the eyeballs during the ridiculously dramatic (not to mention cathartic) final moments of the third Ashes test in Yorkshire.
A brief explanation for those who might not fully understand that reference.
The Black Caps (back then known humbly as New Zealand) won the 1987 Boxing Day test, dismissing Australia with seven balls remaining when Danny Morrison pinned Craig McDermott with a perfect swinging delivery that would have sawn middle stump in half.
At least they would have – had Australian umpire Dick French seen what the rest of the world did and put his bleeding finger in the air. Instead French, preposterously, ruled ‘not out’ in the face of the most OUT LBW appeal ever witnessed in the last over of a test match.
History, instead of awarding New Zealand a famous victory, gave Australian No. 11 Mike Whitney a crappy TV show, no doubt in part because of his heroics in seeing out an over from Richard Hadlee that simply should never have been bowled.
For 32 years, Australia got away scot-free with this monstrous larceny.
Then came the third Ashes test of 2019, with England requiring two runs with one wicket in hand to pull off a miracle run chase. Ben Stokes swept at a Nathan Lyon delivery that appeared, to the naked eye, to be straightening enough to hit the very middle of middle stump.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson, perhaps sensing his chance to join French in the annals of history, declined to raise his finger.
That alone would have been enough for Australians to get a decent taste of how Kiwis felt 32 years ago.
But, given such a lengthy wait for justice, interest clearly needed to be paid – and that duly came in the form of a DRS replay that showed, rather emphatically, that Stokes was stone cold motherless out.
Often, that would be a good thing for the fielding side. But, not sadly, it wasn’t much use to an Australian side that had wasted its last DRS review on a hopeful, hopeless LBW appeal in the previous over.
That it served as the frosty icing on a dish best served cold is likely enough for Kiwis whose recall spans 32 years to view DRS with much admiration – and the Lyon-Stokes incident indeed stands as the pinnacle of its contribution to the game.
But there is so much more to treasure about the humble decision review system.
As a lens to assist peering deep into the human psyche, DRS is unparalleled. A system designed to tell us whether batsmen are in or out reveals exponentially more.
DRS, for instance, comes with an in-built arrogance monitor, providing a wonderful mechanism for batsmen whose self-importance has reached truly unseemly levels to disgrace themselves, by burning an appeal every single time an umpire raises a finger in their direction.
Here’s looking at you, Davey Warner and Joe Root.
At the other end of that scale, DRS is tremendous at exposing those who lack the requisite confidence to thrive in international cricket; the hapless hacks who follow a dicey shot by meekly accepting a rubbish decision for fear of wasting a review that, in their hearts, they know would be better saved for someone else.
Then, of course, there are the bowlers (and wicketkeepers), pretty much all of who have been revealed to be both terrible judges and complete charlatans.
Those vociferous, demanding appeals that insist a batsman is OUT OUT OUT, seem more than a little disingenuous when bowler and keeper immediately shake off the option of a review.
Most wonderful of all, though, is what DRS tells us about human perception, and how it can be altered by factors such as pressure, fatigue and naked desire.
Not an international cricket match goes by without DRS confirming that, just because a human being wants something to be so, so much, they convince themselves it is so, doesn’t make it so. And that, when the chips are down and backs are against the wall, we humans will suspend reality and chuck our lot in with forlorn hope because, well, you never know.
That was brilliantly encapsulated by Australia’s marvellously inept use of the DRS system in the unbearably tense closing stages of a match they completely and utterly bottled.
Yes, Ben Stokes was the hero of Headingley with his incredible batsmanship – but he did it with a little help from a digital friend that buried itself inside the Aussies’ skulls almost as deeply as he did.
So here’s to you DRS. If you ever walk into a bar and sit next to this column, you won’t be buying your own drinks. We’ll knock the top off a couple and talk about how it was a shame you weren’t around in 1987.
And if Joel Wilson wanders over to join us, we can buy him a conciliatory pint and say something like ‘chin up mate, you can’t get them all right’. Even though we know that isn’t true. Because you do. Because you are awesome. You little beauty.