Cricket Justice: DRS is a Sri Lankan Achievement – Rename it WDRS (Weeraratna DRS)
Posted on March 28th, 2023


In cricket as well as in a host of other sports a system known as the player referral is now being used. In cricket parlance it is called the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) or Decision Review System (DRS).

Generally, all inventions carry the name of the founder. In the case of rain affected one day international cricket games the nomenclature ‘Duckworth & Lewis’ system is used because it is a system worked out by two Englishmen (Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis). Why is it not the same with the DRS? Is it because the man who conceived and for the first time in the world wrote and published the essential ingredients of the ‘ Player – Referral’ mechanism which became the foundation of the DRS, in leading international cricket Journals and newspapers, as far back as March 1997, is non-white? Senaka Weeraratna from Sri Lanka has been fighting for justice since his brainchild came to be used in cricket. His request for an impartial investigation and proper hearing by an independent third party arbitrator has not even been considered.

Senaka Weeraratna’s journey for justice and due recognition of his contribution towards changing the rules of cricket adjudication, has been a long one. The brainchild traces back to an article on 25 March 1997 addressed to the Editor of ‘The Australian’ titled ‘Third Umpire should perform role of Appeal Judge’. This article was republished in the Times of London on 2 May 1997 and several other international publications as well as the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 6 April 1997.

Senaka Weeraratna published another article on player referral again on 20 February 1999 titled ‘A Spectators Appeal – Reform Cricket Umpiring’ which appeared in the widely circulating ‘Weekend Australian’. The fuller version appeared in the Sri Lanka ‘Daily News’ on 2 March 1999 and in the Sri Lanka ‘Sunday Island’ (March 18, 1999) under the heading ‘ The field umpire’s immunity limits appeal rights’. Thus, a consistent number of articles has been published since 1997 to establish Senaka Weeraratna’s rightful claim to authorship of the ‘player referral’ mechanism which is the lynchpin of the DRS.

Senaka Weeraratna in fact went on to submit his proposal to then Cricket Board President Mr. Upali Dharmadasa in June 1997 requesting Sri Lanka Cricket Board to table his proposal at the next meeting of the ICC scheduled to be held in July 1997 (ICC does not accept individual proposals). The Board officials failed miserably to do so thereby letting down not only Senaka Weeraratna but also Sri Lanka. Receipt of the proposal was admitted by then President in an interview with sports journalist Saadi Thawfeek (Sunday Nation ‘Point Blank’ – 22 June 2008).

While, Wikipedia has acknowledged and published the claims of Senaka Weeraratna, Robert Steen, senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, England and reputed cricket columnist,  in 2011 makes mention of Senaka Weeraratna’s claim to the authorship of the UDRS as follows:

He (Senaka Weeraratna) has been arguing for some time, and with some vehemence, that it was his letter to Colombo’s Sunday Times, on April 6, 1997, the first of many such that sowed the seeds. In an ocean of common sense, that letter likened the players’ right to challenge to the appeal of a dissatisfied litigant”.

In another article in the ‘Sports in Society’ Journal (Vol. 14 issue 10, 2011) Steen says:

 Senaka Weeraratna, a Sri Lankan-born lawyer .., maintains that it was his 1997 letter to The Australian, the first of many, which planted the seeds for what became the DRS. In writing it, illuminatingly, he likened the players’ right to challenge umpires to the appeal of a dissatisfied litigant.”  

While Sri Lanka’s cricket officials did hand over to David Richardson a dossier of documents pertaining to Senaka Weeraratna’s claim to UDRS authorship in 2008 August, and made an appointment for Senaka Weeraratna to meet David Richardson the very next day, he i.e. Richardson failed to turn up for the meeting as he had left the country by then. Richardson claims that the UDRS system was borrowed from tennis in 2006. Given that the UDRS has to have an author the question that arises is, who is the author? If it is not Senaka Weeraratna who is it? Millions of Cricket fans particularly in the Indian sub – continent and South Asia would like to have the answer from ICC. Simply saying it was borrowed from tennis is not good enough.

If Duckworth-Lewis rain affected game rule is named after the two English statisticians, Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis, why is it difficult for the UDRS to be christened as Weeraratna Decision Review System (WDRS)?. We are unfortunately compelled to question whether it is because a non-white has authored the system that the colonial mindset that still dominates cricket administration overrules prestige being shared by a non-white. There is no other reason to explain why Senaka Weeraratna is being denied basic natural justice to make a case to claim authorship for what he has discovered.

Introduced into Test Cricket in October 2009, UDRS has brought about a rich dividend in increasing the percentage of accurate decision making by Umpires from 91% to 97% and also resulted in less rancor between the opposing teams due to mistakes of on – field umpires. It has served the best interests of cricket given the plaudits coming from all sectors for the UDRS.

The UDRS has been hailed as the most revolutionary step taken to reform cricket rules since the inception of the game. A concept i.e. player referral, conceived by a Sri Lankan, has brought fairness to umpiring decisions. As Sri Lankans, we must commend this achievement. To stand together with Senaka Weeraratna at this hour, though he has many more hurdles to clear before he gets final recognition from the ICC, is the challenge before our cricket loving nation as well as all other cricket lovers particularly from non – white cricket nations. Our excellence in cricket thinking and intellectual contributions, beyond the playing field boundaries, must be given their due share of recognition by the international cricket establishment. 

How can the cricket world sing a song without acknowledging the composer?

If ICC is guilty so too are Sri Lanka Cricket Board, Sri Lanka Sports Ministry and the Sri Lankan Government for not taking up the case on behalf of Senaka Weeraratna. If Senaka Weeraratna’s arguments can be taken up at an international level, the prestige not only comes to the author but also to the nation. How proud we can be to say that one of our own countrymen came up with the system to review umpire decisions that is now being applied universally. The late Tony Greig had advised Senaka Weeraratna that the ball should be rolled by the Sri Lankan Govt. and the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. It is a Sri Lankan issue, he had said.

At this late stage of the untiring effort Senaka Weeraratna has been making to claim an idea that he came up with Asanga Seneviratne, Vice – President of SLC, must be commended for showing leadership where others have shied away from. A ray of hope in the clouds that overshadowed Senaka Weeraratna’s attempts for almost 2 decades may clear if Asanga Seneviratne can inspire the SLC and a high profile legal team to take up Senaka Weeraratna’s case with the ICC and bring him due credit for his brainchild and to the nation as well.

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