Hi-Tech Decision Making in Cricket – A Benefit or a Necessary Evil?

Video analysis of line decisions has been used by officials in tennis and rugby for years, but cricket has many more high-tech options that could be used, if they were allowed by the game’s authorities.

A delivery from a 150 kph fast bowler takes only one third of a second to reach the batsman. So, umpires must be highly skilled to judge the length and line of the ball, to make a correct lbw decision. Experience and ability are invaluable here, but it can still be a difficult call, especially as the umpire sees no action replays.

However, televised live cricket coverage has an armoury of high-tech gadgets that could help the umpire, including the Hawk-eye system. Hawk-eye uses 6 cameras placed around the ground to track the flight of the ball, then a computer instantly converts their pictures into a 3D image of the ball’s flight. It can follow swing, spin and seam, and predict if the ball would have hit the wicket after hitting a batsman’s pad. This gives the TV commentator and viewer an unfair advantage over the umpire in judging an lbw. But, does this undermine an umpire’s decision which is based on experience that even a computer can’t match? Even Hawk-eye finds it difficult to predict the bounce of a cricket ball, so it may not always be right. So, should Umpires have access to Hawk-eye replays? What do you think? Many more high tech options present the same dilemma.

Aside from this great debate, Hawk-eye has also brought benefits to cricket coaches. It can record exactly where the ball pitches, so can give bowlers feedback on their accuracy. It also measures the speed of the ball, showing how much time a batsman has to react. Because of these benefits, the system has been installed at the ECB Academy in Loughborough, to help analyse batting and bowling techniques.

Stump cameras and stump microphones have been part of televised live cricket coverage since the early 1990s. In the mid 1990s, the “snickometer” was devised to use sounds picked up by the stump microphone. The sharp sound of a ball clipping the edge of a bat shows clearly on a graph of sound level. When allied with a slow motion video, this can show clearly if the ball was edged to the wicket keeper, or hit the bat before hitting a pad.

The super slow motion camera takes around 500 frames per second (fps), compared to 24 fps at normal speed. Used since 2005, this is a great tool to analyse run outs and stumpings, and the umpire can refer to these pictures to help with his decisions. But, it’s also good for seeing whether or not the ball took a thin deflection off the bat, though the umpire doesn’t get this information. Do you think he should?

The latest technology in the commentator’s armoury is the “hot spot”. This detects if the ball has connected with a player’s bat, pad, glove or the ground, using two infra-red cameras. These detect the tiny amount of heat generated from the friction created when two objects collide, such as ball, bat, pad, glove or the ground. This can show if the ball snicked the bat for a catch, or hit bat before pad to determine an lbw dismissal.

The “hot spot” was first used for live cricket coverage by Channel 9 in Australia in 2006. As with the snickometer, the umpire doesn’t see its evidence before making a decision.

Eminent commentators and cricketers are divided on whether technology should replace the umpire’s judgement for borderline decisions. One side’s view is that umpires are a traditional part of the game, and can exercise judgement that technology can not. The other side considers it’s more important to make sure that umpiring decisions are right.

There is even an element of history repeating itself – the laws of the game were formalised in 1744, in response to increased gambling on the results of matches. So, will technology fulfil the same need, in the face of internet betting?

High-tech decision aiding has only been available for around 15 years, and is improving all the time, so that pressure on traditional umpiring can only increase. It’s a great debate for the cricket authorities and for cricket fans. What do you think?

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