Monday 28 December 2009

The power of suggestion

In a few days time, we will farewell the first decade in the history of Test cricket that has seen more batsmen dismissed LBW than bowled. 

It's a stat highlighted by Sky's Benedict Bermange and it provoked a bit of on-air discussion as to why. Hawkeye was the verdict, which is, I'd say, only partly true. The UDRS is too new to have skewed the statistics; Hawkeye's major impact has come more casually, as umpires have been able to see on television what kind of balls go on to hit the stumps [I'd guess that the major shift in decision making has come in giving front-foot LBWs to spinners].

More than that, there are more LBWs because batsmen are batting differently. When Viv Richards began walking across his stumps and whipping straight balls through midwicket, it seemed freakish. Now everyone does it. The sight of a player taking guard and then moving right in front of the stumps before the bowler delivers is commonplace, as is asking the umpire for an off stump guard. There's another clue in the rise in players who are bowled after the ball rolls around the bottom of the thigh pad and back onto the stumps, another rarity ten years ago. Hawkeye and the pitchmap have served to illustrate the fact, too.

But Hawkeye has changed more than the stats. It is subtly altering the language of the game. After almost every replay now, the commentator will say something like, 'Hawkeye is suggesting that the ball will go on to hit...' or 'Hawkeye says it's missing leg'. 

It's a piece of Unspeak that always goes unchallenged, but it should be. Is Hawkeye 'suggesting' or is it right? If you watch a lot of cricket, you'll almost inevitably have formed the view that Hawkeye's 'suggestions' are quite often surprising, and sometimes dubious. They must be, because Hawkeye operates as an absolute: it assumes that once a ball starts doing something, it will carry on doing it. Life, and bowling, is not as infallible as that. 

Indeed, at the moment and egregiously, its accuracy is dependent on the television companies who set it up. The cost is also borne by them. That should be stopped immediately, and the ICC pay for all umpiring technology at all Tests [in South Africa at the moment, there's no snicko because, er, the home broadcaster can't afford it...].

Yet as a far lesser player, I always preferred being given LBW to getting bowled. Leg before allows plenty of room for moaning and argument. Being bowled is the ultimate failure of purpose, the killer blow to the ego...

NB: Tony at AGB found some interesting quotes from Daryl Harper on how Hawkeye has put him straight...


Jonathan said...

When it comes to front-foot decisions with spinners, it's worth remembering that even before Hawk-eye, the Laws were changed at the beginning of the decade.

Tim Newman said...

The Jaapies don't use the snickometer because it involves a human being manually aligning a sound file with a video, or something like that. It is the thermal camera which is used for the hot-spot which they cannot afford, their being only two (or maybe four) in the world, currently in use with the Aussies.

According to a CSA spokesman on SuperSports, anyway.