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Using technology for MAKing decisions in Test cricket

Monday, December 29, 2014
Science and Society

The ongoing cricket series between India and Australia has raised questions about the decisions made by the on-field umpires. India feels that they have been hard-done by them. If that is the case and indeed the evidence does point in that direction, then they have no one to blame but themselves, inclusive of their Board. 

They are the ones, the only cricket Board to boot, who have refused to accept the use of the UDRS/DRS in their Test match games. They postulate that the technology is not 100 per cent accurate. But by their own recent statements, neither are the umpires. It would appear then, that their position on the DRS technology is neither logical nor consistent.

Technology is used to assist in decisions/reviews in many sports including basketball, tennis, soccer/football, rugby, baseball and of course, cricket. Because of the amount of money and prestige involved, the decisions made by on-field officials in real time, need to be supported by off-field officials who can review the events, recorded by technology, to give a more accurate outcome. The intent then, is not to replace on-field decision-making officials, but rather to augment their decision-making abilities.

Cricket is a very complex game and, in the case of Test cricket, an exceedingly long-lasting game, comprising of a series of very short and fast bursts of actions. It thus requires umpires to be vigilant for at least six hours a day for up to five days. Even the best can and will make mistakes. So, by the very nature of the game, on-field decisions can never be consistently one hundred per cent correct. The DRS technology was introduced to reduce the levels of inconsistency. 

There are three basic technology components that are used in cricket, in addition to the cameras placed in line with both the batting creases and wickets. They are the ball-tracking technology, the hot spot, which uses infrared cameras and the snickometer, which is a directional microphone. The snickometer and hotspot technologies are complementary and are probably the most accurate in that they are really sensors. 

The ball-tracking technology, which is used to determine if the ball pitched in line with the stumps and will in fact would impact the stumps if it did not hit the batsman, depends heavily on software calculations which requires physical parameters and thus gives a projected ball trajectory. 

This may be the technology that cannot be described as consistently one hundred per cent accurate. In fact this is being reviewed and no doubt will improve as models are refined and more data becomes available. One may therefore understand if there is some reluctance to use this as both the output of this technology and that of umpires are in fact opinions.

On the other hand the hot spot and snickometer technologies give evidence of the interaction between the ball and another object or objects. Their outputs, used together with that of the in-line cameras are thus less subjective than that of ball-tracking technology and the probability of determining exactly what the ball impacted is one hundred per cent or exceedingly close to one hundred per cent. In other words, it is as near to fool-proof as is possible. 

The reluctance to use the hot spot and snickometer is therefore baffling; as accurately and consistently determining whether the ball struck the bat is virtually impossible for umpires, as the data reveals. The technology review system can easily correct this deficiency. Interestingly, the decisions that hurt the chances of the Indian team would not have occurred under a DRS system, as the hot spot and snickometer technologies would have revealed that the batsmen were not out.      

It is time for India to come on board.


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