Ben Jones analyses how Test teams use their reviews.
It was one of a few moments which defined the climax to the Headingley Test. Nathan Lyon, down on his haunches, imploring the umpire to give Ben Stokes out, the Englishman struck on the pad by a spinning, drifting delivery, plumb in front. Lyon’s hands waved, he sunk lower into his stances, then as the penny dropped that Umpire Wilson would remain unmoved, he fell backwards.
It looked dead – it was dead. DRS replays confirm that had Australia reviewed the decision, they would have had their man. Except, of course, they didn’t review it, because they couldn’t. They had wasted their final remaining review on a speculative call in the previous over, an LBW appeal for Jack Leach which even to the naked eye pitched well outside leg. Australia’s desperation to win lost them the match.
An umpiring error was to blame, primarily, but Australia’s misuse of the review cost them the match just as clearly. Reviews, whether you like it or not, are a skill like any other. Some teams are good at it, some teams aren’t, just like slip catching, in-fielding, and getting the ball to reverse.
The irony is that over the last two years, Australia have actually been rather solid at reviews, among the best in the world when it comes to overall success. 28% of their reviews have led to the decision being reversed, the same figure as the average for all teams. That places them as the fourth best reviewing side in the world, just below the leading trio of West Indies, England, and Pakistan.
When you look just at batting reviews, Australia are similarly bang in the middle. On average, if a batsman is given out and he reviews it, there’s a 35% chance it’ll be overturned, and again Australia just match this figure. Bangladesh have an astonishingly good record in terms of overturning decisions.
As a fielding unit, if you review a decision then 22% of the time you’ll have it overturned. Australia are below that rate, but only slightly. They have form for being better than Cummins/Paine/Leach incident.
These international numbers can be skewed of course, and don’t offer a completely foolproof way to assess this as a skill. Speculative reviews at the end of innings could alter things, but over a large enough sample you’d suggest that such opportunities will smooth over any anomalies.
The point is that just like any other skill, the ability to review well can degrade under pressure. Players with otherwise bucket hands can shell the softest chance when there are 10 runs to win, batsman can miss straight ones when the heat is on. Just like that, a player’s ability to judge a review well is decreased under pressure. Which is what happened on Sunday.
Perhaps it’s time then that players took this more seriously. Are teams practising reviewing? Are batsmen being bombarded in the nets with deliveries targeting their pads, being asked to make a call on if it’s hitting? Are bowlers watching their deliveries back and being forced to re-assess their heated initial decisions. Is there any level of training at all for a skill which could, as we saw at Headingley, decide matches, define careers? Perhaps there is, but some teams are still significantly better than others. In a sporting landscape of aggregated marginal gains, of stealing a march on your opponents wherever you can, this feels a small new area for savvy teams to get ahead. Tim Paine might agree.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.