Hawk-Eye, hotspots and Daddles the Duck
This summer Sky Sports in the UK have unveiled it's new gimmick, HotSpot, to a lukewarm welcome. Whether it stays or not, watching cricket on TV has benefited considerably from technological advances since the first broadcast of a Test in 1938. Here is our XI of the advances that have had the most impact
We are so used to endless replays from a multitude of angles that it seems remarkable that until the early 1960s TV viewers were pretty much on the same boat as spectators at the ground - turn your back, and you miss it. Action-replay machines made their first appearances in the 60s, relying on a system of rewinding the recorded programme and then showing what happened. Replays were restricted to major incidents and were no more than slowed-down versions of the one image already seen, but the technology allowed viewers to blink and still not miss a wicket. Now you can barely see the live game for all the replays.
Colour TV 1968
Colour had been around since the 1950s in the USA, but cricket's not a priority there, so it wasn't until the BBC launched its colour service in 1967 that things took off. In 1967 Wimbledon tennis became the first programme to be broadcast in colour in Europe, and on Sunday, June 9, 1968 the charity match between Essex and the International Cavaliers became the first to be shown in colour. The following year some Tests were added to the mix. In Australia, it was not until the early 1970s that colour arrived, and in India as late as 1982.
Cameras at both ends 1977 Amazing as it may seem, but for almost 40 years TV viewers were only allowed to see pictures from one end of the ground, thus making half of all leg-before decisions a complete mystery. In fairness to the broadcasters, the bulkiness and cost of the equipment restricted the deployment of cameras, but the advent of Kerry Packer's Channel 9 changed the whole way the game was covered. Packer reportedly told his producers: "Who wants to watch a batsman's bum for half the match." Initially, TV companies used elevated platforms to give what they labeled a reverse-angle view, but before long permanent vantage points were the norm. From two cameras in the 1930s to six in the 70s we now have 20 or so.
On-screen graphics 1970s onwards
Until Packer, TV used to show the scoreboard between overs with an occasional graphic for a batsman's name or scorecard. Packer gave us more information as well as Daddles the Duck to add to the departing batsman's shame. The 80s saw further advances with career averages at the tap of a button, and so far have we progressed that now almost any statistic is available instantaneously. The commentators have even been given pens to draw all over the screens to illustrate what they are saying, but in some artistically-challenged cases that's been a development too far.
Another Packer innovation to bring what was happening in the middle to life, but perhaps a little too colourful for some in its early days before players began to be schooled in restraint. Nevertheless, while it has allowed viewers to eavesdrop, it has landed some players in hot water, from Mike Gatting and his "one rule for them, one for us" jibe at an umpire in 1987 to Herschelle Gibbs' outburst at a spectator earlier this year - "Herschelle says these remarks were for the ears only of his team-mates in his proximity," explained chief executive Gerald Majola, less than convincingly before the player was hit with a two-match ban. These days the audio is not made available to the public although the commentators can still hear it and, when not X certificate, it is replayed. Sadly, as Dean Jones showed, some commentators don't need to rely on the players to come up with career-scuppering asides.
Stump cameras 1980s
The original cameras were of fairly poor quality, rendering anything more than a few feet away an indistinct blur, and attracted widespread criticism as they tended to be overused by excitable producers. But within a few years the quality issues had been resolved and the images they produce now are crystal clear. The use of cameras pointing back towards the bowlers and slips gave this a new edge. The cost of the cameras means that a No. 11 coming out to bat at the end of a game is usually accompanied by a member of the TV production team who replaces the stumpcam with an ordinary one. This follows a much-publicised event a few years ago when a spectator was too quick and snatched a stump as a souvenir at the end of a Test in Colombo. Several TV production staff gave chase through Colombo in a comedy tuk-tuk pursuit in a bid to recover the equipment, which was worth several thousand dollars. They failed, and the stump now has pride of place on a mantelpiece in a sleepy English village.
This system is simpler than it might seem, relying on a man with a cold-war type of radio antennae pointing at the batsman. Not instantaneous, which is a drawback, it is mainly used to detect thin edges and relies on coordinating an oscillation chart with slow-motion replays. There have been teething problems. In its first year of use there were some major glitches in a domestic semi-final at Old Trafford. Simon Hughes explained that it was "because the operator, who invented it, doesn't actually understand much about cricket".
Given all the great innovations, it's inevitable that there have been some duds. Leader in the clubhouse was Railcam, a system devised for athletics which allowed the ground-level camera to shoot along a railway track and keep pace with sprinters down the home straight. Sky adapted it for cricket, using it to scoot along the boundary square of the wicket when a ball was hit in that direction. The end result was to give the impression that the cameraman was in a desperate rush for the loo, as well as inducing travel sickness for the viewer. It was soon axed. The jury is out on Hotspot, another gimmick introduced by Sky this summer. Even Ian Botham was forced to admit on air he didn't have a clue what it was all about.
Sky boast that they were there first, but Hawk-Eye is now established as the market leader. Derived from missile-tracking technology, it relies on a number of fixed and calibrated camera positions to produce a 3D grid which then is used to track the ball and predict where it would have gone. In its early days many doubted its accuracy but by and large there are few moans now. Some even argue it has led to umpires being more likely to give lbw decisions when the batsman is on the front foot, so often did Hawk-Eye show the ball going on to hit the stumps. It still suffers occasional glitches, such as in 2005 when Shane Warne ripped a legbreak so far across Michael Vaughan that the computer decided it could not have happened and failed to register the delivery. Nevertheless, it's now widely and effectively used in tennis and, more recently, snooker.
Ultra Motion 2004
The predecessor of Hi Motion, its superior and easier-to-use successor which landed in 2006, Ultra Motion shot at 1000 frames a second to produced some remarkable images. For the first time viewers could see the amazing way that bats bent and twisted as they made contact with the ball, and even the way the bones in the hand reverberate when a catch is made. Perhaps it is at its most useful when used to show just where on the batsman's bat or body a ball glanced ... rarely does a replay fail to clear that issue up. Beloved by producers for use during closing sequences or musical interludes.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo