Introduction of UDRS in late 2000 has always been seen as Universally Disabled Referral System by BCCI. Burning their fingers with DRS in 2008 Sri-Lanka series; the Indian Board is in no mood to recline towards the idea of bringing technology in usage when it’s not 100% full proof. Having given the above argument; it’s imperative to understand Umpire’s decisions on field are bound by human errors which DRS aim to reduce but with 95%+ accuracy levels. While at heart ICC has right intent to maximize fair play with DRS but usage of DRS has been far more complex then it is on face value and it surely a bone stuck in ICC’s throat which they can neither gulp nor chuck it out.
While there are lot of technologies which are part of DRS system like Snickometer, Hot-Spot & most controversial being the ball tracking technology. Ball tracking technology is the one which has caught attention of lot of folks around. It didn’t matter if it was ex-cricketer or an analyst, everyone was obliged to talk about it; irrespective of the fact if they understood it or not. While there are lot of controversial decisions which do not build up a good case for DRS like the one in Semi Final of the World Cup 2011, Sachin Tendulkar got acquitted when a close decision against him was reversed on review; this controversial decision made ICC release public statement on clarifying working of Hawk Eye; See here.
Another incident when Australia travelled Sri Lanka in 2011, a controversial DRS supported LBW decision went against Philip Hughes; which on replays showed a different story altogether. While replays suggested that ball would have missed off-stump after pitching on middle stump. While Hawk-Eye pitch mat tracked ball to hit leg stump hence favoring umpire’s decision. While in Phil Hughes’s case as per Hawk Eye the carry (distance from pitching point to point of impact) was 25 CM for this delivery; hence there was margin of error and ball was shown hitting the leg stump. This limitation of Hawk Eye is covered in below paragraph. This decision brought the ire of Simon Taufel most reputed of elite panel. The perspective & the questions raised by him mirrored the feelings of viewers as well. He said –
“What are the technology tools we have to achieve that (read Correct decisions), and then how accurate are those tools? Have we really investigated that from an independent perspective, and have we got a categorical answer with that? Is it reliable on the day, rather than just relying on the provider of that technology to say ‘it is x-amount accurate and the result is right’ and we just take that on face value?”
“From an umpiring perspective, as a third umpire, it is incredibly challenging here [in Sri Lanka] because the frame rates used by Ten Sports per second will be different to the ones used by Sky in Britain. There’s ultra-motion available in the UK, there’s none of that here. We have Hotspot in the UK, we don’t have Hotspot here. The camera rates used by Hawk-Eye here would be different to the camera rates used there.”
So From a layman’s point how does Ball tracking technology work? To answer this; here is the summary of functioning of Hawk-Eye; a predominant vendor of ball tracking technology. As per Hawk-Eye they use the principle of Triangulation; it uses data in the form of visual images and frames provided by 4 high-speed video cameras located at different angles around pitch or area of play. As per information on Hawk Eye website; they use multiple synchronized, high speed vision processing cameras with high frame-rate to capture the path of the cricket ball from the bowler’s hand to the batsman’s point of impact on bat or pad. This process constructs the path of cricket ball by assembling it frame by frame. These frames when assembled produce position of the ball at regular interval (also known as frame rate). These frames enable to calculate how much the ball bounces and what shall be its next position. This principle shows how ball track & prediction of its trajectory is produced if the object blocking (in this case bat or pad) is absent.
Ball tracking has to disected frame by frame capturing of ball trajectory, the area where ball pitches & clear point of impact on either bat or pad. Once the trajectory of ball is determined there is certain confidence level taken into consideration which determines the path of the ball post it hits the object (bat or pad) blocking its path. The confidence level at which the ball path is calculated post it hits blocking object is close to 95+ percent accurate. This technology does not take into consideration like weather conditions, if day light available is sufficient, swing or spin into account; it shall just follow its path straight after point of impact.
There are limitations with offerings from both vendors such as Hawkeye cannot predict the path of the ball with certainty when the carry (distance from pitching point to point of impact) is below 40 cm and the distance from impact to stumps is at least 2m. To understand DRS better we need to understand how it works with both Hawkeye Innovations (who make Hawkeye) and Animation Research Ltd. (who make Virtual Eye). While Hawk Eye captures the action at 106 frames per second; Virtual Eye captures that at 230 frames per second. Which in turn captures more ball positions (Compared to Hawk Eye) from pitching point till the point of impact; See here. Moving ahead with ball tracking technology Animation research intends to introduce Hot Spot cameras to capture the action in order to enhance virtual eye technology. All these innovations call for different level of field testing in order to arrive at best technology which shall hold true under any circumstances for example which vendor can alter its frame rate for a spinner(less frame rates required) and fast bowler(more frame rates required) due to the pace. This kind of flexibility shall evolve DRS from its current form and usage.
ICC made a press statement in mid 2011 about improvement of Ball tracking system post testing; but failed to give any competitive analysis (Virtual Eye vs. Hawk Eye) on the test considered or in the environment in which such testing was done; as basis for this statement; neither was any controversial case from world cup or past decision being studied in order to conclude on the improvement of ball tracking technology. These line items does suggest that ICC wants to implement technology at the earliest without being sure about its nature and accuracy.
Ask this question to any ex-cricketer (who is not Indian) on DRS and answer would be its must for cricket to flourish and these opinions turn into a nonstop debate or more so protest; once a wrong or controversial decision is witnessed. But when questioned more on technical aspect of Virtual Eye or Hawk Eye; I am not sure the answer shall as be as fluent and convincing from ex-cricketers. At times these technology favoring statements are made to achieve “I TOLD YOU SO“ moment in history of cricket. They want to see the ball tracking being done without asking questions on its viability. Having talked in favor of DRS they forget that these ball tracking technology need certain factors such as light, bowling style and speed to be considered for accurate decision making. This where the fundamental difference lies and why Indian Board is not in favor of taking up DRS and its foreign counterparts are.
The question we need to ask here is – Does ICC feel burdened and obligated to promote usage of technology which would sooth their ego or does ICC want to maximize fair play by getting as many decisions right as possible? The prima-facie objective of DRS is to assist umpires in Decision making where as the current scenario involves usage of DRS more as Decision Reversal System. DRS is complicated issue and does not have just hotspot or ball tracking in its premises. It’s just not mere a question of DRS – To Be or Not To Be… or is it?