Technology in cricket that revolutionised umpiring

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A look at technological improvements in cricket that greatly aided umpiring

A range of technology has influences cricket over the past twenty-five years, impacting one of sport’s most traditional offerings in an attempt to reduce errors from umpires and to gain extra clarity in their decisions. For a sport that rests so much on split-second, game-changing moments, technology has helped in this respect.

Collectively, many of these devices are assembled under the decision review system (DRS), a tool available to umpires and captains. Previously, it was third umpire’s being called upon for run-outs or catches, but now there are two ‘reviews’ permitted each team per innings in a Test match, and one each per innings in limited-overs games.

In the years since it was officially debuted in 2009, it has become a popular and successful addition to cricket.

However, the BCCI has refused to modernise, claiming the technology is not 100% accurate. The system requires approval of both teams so if India are involved then DRS does not feature.

Nevertheless, cricket has embraced the technological age for good. Here, we look at six devices that revolutionised modern umpiring.

TELEVISION REPLAYS

For a long time, only two gentlemen held the fate of batsmen and bowlers in their hands – one behind the stumps and one at square leg. In the early 1990s, an encounter between India and South Africa at Durban the technological age changed all that.

During the game, Sachin Tendulkar became the first victim of trial by TV, given run out by the third umpire Karl Liebenberg while on 11. A green light flashed, indicating to Tendulkar that he must return to the pavilion, although the reverse system of green for ‘in’ and red for ‘out’ are now in use.

The availability of another umpire closely watching TV replays, able to slow down, rewind and zoom in to analyse doubtful decisions – mainly run outs, stumpings and catches – was invaluable. Whenever an on-field umpire was in doubt, they could signal aid from the man upstairs.

More recently, innovations such as Spidercam – a motorised camera in the sky attached to a series of cables and capable of travelling all over the ground – have found application in several sports including cricket. These moving cameras provide a 360-degree view of the entire stadium and not just the centre of the action.

HOT SPOT

A concept initially developed for military purposes, Hot Spot found revolutionary application in cricket. The setup consists of a pair of infrared cameras placed horizontally opposite each other at either end of the ground and out of view.

It aims to use to heat signatures to determine the exact point of contact of the ball – which appear as a bright white spot on a negative-image video feed – in a bid to detect edges and to clear up any confusion regarding appeals for catches or LBW decisions.

The technology was first used during the 2006-07 Ashes’ first Test in Brisbane. Although it is largely accurate, inventor Warren Brennan has himself claimed that it is not completely reliable. Hot Spot is also highly expensive to use but has become an integral part of the decision review system. Like other technologies, the process is shown to the viewers during television coverage.

SNICK-O-METER

It developed in the 1990s as almost a forerunner of Hot Spot, but the Snick-O-Meter’s similarity with the heat detection system begins and ends with the purpose – to detect edges. Popularly called Snicko for short, the technology makes use of a tiny microphone in one of the stumps.

This device is meant to detect the presence of bat with ball by means of sound. Again, this helps while examining appeals for catches or LBWs. An audio recording of the delivery is in the form of a line or wave, and an edge, or snick, produces a spike in this wave that indicates a sound has been produced.

With the accompaniment of video footage, umpires can match up the picture with the spike in the Snick-O-Meter to determine where the ball made contact. This device has faced some issues of reliability and accuracy, and Hot Spot was initially imagined as an alternative to detect edges. The Snick-O-Meter has, nevertheless, been in use even as part of television coverage.

HAWK-EYE

Once again, Hawk-Eye is a technology that has found application in not just cricket but also sports such as tennis and football. The underlying mechanism, however, remains the same: a series of cameras are placed around the ground that are intended, from multiple angles, to establish the path and movement of the ball.

The technology has also proved useful in television analysis. Bowlers’ deliveries can be slowed down and their patterns of attack can be examined. Entire spells can be mapped out for viewers, and the line, length and variation of deliveries against certain types of batsmen can be scrutinised.

Its primary use, however, is in the analysis of LBW decisions. Hawk-Eye tracks the path of the ball until impact and then predicts where it would have ended up by the time it reached the stumps had it not hit the batsman’s pad or bat. Its aim is to show whether a delivery would have gone on to hit the stumps or not, accounting for the movement and direction of the ball.

Hawk-Eye was first used in a Test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s in 2001. Now, the technology is under immense scrutiny for the manner in which it is used thanks to a rather complicated umpire’s call determining the decision.

LIGHT METER

The visibility at a cricket ground, and the subsequent ascertaining of ‘bad light’, is determined by a device called a light meter. It is an instrument with a light sensor that an umpire points towards the sight screen to generate a reading.

