In cricket with some balls bouncing down the wicket at speeds of up to 100mph the spilt second decision of LBW is sometimes far from an easy one to call. Surely the most disputed aspect of cricket is the LBW decision. It often brings with it many disputes and frustrations at the unlucky umpire who has to make the split-second call. Now however, with the ingenious invention of Hawk Eye commentators and viewers alike can now prove or disprove every microscopic umpiring decision. The human eye, like most things in life, has been officially surpassed by its computer equivalent.
Hawk Eye was the brain child of Dr Paul Hawkins an ex professional player for the county of Buckinghamshire. It was then almost immediately introduced in 2001 by Channel Four television (in the UK) and ever since it has become an integral part of a commentator’s arsenal of tricks, and every angry fans justification for rage at a bad call. But how does the system work?
Amazingly, at its heart, Hawk Eye incorporates the same technology which is used in brain surgery and missile guidance. In order to calculate the program it simply needs six separate cameras which are located around the ground. The cameras are set-up in order to follow the flight path of the ball from delivery to end. It then plots the details of the captured imagery onto a 3D computerized screen, showing how the flight of the ball would have been in height and direction if there had been no interference by the batsman, illegal or otherwise.
It is believed to be 99.99% accurate by definition and can track all sorts of deliveries including extreme spin and swing bowling. Unfortunately those who want to see its accuracy used in real time will be disappointed. Despite a trial of its use in a recent test match in 2009, the ICC are extremely unlikely to see it incorporated into the game on a permanent basis. It seems that despite its apparent accuracy, for the time being at least, it will remain in the hands of the commentator only.
However the benefits of Hawk Eye don’t rest with LBW calls. What it can also do is to provide lots of useful indicators and statistics for both the bowler and batsman in question. It can do this by keeping a record of the exact placing of each ball delivered. From these records we can start to build up a picture of any particular batting or bowling performance over the bowling over, or the entire innings. Players themselves can also analyse their own games by the use of this technology and there is an academy set up for them to do this in practice.
On the other hand the Hawk Eye system has its critics. Some people involved in the game point out that the predicted path of the ball is based on expected directions only, and therefore there is little room for inconsistencies, such as the ball hitting a crack on the wicket. For this reason the ICC, and some pundits, don’t believe that the system can be used in light of such “chance” encounters. Despite of this however it remains a highly popular and advanced piece of computer software.
Technology in sport is always a contentious issue. Wherever there are quick human decisions there will be human error, and technology at once seems to be the answer. However it seems that for the present Hawk Eye will remain just another interesting aside, in the intriguing game of cricket.