It was the winter of 2000. Chilling wind was blowing mercilessly. The venue for one of the most important match of my life was one of the famous Maidan ground of Calcutta. The match was important to me because it was a selection match for the one of the prestigious tournaments, which used to happen every year in Bangalore. And getting selected meant representing Bengal in that tournament. The conditions were not great for a batsman. But I knew with the kind of effort that I had put on and with my determination I would do good. I was eagerly waiting for my chance to show my potential to the big panel that came in to watch the match. A great yorker from the opening bowler of the opponent team cleaned up one of our opener. Now it was my turn to go in and carry the team forward. I went in determined to do well and beat the cold to script a good innings. My form at that time and scores in the last four matches gave me enough confidence. So, I took guard with conviction. All set to face the first ball. The left arm pacer rushed in and hurled a quickie at me. The ball pitched and moved across with the angle of the left-hander taking it away from me. I lunged forward, the jammed legs (thanks to the chilling weather) failed me and I was not able to reach the ball. It missed my willow by an inch atleast. The bowler and the close in fielders all appealed in unison. And then I noticed something which was heart breaking for me. The umpire’s finger being raised signaled the end of the road for me. And meant another year of wait for me. All the effort that I had put in, went in vain due to that one wrong decision.
I know many among us who might have played professional cricket at some point of time or who might have followed cricket would identify with this situation. Far higher stakes are involved some of the times and many careers are made or destroyed due to some of the wrong decisions. I don’t blame the umpires, because they are humans and it is quite possible to miss out some of the times. But the game can be made much fairer with the introduction of technologies in the cricket field. And that is exactly what has happened in the last few decades or so. Technology has played a significant role in the way cricket is played at the highest level. And that is the motivation which enthused me to script this article. So let us talk about some of them.
1. Third Umpire:
Although third umpire is being primarily used for run-out and stump decisions. And that too for the real close ones. But Third umpire is seeing an increasing role with many more decisions coming under its ambit. It started with the idea that it is difficult to judge the real close run-outs as the umpires sometimes fail to take a suitable position to judge. However, you won’t believe until you see some of the real big time goof ups by the umpires where the batsman was almost 2-3 yard outside when the ball hit the stumps but still given not out. This was previous to “Third Umpire” being introduced. So, definitely it is a very good inclusion as far as cricket is concerned. The super slow motion shots are used by a third umpire sitting up in the pavilion to judge whether the batsman was in or out of the crease when the bails were dislodged. Now even an improved version has come where the exact measures of the distance of the batsman from the crease is shown.
2. Hawk Eye: It is another exciting tool that is being used in cricket. It is also being used in other sports like tennis. It is basically a computer system used to track the path of the ball. It captures the path of a ball and then displays the graphical version of the same. Lets see how it works:
- Hawk eye is based on the principles of triangulation using the visual images and timing data provided by at least four high-speed video cameras located at different locations and angles around the area of play.
- The system rapidly processes the video feeds by a high speed video processor and ball tracker.
- A data store contains a predefined model of the playing area and includes data on the rules of the game.
- In each frame sent from each camera, the system identifies the group of pixels which corresponds to the image of the ball.
- It then calculates for each frame the 3D position of the ball by comparing its position on at least 2 of the physically separate cameras at the same instant in time.
- A succession of frames builds up a record of the path along which the ball has traveled.
- The important part is the fact that it can also predict the future path of the ball.
- It can also predict where in future it will interact with the features in the playing arena which are already programmed in the database. Like in case of cricket it can predict whether the ball would hit the stumps or not. As in case of the adjacent picture the ball would miss the stump according to hawk eye.
- The system generates a graphic image of the ball path and playing area which means that information can be provided to judges, television viewers or coaching staff in near real time.
- The pure tracking system is combined with a back-end database and archiving capabilities so that it is possible to extract and analyze trends and statistics about individual players, games or ball to ball comparisons etc.
This is a very exciting technology. But in cricket it has not yet been used for taking decisions like it has been done in other sports like tennis where it is used as a part of the adjudication process. In cricket it is still used to validate the umpire’s decision and it is generally a part of post analysis and not adjudication. Time constraint and reliability of the future path prediction by hawk eye are some of the factors which are still stopping ICC to leverage the full potential of the technology.
It is another tool which is being primarily used by the commentators to evaluate the validity of the decision taken by the field umpire. It is used to graphically analyze sound and video, and show whether a fine noise, or snick, occurs as ball passes bat. It was invented by computer scientist Allan Plaskett in the mid-1990s. He is the brother of chess grandmaster James Plaskett. Invention of another commentary aid is in his name, the Flightpath. The Snicko as it is famously called is introduced by Channel 4 of UK, the same channel which also introduced Hawk Eye.
Snicko is predominantly used by commentators to judge whether the batsman has edged the ball or not. If there is a sound of leather on willow, which is usually a short sharp sound in synchrony with the ball passing the bat, then the ball has touched the bat. Other sounds such as the ball hitting the batsman’s pads, or the bat hitting the pitch, and so on, tend to have a fatter shape on the sound form. One of the famous decisions which was evaluated by the Snicko to be a wrong decision was the not out decision given in favor of Andrew Symonds in the Sydney test of 2007-08 Border-Gavaskar trophy, which ultimately helped Ricky Ponting’s team to win the 16th consecutive test. Things could have been different.
4. Hot Spot: It is another interesting technology which is of more latest origin than the others mentioned here. It is a infra-red imaging system used in cricket to examine whether the ball has struck the batsman, bat or the pad. It can play a critical role in determining whether the batsman is out or not, in case of an appeal for LBW or caught. It works in the following manner:
- Two infra-red cameras are positioned at either end of the ground.
- The friction generated by a collision, such as ball on pad, ball on bat, ball on ground or ball on glove is detected by these cameras.
- Precise localising of the ball’s point of contact is done using a subtraction technique which results in a series of black-and-white negative frames being generated into a computer.
- Hot Spot uses technology developed in the military for tank and jet fighter tracking.
It was first used during the first Test match of the 2006-07 Ashes at The Gabba, on 23 November 2006 by Australian Nine Network. The system would be available to the third umpire in case of player referral. Hot spot can be used to resolve many critical decision problems like whether the ball hit the bat first and then the pad or pad first and then the bad. These identifications may be critical as in the first case only a caught appeal can be upheld and in the second both an LBW or caught. Hot spot also have advantage over the famous Snickometer. The technology was adopted by BBG sports in conjunction with Sky Sports.
There are lot of other technologies like pitchmap, bowling analysis etc. which are used and new ones which can be used in future. It might need another article to cover them all. However the main bone of contention for ICC is to judge whether to use a technology in the decision making process or not. The positives of using a technology are obvious that it makes it a fair deal for everyone in the park and stakeholders outside it. But then the problem of time comes up. It is a decision difficult to take in an age where we have already come down to 20-20 cricket to take care of time factor. The use of these technologies definitely calls for more time and slows the pace of the game. Money is also needed but I feel that ain’t a big problem for ICC. So the challenge for ICC is to ensure that the pace of the game is maintained and also it remains a fair deal. I feel also the human touch would go out with the incorporation of more technology. Lets see how the future of cricket shapes up. Stakes are really high with Nations getting involved financially and emotionally in much greater proportion than in yesteryears and ICC has to call the shots and get it right.