This reading is displayed on a screen, helping umpires determine if it is feasible to continue play at a particular stage in the game. In the past, when conditions deteriorated to the point where they had to be reviewed, the batting side was offered light – and allowed to decide whether they wish to continue playing or not.

In 2010, however, Laws 3.8 and 3.9 of the game were amended, and the ‘offer of light’ was scrapped. Now, it is the umpires who have complete authority to stop play if they feel visibility is low and it is dangerous to carry on.

There remain some problems. Light meters are used only to determine if visibility has improved or worsened, and the final call is still the umpire’s discretion. Light laws in cricket are still rather inflexible and the umpires remain bound by them, meaning uniformity in decisions made on bad light remains difficult to achieve.

CRICKET UMPIRE COUNTER

The cricket umpire counter (or CUC) is a device intended to help the umpires keep track of numerical details in a match. It is a small instrument designed to fit in the palm of one’s hand and helps umpires keep count of the number of deliveries, overs and wickets.

There are separate counters for each of these metrics and umpires must rotate the wheels in the device to keep count of all of them. They are helpful in demarcating overs, and can be especially useful in amateur or domestic games, where it is easier to lose count of such important details if one relies on memory.

The CUC itself is an upgrade from the previous method to keep track of overs. Earlier, umpires would keep a handful of small objects such as marbles or coins – one for each ball of an over – in one hand at the beginning of an over.

After one ball was bowled, an umpire would transfer one of the marbles to the other hand. In this manner, once all marbles had been transferred from one hand to another, the over was deemed completed.

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Cricket Xtra: BCCI’s American gambit

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Growing the game: All-Stars T20

As the final nuts and bolts for a two-match T20 series in the United States of America between the West Indies and India are put into place, it’s perhaps the perfect time to marvel at the possibilities that an international series – albeit a short one – involving the Indian side, may hold.

Traditionally, bar the odd series or two, the US has never been a favoured market for cricket; and a lot of it has had to do with the bloated nature of cricket’s Test and one-day format.

But with the advent of T20s, and a growing subcontinental diaspora, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) bosses have been forced to take a look at the American audience as a possible target market to make money out of.

The earliest indications of the Indian board’s keenness to host matches in the US were seen earlier this year when the Champions League T20 had been scrapped and talks of a mini-IPL were doing rounds.

The Reliance-owned IPL team Mumbai Indians had even worked out the modalities of playing a few friendly games in America, a plan that eventually failed to see light of day.

However, the biggest precedence that the BCCI can take a lot of confidence from, is in the form of two successful seasons of the Sahara Cup in the late 1990s.

Involving arch rivals India and Pakistan, played in the expatriate-dense city of Toronto, the bilateral contest was a runaway success and proved that cricket could indeed be consumed in North America.

This precedence juxtaposed with the fact that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is currently trying to globalise the sport and boards like the BCCI are trying to tap into once thriving but now dormant neutral markets such as the UAE, shows that the proposed T20 series between the West Indies and India might just be an idea filled with promise.

Over three million people of Indian origin currently reside in the US, which is around 1% of the American population; add the numbers of the West Indian community and it translates to attractive potential gate revenue and broadcast deals.

The state of Florida, where the proposed game will be held – in the city of Lauderhill – has more than 130,000 Indians living in it.

Additionally, the game is most likely going to be played on a weekend, starting at 10:00 local time – thereby achieving the dual objectives of making it easy for fans to fly in from other cities, and ensuring that the product is lucrative for advertisers back home, who can in turn make best use of a prime-time telecast slot.

A huge advantage that the organisers enjoy is in the fact that cricket isn’t completely an alien sport in Lauderhill. The city, which houses the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium, has been the venue of four T20 international matches involving sides like West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand that were played between May 2010 and July 2012.

The Central Broward Regional Park Stadium has hosted T20 cricket in the past

The Central Broward Regional Park Stadium has hosted T20 cricket in the past

Some matches of the ongoing Caribbean Premier League are also slated to be staged at the same venue. While the opportunities are in abundance, the BCCI and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) will not want to run too far ahead of themselves.

They’d do well to learn from the mistakes of the Sachin Tendulkar-Shane Warne led initiative, Cricket All-Stars T20 Series. Played at baseball stadiums in different US cities, the series saw stars of yesteryears battle it out in three T20 contests that pitted Warne’s XI against Tendulkar’s XI.

The novelty of the concept notwithstanding, the series received flak from some corners for not providing anything more than nostalgia value. The lack of competitiveness and sky-high ticket prices ensured that the games weren’t outright sell-outs like many had expected.

Competition shouldn’t be that big a concern this time around as the T20 matches between India and the Windies will involve currently playing top cricketers like Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Rohit Sharma.

