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Technology – Will Cricket Be The Same?

In 1995 I spent a goodly number of early morning hours watching Australia play the West Indies in the Caribbean. The coverage of that tour included what was then known as “spin vision”, aka the super slow mo camera. It was wondrous. No longer were there fuzzy replays of deliveries and guess work as to the type of ball which had been bowled or whether there was an inside edge, now we could see in crystal clear vision the various subtleties of Shane Warne as he set out to bamboozle the then world champions.

In his most recent tome, Gideon Haigh opines that at least part of Warne’s appeal as a cricketer could be put down to this piece of technology. That, for the average punter, the super slow mo went some way to unravelling the intricacies of the wrist spinner’s art. That it made the game somehow more accessible.

Fast forward 13 years. It’s Australia v Sri Lanka at the WACA in a one-dayer, and Andrew Symonds at cover throws himself full-length to his left to pull off a stunning catch to dismiss Chamara Silva from a full blooded cover drive. It’s one of those amazing catches which turn games and end up in highlight reels for a few seasons. Or so it seemed.

Silva stood his ground and looked at Symonds, who at the time was celebrating his athletic prowess with team mates. Then the super slow motion replay was shown, and it appeared that the ball had hit the ground as Symonds took the catch. It seemed the batsman may not have been out, though there was only one angle with the benefit of the super slow mo replay.

The same piece of technology, along with “Hot Spot” (an infra red camera which shows whether the ball has hit the bat) has also illustrated myriad incorrect LBW decisions since its introduction. Hawkeye (a computer graphic which tracks the ball’s path until it hits the pads, then estimates whether it would have hit the stumps) is also used in coverage of international matches to allow commentator scrutiny of the umpire’s LBW decision, despite its inventors admitting it is not completely accurate.

Improved technology has also led to certain players’ honour being questioned when it comes to catches which have been claimed in matches where the technology is available. Just this Australian summer there were two controversial incidents involving Michael Clarke (against New Zealand and India respectively) whilst Symonds, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey all came under scrutiny for not walking when apparently caught behind. Each was given not out by the field umpire, despite “Snicko” (a sound recording as the ball passes the bat) indicating they may have hit the ball.

The upshot of these technological developments is that those watching the game on television get a clearer idea of whether a decision was correct than either the spectators at the ground or in some cases the players themselves. The down side to the development is that those TV spectators have a habit of imbuing the players and umpires on the field with the knowledge which the technology has revealed.

In the 2003 World Cup, Sourav Ganguly claimed a catch at slip off Adam Gilchrist from the bowling of Harbhajan Singh, which was given not out. Replays indicated the ball bounced well in front of the fielder, prompting a deal of teeth gnashing in the commentary box at the time. When the replay was shown on the big screen at the ground, the crowd booed loudly. The inference in that case, as with Clarke’s this summer, was that the fielder must have known the ball had bounced. But must they? Gilchrist himself put that incident in perspective when, in the midst of the booing, he turned to Ganguly with a smile and said “Easy game with the replay, isn’t it?”

Therein lays the danger with the emphasis on technology. It can show us what has transpired, but not what the players and officials know is transpiring before them, in real time. For that reason, spectators must be careful not to jump the gun in accusing players of taking liberties on the field.

The ICC is soon to trial player referrals to third umpires, though the manner in which the referrals are to be utilised, and the number available to each team, is yet to be determined. Moreover, will the third umpire be able to demand certain camera angles from the host broadcaster, or will a television producer determine which information is passed on to the match official? An even more important issue is whether the use of this technology will remove the controversy, or simply move it from the field to the third umpire?s room.

The game’s governing body needs to be careful in determining which technology is used to alter a decision. For example, will a noise picked up on Snicko be sufficient grounds to reverse a “not out” caught behind decision, or will there need to be some other supportive evidence, such as the super slow mo revealing an alteration in the manner in which the ball was spinning as it passed the bat, or Hot Spot showing an edge? If no corroborative evidence is available, will the original decision need to be upheld? Will Hawkeye, which Kerry O’Keeffe says gives everything out after lunch because it’s been drinking, be sufficient evidence to decide an LBW decision? Will the playing conditions stipulate that the original decision stands absent compelling evidence, or will the time honoured tradition of the batsman getting the benefit of the doubt finally be enshrined into the Laws of Cricket? It is not enough to simply stipulate that technology be used. There must be parameters established so players, officials and broadcasters all know where they stand in its use.

The use of technology in cricket will no doubt remove some controversy from the game, and for that reason it ought to be implemented. We must remember, however, that it will not be a panacea to the problems associated with contentious dismissals

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