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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.