But a close watch on the price of tickets being offered is a prerequisite. The intended outcome of popularising the sport and cashing in on an untapped market might become extra difficult if apart showing up at an odd start time, fans also have to buy tickets that are priced very high.

It’s easy to guess how the series would be promoted though. On the back of India’s World T20 2016 semi-final defeat at home at the hands of the West Indies, marketers will jump at the prospect of positioning it as a score-settling grudge contest.

With some of the finest names set to take the field, the rest of the marketing should take place on its own. If all goes well, the cricket boards will not only emerge richer but also wiser about entering unchartered territory and making cricket hugely sellable as a global commodity.

With the currently vacant window for the defunct Champions League T20 yet to be filled, who knows, a mini-IPL in the US might just become a reality starting 2017. And one can definitely never say never to more international cricket on American shores.

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#Rewind360 - Sobers scores double ton vs Australia

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Garry Sobers (File Photo)

Given the primary contest in top level cricket is between two international sides, rarely do fans get to see the best players from all over the world assembled into one star-studded line-up. The composition of numerous ‘World XIs’ is an activity that every cricket lover has engaged in at one point or another.

It is a function of fantasy and wish fulfilment – the natural desire of fans to see the best players in the sport combine into one all-conquering squadron. Sadly, though, one does not often see World XIs in action. They are products of the mind, not governing bodies, and are mostly assembled for tour or benefit games – with regular international cricket’s sense of competitive purpose absent from the proceedings.

Strangely, though, one of society’s great shames bred one such team. After South Africa’s tour of Australia in the early 1970s was cancelled following the decision to ban the African side over apartheid, a hastily cobbled together series of five ‘Tests’ and three one-day games was arranged between Australia and an even more hastily cobbled together team named the ‘World XI’.

During this unofficial, quasi-Test series of a sporting contest, Melbourne bore witness to one of the sport’s greatest ever batting performances. Garry Sobers, the West Indian great, hit a peerless double century in the third ‘Test’ at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the new year of 1972.


As this legend of the game turns 80, we revisit the time he recovered from two years of poor form and led his eclectic band of teammates to victory by 96 runs over the rampaging Australians in their own backyard.








BACKGROUND


Sunil Gavaskar was one of the Indian players in the World XI line-up

Sunil Gavaskar was one of the Indian players in the World XI line-up.


The World XI were an interesting bunch. Their squad contained at least one member from each Test-playing nation active at that time – including South Africa, the side that was meant to tour Australia before the controversy. Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Zaheer Abbas, Intikhab Alam, Tony Greig, the Pollock brothers, Clive Lloyd and, of course, Sobers were among them – some of the best-known cricketers in the world, in short.


The Australians, on the other hand, were preparing for the upcoming Ashes series, set to begin in the English summer of 1972; they already had been defeated 0-2 by the old enemy earlier in the year. Prior to that, Australia had been summarily thrashed on their tour of South Africa (the African country’s last series before their ban), whitewashed 4-0, with Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards in particular contributing to Aussie misery.


The various matches on the itinerary – first-class, Test and one-day games – were all mixed haphazardly, meaning the World XI were subject to sudden, bizarre changes of tone, mood and venue. The second ‘Test’ at Perth, for example, was followed by the first one-day game, also at the same venue, and three days after that, the tourists were playing South Australia in a tour game at Adelaide.


Perhaps the hero of the Melbourne ‘Test’ was thrown off-kilter by the rapidly shifting match demands and situations. Sobers, having made his debut way back in 1954, was already 35 years old at that point but still going strong – 7373 Test runs and 205 wickets (this series was essentially a string of exhibition matches, and therefore Sobers’ numbers in them do not count towards his career Test figures) before the tour, including two hundreds in the last series at home to India.


But his performances going into the Melbourne ‘Test’ had been curiously off-colour: Sobers, a veteran of 81 Tests, looked disproportionately out of his depth. In the first two ‘Tests’, he had made 68 runs in four innings, with a highest score of 33. His four wickets had come at the cost of 42.5 apiece.


The first ‘Test’ at Brisbane was drawn, while Australia romped home in the second by an innings an 11 runs, the fast bowler Dennis Lillee grabbing 8-29 in the World XI’s first innings (Sobers: 0).


It was in these circumstances that the game at Melbourne began on New Year’s Day 1972. The World XI, captained by Sobers himself, won the toss and chose to bat first.


SAME OLD STORY


Australia's Lillee was the chief tormentor of the World XI line-up

Australia’s Lillee was the chief tormentor of the World XI line-up.


In his autobiography, Gavaskar called it a somewhat surprising decision, as the MCG pitch had a reputation for playing quick the first morning and scores from the Sheffield Shield games earlier in the season suggested that a big first innings score was unlikely.


