“I don’t really know the answers, but there has to be a way to try and improve it somehow,” said Australia captain Pat Cummins. This, on the camera angles at play for third umpires to adjudicate low catches. The recently concluded Australia-South Africa series had seen multiple close calls go upstairs followed by decisions that were made without sufficient proof. With grey area on whether the fielder had caught the ball cleanly, without it making any contact with the ground or not.
Cummins mulled after the Sydney Test, “I think as it currently stands, it’s really hard to give a batter out. If there’s any kind of benefit of the doubt it goes his way. I think with a couple of camera angles really slow down it’s pretty hard to not find doubt somewhere.”
So, is there a scope for more, better camera angles to come into play? Can the technology have another upgrade to help the umpire better spot if there’s a gap between the fingers when the ball is caught? 3D cameras? Ball sensor technology? Live cricket director and broadcast consultant, Hemant Buch feels otherwise.
“Cricket runs on a lot of technology as it stands. The technology is pretty expensive, and not every board can afford to invest in it. This is why you find different camera specifications in different countries. Some productions have 3 times the number of cameras others do,” he tells The Indian Express.
Not out is the call!
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Buch, who has worked in cricket broadcasting for over two decades, further elaborates on the financial headache for broadcasters and cricket boards pertaining to tech advancements.
“Traditionally, the cost of technology (while used for decision making by ICC umpires) has been borne by broadcasters. Sometimes this has been covered by sponsorship, other times, it has been borne by the broadcaster in order to improve the quality of production. But again, very few broadcasters or boards make money out of enhancements, so it would be tough to do across the cricketing world. Unless of course, someone such as the ICC bears the cost via a universal sponsor.”
Buch reckons there are a few necessary questions that need to be asked before thinking of investing in any cricket tech for resolving the aforementioned.
Does this technology exist? Is it foolproof? If it does, Is it worth spending vast amounts of money for very few contentious decisions?
Let’s take ball-sensor technology. In March 2020, leading ball manufacturing company, Kookaburra had introduced ‘SmartBall’, embedded with a microchip to relay real time data on whether a bat has definitively nicked a ball, whether the ball has hit the grass on low catches, and improved tracking for DRS.
“If it boils down to one company manufacturing balls with sensors (as has been suggested), what happens to other ball manufacturers? What happens when the ball goes out of shape or its seam splits and you have to change it? How do you manage to find so many old balls with sensors?”
Buch further adds, “Also, how does it compute the clean catch? If a blade of grass touches the ball between the fingers, is it a drop? Is it a catch? Or does it need to be on the ground fully? “I fear it will create more problems than solve.”
What about three dimensional cameras? An umpire would surely have a better view of the incident.
“3D cameras could definitely help, but where is the 3D transmission? Would we spend so much money so that one TV umpire gets a 3D view? Because none of us will see the coverage in 3D at home. Isn’t that overkill? And are the costs justified?”
Buch also adds that while thinking of technological advancements, the variable financial brackets for cricket boards need to be considered. “Remember, Test cricket is not just played in 4 or 5 nations. Think of how all full members can justify these costs,” Buch adds.
The hard soft signal issue
Prior to the Australia-South Africa series, there was Pakistan-England. The dismissal of Saud Shakeel (94 off 213) on day five was seen as a pivotal moment in the second Test. With Pakistan requiring 45 runs to win with four wickets in hand, Shakeel looked in good position to help level the series 1-1. Before he edged a short delivery down the leg side. A low diving catch to the left from wicketkeeper Ollie Pope. Or was it?
The on-field umpires went up to the third umpire Joel Wilson. Aleem Dar had deemed the soft signal as out. The replay displayed Pope’s fingers not completely under the ball, which seemed close to touching the ground. “Looks like the gloves are under it…..but I can’t tell exactly,” Joel Wilson conceded, looking for a better frame to rule out the possibility of the ball being grounded. With a lack of the same, he’d declare the take as a clean one.
Backlash followed on why soft signals inspired crucial calls in the modern game despite the presence of technology, which presented an equally compelling case in favor of the batter if not more.
As of its last revision in November 2022, Clause 2.2.2 of Appendix D in ICC’s World Test Championship playing conditions mentions, “If the third umpire advises that the replay evidence is inconclusive, the on-field decision communicated at the start of the consultation process shall stand.”
While the soft signal has been a thorne in low catch adjudication for cricket, there have been instances of big tournaments doing away with the same. In March 2021, Virat Kohli would ask, “Why there cannot be a sort of I don’t know call for the umpire?” The end of that month saw the IPL governing council opting to part ways with the practice of on field umpires providing a soft signal to the third umpire ahead of the 14th season of the league.
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