Hows that


A few days ago I umpired a cricket match. It was a very pleasant afternoon, marred only slightly by the almost continual drizzle, but it was August in southern England.
The game was held at a lovely village cricket club, and so my fellow umpire and I did not have the benefit of replays or other technology. To be honest, I think they would have been of very dubious benefit: the game was between Quantel and the Soho post production industry, and given their combined skills a replay could show absolutely anything.
(As an aside here for the cricket fans amongst the readership, can I recommend the album The Duckworth Lewis Method (you can hear it on Spotify). It includes a song called Jiggery Pokery which recalls, from Mike Gatting’s point of view, the famous Shane Warne delivery that bowled him comprehensively.
One line in the song has Gatting saying he might as well have been holding a contra-bassoon as his bat. Given a Soho post artist and a Quantel iQ, a replay could easily show the batsman to actually be holding a contra-bassoon, which would not help the umpire reach a safe decision.
So I umpired in the old-fashioned way, and the only LBW decision I had to make was absolutely plum. Although even then the batsman argued about it in the pub afterwards.
It did set me thinking, though, about sport and technology. Test match cricket, even by its fans, is regarded as very much a traditionalist sport, something to be savoured for its rituals and gentle pace. Is there another game in the world which can last for five full days and still not reach a result at the end? And that no result can be absolutely thrilling?
Yet cricket is on the cutting edge when it comes to adopting new technology. Hawkeye is a brilliantly executed idea, using multiple cameras and some heavy duty processing to track every ball throughout its flight. All credit to the creative minds of Sky Sports producers who endlessly find new ways to process this data, too: a recent test match had all the deliveries mapped as a mountain range down the middle of the pitch. Granted it did not clarify anything, but it kept the commentators amused for quite a while.
Thermal imaging cameras? Acoustic analysis? This is all good stuff. And it is not just in the broadcast coverage, either: the cricket authorities are using this information to get better, fairer decision making.
Tennis – another traditionalist sport – has also picked up on Hawkeye to use for line calls. That is a sensible, practical decision when you have players whacking the ball around at 200 km/hour. Knowing the line calls are fair does not make tennis in any way interesting, though.
There was some sort of big football event this summer, at which the crowd was noisy and the football was, by and large, not very exciting. But in one game there was one of those “did the ball cross the line” incidents that have cropped up in football since 1966 and probably before then.
This is precisely the sort of issue that Hawkeye can resolve, quickly and decisively. Yet the rulers of football refuse to countenance it. If dull old cricket can move on with the times (not to mention tennis, which is just dull), why is the world’s most popular team game so set against it?
One argument is that the rules should be the same at all levels of the game, and if it is not practical for a kick-around in the park then it should not be used at all. Which is, of course, just plain silly. A World Cup game with national pride at stake and a television audience of half a billion is clearly more important than division four of the Borsetshire Sunday League.
There is also the thought that it undermines the referee, which would be a plausible argument if football referees had any control over the game at all. Cheating is absolutely endemic in football, from carefully choreographed dives to stealing at least five metres and usually more on every free kick or throw-in. Getting a second opinion on whether the ball crossed the line can hardly diminish their stature any further.
And taking advantage of improving technology is hardly new. Athletics championships replaced the stopwatch with electronic timing some years ago, and we have been separating the winners of horse races with photographs for a century or more. In an episode of the cartoon Futurama an electron microscope is used for the photo-finish, leading to a debate about whether the measurement itself affected the result.
Provided it does not disrupt the rhythm of the game too much, I’m all for using innovative technology to ensure that the best man, woman or team wins. Having said that, I have to add the rider that even if they introduced an atomic clock to determine precisely how synchronised they are, it is not going to make synchronised swimming anything other than affront to decency.

Tags: iss045 | cricket match | umpire | quantel | quantel iq | sports | tennis | football | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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