The Technology Test
Some Test matches produce such compelling contests, are filled with intrigue or are simply so unusual that they need to be named. Test No. 2016 played at Newlands, the first in Cape Town in November in 90 years, is one of them. It will be called the Technology Test.
Of the 23 wickets to fall on the second day, four of them were given out with the assistance of DRS. Nine decisions were reviewed in total, six that were initially called not-out. Cricket has not seen this many wickets fall on a day's play in over a hundred years, and that number would have plummeted today had it not been for the presence of technology.
The day's play was remarkable for many reasons. For three hours and 45 minutes between between the morning and evening session, the Cape Town's cricket field appeared to have been transformed into Johannesburg's high-speed Gautrain. Wickets whizzed by at the rate of one every 11 and a quarter minutes. Every ball was at risk of being appealed and referred, no batsman was safe and anyone who could bowl would have backed themselves to try and add to the carnage.
Then, technology had it say, turning deliveries that would have previously been judged as close but no cigar, into wicket-takers and showing why moving cricket into the modern age can only be a positive thing.
It started when Hashim Amla was struck on the pad by Shane Watson and on first glance, the not out decision did not appear to be obviously questionable. The replays were comprehensive in showing that the naked eye can sometimes err in the worst way possible, and that Amla was not only struck in line but the ball would have gone on to hit middle and leg. The hackneyed expression about technology eliminating the obvious errors has found a way into this piece, largely because of that.
It was the next two referrals that may become the DRS' best case studies of why the system works and should be used. Neither Jacques Kallis nor AB de Villiers would have been given out had technology, and Hot Spot in particular, not been available.
Watson was convinced that Kallis had got bat on ball when his attempt at a pull went wrong. At first glance, it looked as though the ball brushed his shoulder, which it did, and nothing else. Hot Spot knew better and the white mark showed a massive edge. It symbolises a major development for the equipment, which has now progressed to picking up when the ball has made contact with the bat, even when the bat is in rapid motion.
"Our main problem, over the last year or so, has been the blur, particularly when the player swings quickly," Warren Brennan, managing director of BBG Sports, the company who pioneered Hot Spot, told ESPNCricinfo. "On the dead bat shots, I don't think we've missed many of those. That [Kallis decision] surprised me. It still was quite blurry but he obviously smacked the cover off the ball so there was a big Hot Spot. But on the ones where they swing quite hard and get a very small tickle are hard to pick up for us. We've been trying to improve that." The Hot Spot camera was the only one at the ground that picked up Kallis' edge, rubberstamping its worth in the game.
de Villiers may not even have faced a review, had Australia not been in such a dominant position at that stage. The appeal for lbw seemed optimistic and it looked like South Africa's No. 5 had inside-edged onto his pad. Hot Spot immediately dismissed all notion of that, leading to a decision an umpire would likely had been criticised for making if there was no evidence to back it up. "It was quite clear that it hit the pad before it hit the bat," Brennan said.
Mark Boucher, later, had questioned the height of the ball that would give Watson his fifth wicket after being hit above the roll on the back pad. That time it was ball-tracking and Hawk-Eye that showed that the ball was destined for the top of the stumps and so endorsed the on-field call. Brennan said that decisions like that show that, "if you are not going to technology [fully], don't use all of it." "Hot Spot with the ball-tracking covers most of it," he said.
The absence of ball-tracking had bothered Brennan, who covered the four Test series between England and India earlier this year, with only Hot Spot. The series resulted in a renewal of the BCCI's suspicions about the DRS system as a whole and ICC U-turning on their decision for it to be a mandatory part of all Test and one-day series. It was a testing time for Brennan and his team, who felt Thursday's play in Cape Town was vindication for their work. "In the UK, in the middle of the year, we probably had a couple of bad days where we missed a couple," he said. Over the last three months, we have tried to do a lot of things to try and improve it like changing different settings on the cameras. There's a lot of pressure on us to get everything right."
Now, there is also pressure on the players to know when and how to use the technology. Shane Watson could have avoided being the first Australia wicket to fall in their second innings had he reviewed his lbw decision against Dale Steyn - replays showed the ball was going over the stumps. Ricky Ponting asked for his to go to the third umpire, which turned out to be a waste of an Australia review. Vernon Philander called for a review when he thought he had trapped Shaun Marsh lbw, only to be turned down.
With players from both sides appearing stunned at the sheer volume of events that took place on the second day of what will become a truncated Test, the one positive thing they agreed on was that the use of technology benefitted the game. "For the big inside edge or the big caught behind with Hot Spot, its working well," Michael Clarke said. Jacques Rudolph, who had a catch he had taken checked by the third umpire, agreed. "I like it [DRS], because I think if you can bring technology into the game and maybe help the umpires a bit that's a good thing."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent