Nothing it seems is straightforward as far as cricket administrators are concerned. Barely had the collective sigh of relief of fans all over died down that the DRS had finally been made mandatory for all international cricket, came the rude jolt that ball-tracking technology (read Hawk Eye, Virtual Eye, et al) will no longer be one of the mandatory requirements.
Just to rewind a bit, Hawk Eye and similar such technologies provide a dual function. The first one is to show where the ball landed after the bowler delivered it; and the second is the more complex function of predicting where it would have ended had it not been obstructed along its way (by the batsman or his body). Now we all know that the predictive element of this technology has long been a grey area and no one could tell for sure where the ball would end up after it hit the batsman’s pads.
Players, commentators, viewers, and most importantly, umpires alike had long been a bit circumspect about it but accepted its verdict, even if hesitantly. Since it was such a grey area, the administrators had a case for not making it a part of decision-making. But what about the line decisions part of the technology, meaning where the ball had landed?
There wasn’t any doubt – not a single one – of anyone ever doubting the technology over where the ball had landed. Even tennis, which embraced technology much after cricket, accepts Hawk Eye’s evidence as the last word on decision-making. Remember we’re only talking line decisions here, so I’m not comparing apples with oranges.
To give you an example, if the ball pitches outside leg stump, there’s no recourse for the batsman to challenge an lbw decision because ball-tracking technology is no longer a mandatory requirement. The ICC of course has added a proviso that if agreeable to both parties, ball tracking technology can be used for decision-making, but that’s hardly the point. The point is why let individual boards decide what should be uniform playing conditions for all international cricket.
This blog, like most Indian fans, knows for a fact that BCCI is not a huge fan of ball-tracking technology and so will not accept it in its current form at least for the India matches. That is where uniform playing conditions would have come in; by putting the ball in individual boards’ courts the threat of lopsidedness in international cricket looms large with some series being played with DRS and some not.
I don’t know what these guys were smoking when they passed this ridiculous playing condition. What I do know is that every stakeholder in every sport is fine with WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) technologies. And the elementary function of ball-tracking technologies – of showing where the ball landed - is as WYSIWYG as they come. But by clouding their minds with the predictive element of ball-tracking technologies, the mandarins at ICC decided that the whole technology has to go.
Another aspect which hasn’t attracted enough attention as yet is the cost of using these technologies. The HotSpot has a huge cost element to it (some estimates peg it at USD 60,000 for a Test match) and none of the parties involved is ready to bear its expenses. With HotSpot now made mandatory, you cannot have DRS without having HotSpot in place.
And so the vicious circle continues. In one fell swoop, India has both accepted and rejected the DRS. The ICC is thumping its chest that they have got India to ultimately accede to its wishes. Both parties are claiming victory and not for the first time cricket, over whom the fight is, is the loser.