I have been warming up for the cricket World Cup to be held from February 14 to March 29 by watching more games, so as to get up to speed on what the teams are like and what changes have occurred in the game since my youthful days of addiction to the game, and one thing that struck me was the increased use of technology, much of it for the better.
For example, the umpires in cricket have a very difficult task. The most important one is to adjudicate whether a batsman is out or not out. In cricket, the fielders must make an appeal if they think the batsman is out in order to have the umpire make a decision. Of the ten ways in which a batsman can be out, the five most common are bowled, caught, run out, stumped, and leg before wicket (lbw).
Only the first one of being bowled is straightforward in almost all cases since the wicket behind the batsman gets actually disturbed. As to the others, while catches are usually straightforward, there can be situations when it is difficult to know, as when the ball is caught very close to the ground so that it might have touched the ground before being caught or it is not clear if the bat touched the ball ever so slightly before the wicket keeper caught it. Run outs and stumpings are rarely clear cut and the lbw decision is almost always very difficult to make since many factors have to be taken into account.
Now that I have started watching again, I have been impressed with the technology that is available to umpires to judge close decisions and new rules enabling the players to appeal a decision that they think was erroneous and went against them.
The most used piece of technology consists of multiple cameras so that replays can be viewed in slow motion from different perspectives. This is valuable for catches, run-outs, and stumpings. It is also be used to predict the future trajectory of the ball, to see if it might have gone on to hit the wicket if it had not hit the batsman’s body, a key point in lbw decisions. Another is the use of infrared cameras to detect the minute amounts of heat generated when the ball just grazes the bat or body of the batsman, creating a visible ‘hot spot’. The final one is the microphone (called the Snickometer) implanted in the wickets that picks up noises and displays it as an oscilloscope signal. By seeing if a noise exists and corresponds with the hot spot, one can be pretty sure if the ball hit the bat or not.
I have a lot of sympathy for umpires. They have a tricky job and they used to get a lot of grief from people who question their vision, judgment, and even their honesty when a decision does not go to their liking. This technology seems to have reduced much of the acrimony aimed at them. I find it remarkable how often they get close calls right, a tribute to their skill and professionalism.
Cricket is also a statistician’s dream since one can spend an entire lifetime gathering and analyzing the reams of data that are generated. The TV screen displays in real time not only the run rate of the batting side, but also the speed of the bowler’s deliveries, and a whole host of other data. The one that intrigues me the most is the WASP (Winning And Score Predictor) used in single-inning, limited over games. It uses a massive database of all previous games to estimate, at any given point during the first innings, what that team’s likely final score will be. Then when the other team is batting, it gives at each moment the probability that they will overtake the opponent’s score and win the game. I find that fascinating. It enables one to give a reasonable answer to someone who arrives in the middle of a game and asks “So, who’s winning?”
Watching cricket, a slow game, can be addictive to the aficionado and I think that all these new things have added to its appeal, since it enables one to be engaged even during the times when nothing is actually happening on the field.