Line and Lens

The role of the camera on the cricket pitch is frequently scrutinised. The Oval ball-tampering saga, and the lack of video evidence, is just one of the more recent examples.

To what level should cameras be used as proof? What happened in the fourth over of England’s reply yesterday raised this question in the more usual fashion. With both fielder and batsman adamant, and neither umpire certain, inconclusive camera shots gave Strauss the benefit of the doubt. Such scenarios come often enough. Whilst ‘Hi-Motion’ technology exists, it isn’t used on regular coverage, and the frame-by-frame replays the third umpires get can be described as ‘bitty’ at best. Cameras are imperfect recorders. The long-angled lenses used in sailing make the boats look as if they’re all about to crash, and whilst those tend to cover huge distances, cricket footage is hardly close study work. You can never find the ideal replay in a 2D, single angled image. Circles have infinite angles and Sky do not have infinite cameras.

In general terms, I do think technology is a good thing. Especially in the outfield, where so much relies on the word of the fielding side in games that are not televised. A recent county game I went to saw a batsman run out off a ball the crowd believed went for four. Sometimes, a fielder can honestly have no idea if he let go of the ball before or after he touched the rope. Equally, who can blame the umpire who prefers to trust the pause button on a camera that is in position in judging a run out? But when judging the cleanness of catches, I feel there is an overuse of replay footage. The laws, amended by the ICC to include TV umpires, state:

“Should both umpires be unable to make a decision, a not out decision shall be given by the bowler’s end umpire. Only if the line of vision of both umpires is obscured shall the bowler’s end umpire be entitled to refer the decision to the third umpire”

Can anyone remember an instance where a questionable catch wasn’t referred?

During India’s tour of the West Indies, Billy Doctrove refused to judge on a fairly referred catch. Chaos ensued. Yesterday, replay upon replay upon replay still left those commentating split. Whilst television can often do no better than the real time appreciation of the field umpires, surely this law should only be used in times of complete uncertainty.

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