Which team is winning the DRS battle?

A look at how teams and individuals use their fielding reviews. Every team benefits from the same technology, but some teams make better use of their limited chances to review.

The Decision Review System (DRS) was officially launched in tests back in November 2009. It was introduced to get rid of howlers from the on field umpires. The technology has since received upgrades and the rules of implementation have changed. The restriction on the reviews available for a team calls for more judicious use of reviews.

We looked at how test teams have used DRS since October 2017. Before this period, reviews were reset after the 80th over of each innings. This meant teams could afford to be liberal going for reviews when they see the 80 over mark approaching. To analyze a team's success in getting their reviews right during this period would not be straight forward. This is one reason why matches before October 2017 were not looked at.

To judge Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland only on 17 test matches between them is harsh. So, they missed out too. The 2nd Chennai test match between India and England which concluded on February 16th was the last test included.


There were 1378 instances of reviews in the 127 tests held during this period. Out of these, a little more than 1 in 4 reviews were successful. Fielding reviews are 15% points less successful than batting reviews. Even when it comes to retaining reviews, batsmen do 20% points better.

This shouldn't come as a surprise given the batsmen most often know when they have nicked it. While batting reviews are often done in consultation of only the non-strikers, the team dynamics add a lot more drama to a fielding review. As with any other group process, the success of fielding reviews are driven by management of the information available. The first of this series of articles will focus on how teams have utilized their fielding reviews.

Pakistan edging out other teams

Pakistan lead the pack in successful fielding reviews. They have a 27% success rate, followed by England, who are 4% points behind. Along with their nemesis Australia, they complete the top three. Apart from the top 2, it seems like it is a scramble for other places in this regard. There is not much to choose between these teams. Sri Lanka with only 1 overturn in every 6 reviews is reeling at the bottom.

As a reminder, teams retain reviews if they overturn the on field decision or if it's an umpire's call. India who have an average success rate, do very well in retaining reviews. This means they aren't reviewing as unreasonably as social media chatter would suggest. With a 41% retention rate, they are second only to West Indies, who retain almost half of their appeals.


Reviews exist, New Zealand

Of course, teams don't have to use the reviews for the sake of it. They sometimes run into a chance-less partnership. On other occasions, it might be a short 4th innings and there is not much time in the match for a review. But, every team faces these circumstances and hence, it is a level playing field.

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New Zealand and West Indies appear to be conservative reviewers. They have exhausted only less than half of the reviews available to them. England make maximum use of their reviews at 67% utilization. This specific analysis was only for pre-COVID matches where team had only 2 reviews per innings.


Running out of reviews

More the time in the field without a review, the longer it leaves fielding teams susceptible to an umpiring error. To quantify how soon a bowling team runs out of reviews, we looked at percent of runs scored by the opposition after the bowling team looses its reviews. One can argue that the tail could have batted well and this metric might not be trustworthy in that sense. But, this is an attempt to directionally throw some light on exhaustion of reviews and should be taken with a pinch of salt.

India are top of the table in this unwanted stat. The opposition team score nearly half of their runs on average without India having a review. In spite of doing a great job in retaining reviews, it is surprising how India scores low in this metric. This points to them taking their reviews in very quick succession early on.

Pakistan and New Zealand are the next worst in running out of reviews. New Zealand seems to be an interesting case. We saw how they tend to have lots of reviews unused. But when they exhaust their reviews, it seems like they run out of them sooner than most other teams.

West Indies lose their review late into their innings. Less than a quarter of their opponent's runs come when they have no reviews left.


Pant-Virat or Saha-Virat?

Whether to review a decision or not, is a call made by the wicket keeper, captain and the bowler in unison. Wicket-keepers have the best sight of the ball and are often in line with the ball. So, their insights play a crucial part in the decision to review.

Consider this review by Alzari Joseph for an LBW, when the Windies toured England last year. Holder, the captain, is nowhere in the scene and the bowler's head falls away. Neither are in the best position to see that the ball pitched outside leg stump. These are exactly the kind of reviews where the keeper’s input is the deal breaker.

Pakistan's Azhar Ali and Mohammad Rizwan are the most successful pair with 38.5% success. Smith and Paine combined only for 20 instances post October 2017, before Smith was stripped of his captaincy. The pair succeeded little more than once every 3 reviews. What is interesting though is they never faced an umpire's call scenario. Nothing marginal about this pair.

Remember Mushfiqur Rahim, when he was the Bangladeshi skipper and keeper, reviewed a forward defense from Kohli. Is it the pressure that the dual role of skippering and keeping brings, that is a driver behind such reviews? Paine's decline in numbers after he took over the mantle of leadership, indicates this might have a negative bearing. Sarfaraz Ahmed who also assumed this dual role overturned 1 in 4 reviews, better than average success rate. There is no clear answer to this theory, given very few instances.

And how can we forget Pant vs Saha. We have some good news for the Saha fans. The Virat-Saha combo has much better numbers, 27% overturn rate as compared to 13% of Virat-Pant. The Virat-Pant duo is third from the bottom among duos who have reviewed at least 15 times.


Are excitable bowlers bad reviewers?

The bowler alone doesn't decide whether to go for the review. But, we have seen certain bowlers can be more persuasive than others.

Our recent memory would suggest Ashwin convinces his skipper to go for reviews. Virat - Ashwin combination has a 19.2% success, which is around the average for fielding reviews. Jadeja and Kohli do so much better getting 1 in 3 right. But they haven't reviewed enough times to make our list here.

Stuart Broad is another excitable character, but he is surprisingly good. Root - Broad duo has 34.5% success. Broad is after all trying to convince the umpires rather than his own skipper with his emotions. They are second only to Root - Woakes pair.

The South African pair of Du Plessis and Maharaj score the highest on retention of reviews with 59%.


These stats only graze the surface. There is a lot more that contribute to the success of fielding reviews. Some are measurable, others are not. There are no straightforward answers here. But one thing is straight forward : Teams have a long way to go before they can claim that they are acing the reviews.


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