Slo-mo testicle hits show cricket has gone nuts
When you tune in to a Test Match and see the New Zealand skipper cop a Kookaburra in the testicles in super slow-motion from seven angles, you realise the technology of televised cricket has gone nuts.
In 1977 Daddles the Duck skulked across our screens for the first time, accompanying the brooding batsman on his long walk back to the pavilion. Willow under his wing, tear dripping from his eye, the animated quack was one of the first computer graphics to complement the on-field action, and was part of Kerry Packer’s push to package cricket for TV.
Three decades on, a glut of high-tech gadgetry and a smorgasbord of stats provide the DNA of every delivery. Atari-like graphics have been superseded by a sophisticated suite of digital devices which make NASA look like a bunch of kids farting about with a junior science kit.
Snicko, hawk-eye, super slow-mo, hot-spot… Sometimes I think I’ve tuned in to CSI Miami rather than the cricket. Each summer the micro-scientists at Channel 9 unveil some state-of-the-art simulation or cutting-edge camera which offer an autopsy of the action from every conceivable angle while condemning the baffled human umpires to glorified hatstands.
And you thought Greg Chappell played cricket with big brother.
Latest additions to the forensic wizardry include improvements to ball tracking thanks to 230-frames-per-second cameras; a protractor that rises from the pitch like a surfacing submarine to calculate the bounce angle of the ball to the nth degree; a two-dimensional wagon wheel which frightens my children because it resembles a tarantula; probes placed on players so viewers can see their accelerated heart rate after taking – or fluffing – a catch; a fall of wickets spreadsheet showing date and time of dismissal…
Sometimes you forget cricket is played with a bat, a ball and three sticks.
As you marvel at this incomplete list of high-tech enhancements, thanks to GPS satellite tracking you can also appreciate the fact that Michael Hussey, for example, has covered 3.5km during the course of his day’s play: 0.9km walking, 1.1km jogging, and 1.5km searching the dressing room for his beloved zinc cream.
This is the one stat I resent, as I guiltily realise that in the same time Hussey has covered several kilometres I’ve necked three beers and downed a pizza.
Not only is the technology analytical, it is also interactive. The Vodafone Viewers’ Verdict fluctuates like the graphic equaliser on a ghetto blaster, as we predict how many runs New Zealand will score, how many days the Test Match will last, how many seagulls are snoozing at fine leg, how many times Michael Clarke will scratch his nuts at slip.
The over-analysis of the game on the field is perhaps a reflection of its over-analysis off it. Modern dressing rooms are comprised of a cordon of specialist coaches – bowling, batting, fielding, fitness, nutrition, psychology – each of them with a laptop on their knees, painstakingly breaking cricket down into its constituent parts in the hope of improving future performance of the whole.
The irony of the over-coached era is that the standard of cricket in Australia has deteriorated in recent years, which suggests the science of coaching is no substitute for naturally talented players. Or perhaps it’s because those players are trying to play three forms of the game at once.
Watch this space – next year Channel 9’s Wide World of Slow-Motion Sports will have a graph averaging player performance across the various versions of the game. And, like many of their graphs, it will take me most of the summer to figure it out.
Technology is both augmenting and arbitrating the action. While other sports still debate the role of technology as referee, the heart-in-mouth climax to the recent Second Test between Australia and New Zealand signalled loud and clear that technology ruled cricket.
On two occasions, both of them LBW shouts against Nathan Lyon, the outcome of the match hinged entirely on a decision from the third umpire. Rather than ruin the spectacle, it added to the excitement. Trans-Tasman fingernails were reduced to serrated rubble as the third umpire proved the redundancy of the other two.
Unlike free-flowing games such as soccer and AFL, technology has found its place in cricket because of the staccato nature of the action and the need to plug its gaps. And it has found its place as umpire because cricket is not a game of inches but of millimetres – that hallowed ‘coat of varnish’ on which games are won and lost, careers kick started and cut short.
Given Australia’s brittle batting line up, the upcoming Indian summer might not be high-scoring but it will be high-tech. The last time the Indian team toured Australia was the best advertisement for technology in cricket to be found.
Indeed it could have saved the race row. A matter of seconds after Andrew Symonds edged that infamous delivery into Dhoni’s gloves (only to be adjudged not out, go on to make a century and thus spark the acrimony) the only person in the stadium, indeed the only person in a worldwide television audience of millions who didn’t realise the decision was incorrect was the poor bloke who’d made it.
Steve Bucknor didn’t know Symonds was out from 22 yards, but I knew from as far away as North London.
Perhaps sipping a Caribbean cocktail, banished Bucknor will watch the upcoming series between the same sides from an armchair in Antigua. And, thanks to the technology of cricket, he’d be in a better position to umpire the match from that armchair than he was in 2008 while standing at the crease.
However, just as at Lords, the ‘home of cricket’, technology doesn’t provide a level playing field. Ball tracking was less accurate at this year’s World Cup in India, where they used 25-frames-per-second cameras, than it is during the current summer Down Under, where we are using 230-frames-per-second cameras.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are much more likely to secure a conviction in CSI Sydney than in CSI Mumbai.
When used properly, technology is the best medicine for bad umpiring in cricket. No human eye can track that frantic cherry with pinpoint accuracy, even if the umpire has Twenty20 vision.
A side-effect of that medicine is the slow death of the dialect of the game. Today’s viewers no longer need know the names of the fielding positions, for example.
When a television commentator refers to, say, mid-wicket or square-leg, those areas of the oval are duly highlighted or have a circle drawn around them with some magic wand. Radio, on the other hand, or ear rather, calls on the sum of the listeners’ cricket knowledge.
When will this blizzard of technology abate?
When there’s a rain delay nowadays we watch matches from 20 years ago complete with graphics that seem so unsophisticated.
In the acid-rain delays of 2030, what could possibly appear unsophisticated about today’s graphics? Perhaps we’ll be watching in 3D. Perhaps the umpires in the middle will have been replaced by Emirates hostesses. Perhaps the tattoos on players’ arms will be animated.
A few years ago Test Cricket was on death row. Its stay of execution is due to an injection of aggression from players hung-over from Twenty20, as well as Daddles the Duck and the high-tech brood he hatched. The bombardment of slow-motion and statistical analysis ensures there is never a dull moment in the coverage when viewers might, heaven forbid, change channel.
Kerry Packer’s duck was truly golden. And still not out.
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