There was a revealing moment at Edgbaston on Sunday, when the entire England team went up for a caught-behind appeal against Azhar Ali in the second over of the day. The bowler, Stuart Broad, didn’t bother turning round – but that was not the weird bit. No, what happened next said much for one of the less-intended consequence of the Umpire Decision Review System: honesty, a notion often dismissed as naive in international sport, may be poking its head above the parapet once more.
These are early days, of course, and the players’ competitive juices will always flow in directions that upset the purists. But England’s failure to challenge the not-out decision (and it was definitely not out) shifted the spotlight on to them. Why, went the faintly disapproving logic, did they appeal so vociferously first time round, only to lose the courage of their convictions when faced with the prospect of technology?
First things first: it did not look good. In fact, it looked like an orchestrated piece of cynicism – especially when replays showed the ball missing the bat by half a foot. The more generous interpretation, on the other hand, was that everyone heard a noise – bat on pad, probably – and instinctively appealed, before the group huddle reached the conclusion that was immediately obvious to the umpire.
Either way, the players are slowly realising that technology is changing the parameters. It’s true that in the days before the UDRS, a bad appeal would still be exposed by the replays. But the players could simply put that down to a misjudgment on their part, and the game would move on quickly.
Now, with the onus on them to put their money where their mouths are, gamesmanship has nowhere to hide. Heck, the players may even think twice before trying on a dodgy appeal in the first place.
Another incident at Edgbaston exposed a different kind of fraud – and one that has perpetrated by batsmen on umpires from the word go. Mohammad Aamer appealed in the first innings for caught behind against Andrew Strauss, who stood his ground after Marais Erasmus wrongly ruled not out. Yet Strauss must have known he gloved it – as replays proved once the Pakistanis challenged the verdict. The decision was overturned and Strauss walked off, possibly feeling slightly sheepish.
This is not to have a go at Strauss: hardly anyone walks these days. But who knows? If the players are going to have their integrity implicitly questioned, one or two may decide to take matters into their own hands. Others could follow.
The ICC have long claimed that player behaviour will improve as a result of the UDRS. For a while this sounded like another piece of corporate spin. But there may just be a kernel of truth. It probably is too much to expect professional sportsmen playing for their careers to shed every vestige of gamesmanship. But if technology really does bring about a change, however gradual, critics of the system may have extra pause for thought.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail and you can sign up here for his weekly newsletter ‘the Top Spin’, which was recently named Online Column of the Year at the Sports Journalists’ Association awards.