Lest it be forgotten, the Australians had a few stars of their own, and Lillee was about to show the visitors just how quick the wicket could play. Seemingly unsatisfied with grabbing 12 wickets in the previous game at Perth, the fast bowler added another five to his tally in the World XI’s first innings.


Lillee’s speed and precision removed Hylton Ackerman (clean bowled for 0), Gavaskar (38) and Graeme Pollock (8). To cap it off, the Australian also dismissed Sobers, caught by Keith Stackpole at second slip for a first-ball duck. The World XI crashed to 184 all out and conceded a lead of 101 runs to the home side.



A CAPTAIN’S INNINGS


Sobers, however, refused to back down, and there was a moment ominous defiance in Australia’s first innings. While bowling, he had bounced Lillee ferociously, and then had him caught in the covers next ball. The intimidator was being intimidated, and this was just the beginning. The tide was about to turn.


In the World XI’s second innings, it was Abbas who paved the way. The Pakistani batted somewhat unorthodox, but was aggressive on his way to an eventual 86. This brought the skipper to the crease.


Already upset at his poor performance in the first innings, there was an urgent note of determination in Sobers’ resolve. All hopes rested on him, and he had to atone for his lacklustre displays. What happened next is the stuff of legend, and on 3 and 5 January 1972, the line between fantasy and reality was blurred by one man.


38, 179 folks were witness to one of the greatest batting exhibitions of all time, as Sobers rendered all 21 players besides him completely incidental to the proceedings. He was suddenly fifty feet tall, and lit up a somewhat indifferent MCG with his roguish charm.


The power that Sobers generated from his arms was extraordinary. It seemed as though every ball was cracked to the boundary off Sobers’ bat in the blink of an eye. It may as well have been; his first 98 runs had 16 fours among them. Deliveries travelled to the fence like lightning – no mean feat at the ‘G, where boundaries are of extraordinary length.


Sobers' Best in Tests

  • 365* vs Pak, Kingston '58
  • 226 vs Eng, Bridgetown '60
  • 198 vs Ind, Kanpur '58
  • 178* vs Ind, Bridgetown '71

In Sobers’ hands, the bat was practically indistinguishable from a golf club. Indeed, his numerous boundary hits bore all the hallmarks of well-practiced swings on the green. He stood poised at the crease, wrists all tense and wound up, before effecting an enormous heave that bristled with raw, unfettered power to dispatch the ball to the boundary. Even his missed swings and fortunate edges tore at the surrounding air with force, their terrifying power making the blade in his hands sing with purpose.


Despite Sobers’ heroics, the World XI were losing wickets.  They were 214-5, then 248-6, then 319-7 – still only 218 runs ahead. At this stage, however, Sobers got the partner he needed. One whose little-remembered balancing act at the other end allowed Sobers to continue his murderous massacre of the bowling. Peter Pollock stuck it out for a gritty 54 that permitted Sobers to continue scoring freely and put on a competitive total for his side to defend. Pollock’s seemingly forgotten half-century remains one of the game’s better supporting acts.


Despite this brutish assault on the bowlers, not once was Sobers’ batting missing an elegant touch. It was beautiful carnage, make no mistake about it. There was a slight shuffle of the feet on certain deliveries, and a sharp, explosive swivel of the hips on others.


Sobers played freely all over the ground, never once hamstrung by the logistics of a shot or the style of bowling he was facing. Fielders in the covers, the slips, at mid-wicket, at mid-off, through square leg – you name it, and they were all sent scurrying in futile pursuit of the ball.


The dangerous Lillee was slammed for 133 runs from his 30 overs. Kerry O’Keeffe was hammered for 121 wicket-less runs, while Bob Massie was taken to the cleaners at 3.8 runs an over. Few were spared the flogging as Sobers jumped from 139 at the close of the third day to 254 by the fourth.


This is where his innings came to an end. A careless flick off Greg Chappell deposited the ball in the hands of Doug Walters at mid-on. The job, though, was done. World XI went on to make a total of 514.


Sobers walked off to a standing ovation from the Melbourne crowd. The watching Sir Donald Bradman called it the greatest innings he had seen in Australia. There is no higher praise.


EPILOGUE


Australia fell to 317 all out in their second innings in pursuit of a target of 414 runs. The series was thus levelled 1-1, and the World XI went to win it 2-1 thanks to victory by nine wickets in the final ‘Test’ at Adelaide that commenced in late January.


As for Sobers, he went on to play a further 12 Tests. His efforts in these matches brought his final tally up to 8032 runs and 235 wickets in Test cricket. Sobers finally retired in 1974 – a true and undisputed legend of the sport.



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