Hit in the box

When television first arrived with the gentleman’s game of cricket it did so as an observer from a polite and respectful distance. As the years passed the camera has moved closer to the action; so close it eventually got in the way of the cricket. Television saw where the humans went wrong and demanded a say, resulting in endless waiting for confirmation of the batsman’s dismissal, looping replays of catches that may have been grassed and even a catch missed because the ball was lost in spider cam’s spider web. The word of the player and the umpire has been relegated to the dark ages of sportsmanship. Television saw what the umpire couldn’t with its dazzling microsecond freeze frame ultra slow intrusion technology and utterly convinced us all. However one piece of the technology that has failed to convince me is Hawkeye.

Firstly, calling it Hawkeye is problematical for me, because it only conjures images of Alan Alda with a pretty nurse on his lap, sipping martinis and occasionally clicking a computer mouse with all the care of blind shot at a dartboard and quickly returning to his Groucho Marx impersonation. I guess they ruled out “Ball Cam” as a name because the commentary teams wouldn’t be able to mention it without thirty minutes of snickering and single entendres.

My big problem with Hawkeye is the visual representation. I showed my kids the nineties hit tear jerker “Ghost” and it enthralled them right up until the spooky special effects kicked in and they doubled over in laughter. They didn’t believe it, like I don’t believe the cartoon of the red jet trailing kookaburra trundling into the stumps through the disappearing batsmen with all the technical wizardry of the Ghost and Mrs Muir. It’s in this Golden age of CGI when we marvel at Thor’s hammer flying through the air, yet television offers its viewers a cartoon done with the artistic panache of Captain Pugwash.

Hawkeye needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era to show us the technology it apparently uses. Perhaps a computer game FPS HUD (First person shooter heads up display) with scrolling numbers of distance and trajectory? As the shiny ball heads towards the batsman’s inevitable defeat, we could see the fear on his face reflected on the shiny pill of doom. Then as the batsman walks away in slow motion from the spectacularly exploding stumps, he wouldn’t look back like all good action heroes. Upon confirmation of his dismissal, the batsman would explode in a graphic display of blood, gore and shredding creams. At least my kids would believe it.

Hawkeye’s cartoon simplicity has not convinced me that the umpire, who’s watched literally thousands of balls bounce on hundreds of different surfaces, isn’t the best judge of whether the ball that hit the batsman’s pads was going on to hit the stumps. The recent Australia India tests were played without television’s intrusion and the umpiring was decisive with an acceptable 90 percent success rate. Of course television sulked because it was put back where it belonged, in its box.


  1. matt watson says

    Remember when the duck that used to follow batsmen who got out for nought was considered high tech?
    I was happy with DRS for run-outs and stumpings and to check if the ball bounced first. I didn’t want a referral system introduced until the 2005 Ashes series, when Billy Bowden kept giving Damien Martyn out LBW of the inside edge.
    I figured back then that if the visual evidence clearly showed Martyn shouldn’t have been out, then it should be used.
    The grey areas include Hawkeye, snicko and hot spot.
    So many batsmen refer decisions where they believe they haven’t nicked it and it gets overturned by the faintest audio blip or a ghostly shadow.
    Keep using the technology, but don’t use Hawkeye or hot spot until the technology is infallible.
    I liked your description of the exploding batsmen…

  2. Matt Quartermaine says

    Matt, which batsmen would you like to see explode? Steve Smith looked like he could do it with no special effects last time.

  3. The thing which I find intriguing is how quickly people have come to ‘believe in’ Hawkeye – cricket and tennis.

    This is genius marketing from the proprietor, albeit with the assistance of a contemporary discourse which pushes the infallibility of ‘science’. (Lazy journalism/writing etc) Evidence-based understanding is fine and a very good approach. But there are many short-falls. Outside universities and research organisations,, you don’t hear, “But we don’t have the science to know that yet,” often enough.

    Once commerce gets a hold the definitive serves the purpose of the money men.

  4. There’s a saying about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. No doubt the makers of Hawkeye are hoping we believe it’s a magical out / not out button – margins for error and natural variability within the same pitch at the same ground to be written off with half the width of the ball.

    Love the gamerfying suggestions – kids would love it!

  5. matt watson says

    I didn’t really think about which batsmen I wanted to see explode.
    So I reckon any batsman that refers a decision and gets it wrong should explode.
    That means no batsman would refer anything, and the game could go on without controversy.
    Of course, critics of that suggestion would say if the umpire gets it wrong, he’d have to be exploded too.
    And that would leave us exactly where we are right now…

  6. The exploding cricketer is sounding a bit like a The Goodies episode. I’m cool with that.

    Good piece Mr Q and it opens up a literal Pandora’s box of issues we face in this moment in time.

    As JTH has suggested Capital plays a major part in who has control of both the technology and the meaning.

    I’d like to suggest another view of the same conundrum. It relates to surveillance as examined in communication theory. Get Smart demonstrated that our internal struggle lies between KAOS and Control. Fear is managed through minimising risk and gaining control.

    Populations have shown over and over again that they will allow the intrusion of surveillance as long as there is a perceived positive benefit for the individual. The key point is perceived.

    In the case of the action replay all the way through to Hawk-eye, the audience accepts the technology because it offers them some level of control. The sleight of hand is that it takes the audience from observing the action to observing the mediated view of the action and in that sense the audience believes they have the same position as the final umpire. They have control. That is perception.

    The graphics utilised is a secondary consideration and as the core demographic of cricket becomes younger so the graphics will better accommodate their thirst. That’s when Capital steps in and spends.


  7. Thanks Ricky. Got to love a Max Smart reference. “Being a part of the action” is the lie the viewers sold. We’re spectators, but TV is the drunken punter heckling up the back reckoning it can tell better jokes. 1st rule of comedy: Never give the punter the mic. You could have used Hawkeye as your Almanac nom de plume instead of Trucker Slim. Maybe One Hawkeyed? Cheers

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