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Lawrence Booth: Why Hawkeye makes sense

November 11th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in Test cricket

On Monday cricket enters a new era – yes, another one – when the Ahmedabad Test between India and Sri Lanka will be overseen by an extra pair of eyes. Or rather an extra pair of Hawkeyes.

It will be the first time since the start of October, when the ICC chose to upgrade the umpire-review system from a mere trial to a part of the playing conditions, that Paul Hawkins’ technology will be on hand to help TV officials with leg-before decisions. Depending on your perspective, this is either a long-overdue piece of common sense or a betrayal of cricket’s ingrained deference to the umpire – a figure, it is often bewailed, who will soon be reduced to counting to six.

For this blogger, the introduction of Hawkeye sits squarely in the common-sense camp – and not only because the lament about the umpire-turned-hat-stand-and-abacus is misty-eyed romanticism.

One of the less remarked-upon aspects of Hawkeye, which has been used as an aid to viewers for some time now, is the extent to which it has improved our understanding of the game’s geometry. Pre-Hawkeye, the temptation was to damn any delivery with a touch of inswing as “missing leg”. But the technology has revealed this orthodoxy to be part of cricket’s innate conservatism: crazy though it sounds, the stumps turn out to be bigger than we think.

When England and West Indies trialled the system in the Caribbean earlier this year, its hopeless misapplication by Daryl Harper overshadowed the incompetence of the players, who referred decisions that really were “missing leg”. They, too, may be wiser for the experience.

Critics point out, reasonably enough, that – like the umpires – Hawkeye is prone to human error. It is calibrated, initially at least, by people. And the technical operators need to have their wits about them. But if you compare Hawkeye’s margin for error – 5mm, says Hawkins – with that of the on-field umpire, there really is no contest.

The critics also argue the system wastes time, a crime in these days of slow over-rates. And yet both sides are allowed no more than two incorrect challenges per innings. If teams have any sense, they will use their allotment carefully. The delays will hardly disrupt the game’s flow – and, for the spectators, they may even add to its drama. Think of Hawkeye’s success from that point of view in tennis.

All of which, you may think, is besides the point. Shouldn’t we just let the umpires make their mistakes and trust in the wheel of fortune delivering a beneficiary blunder on its next cycle? Maybe. But the world has moved on.

The players don’t want to feel hard done by in an age where careers can rest on single decisions. The fans don’t want to spend weeks on end arguing about whether Andrew Symonds’ reprieve at Sydney in January 2008 skewed the entire Australia/ India series. And – ironically, you may think – there are a few umpires who don’t want to be the only people involved in a game to have missed the obvious inside edge.

“We’re here to help the umpires,” Hawkins told me. “The bar goes up when you have technology. But if we thought it was only going to work 80% of the time, we wouldn’t put our hand up. Can you think of anything in life that has worked 100% of the time? But we want to get into the high 99%s, which people can appreciate is a lot better than humans.”

It would be lovely if players walked for nicks, fielders claimed nothing on the bounce and bowlers didn’t go up when they know the batsman has edged it onto his pad. But it doesn’t happen that way. So why should umpires be the only throwback to more innocent times? Mercifully, that question will soon be irrelevant.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail, and you can sign up for his weekly newsletter the Top Spin here. His fourth book, What Are The Butchers For? And Other Splendid Cricket Quotations, is out now, published by A&C Black

Posted in Test cricket | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Lawrence Booth: Why Hawkeye makes sense”

  1.   Shrawan Raja says:

    This is the right move. I think the Umpire’s role in the game is to ensure it is played fair. Technology today is cheaper and also trustworthy and that means nothing is left for luck to decide.

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