Just not cricket

The Hawk-Eye system used in the game

The Hawk-Eye system used in the game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A game of cricket on the lawn is as quintessentially British as a cup of tea or complaining about the weather. Before I understood the rules, it always seemed to me to be the most boring activity that one could undertake. Our trip to Sri Lanka coincided with the cricket world cup and the local members of staff, being completely obsessed about cricket, took it upon themselves to educate me on the intricacies of the game.

Because the competition was held in England that year, the time zones worked out perfectly. We could enjoy a leisurely morning followed by lunch before play started. As the players broke for lunch, we could enjoy dinner and  then play continued in the evening. At first the cricket scoreboard looked bewildering, but after a while I was talking about Duckworth-Lewis formulas with the best of them.

Of course fate dictated that England would play Sri Lanka whilst we were out there. The excitement in the hotel was palpable as we watched the game. England managed to win and the service the following day from the Sri Lankan staff took a distinct turn for the worst. We later read in the paper that the Sri Lankan cricket team had to wait for their luggage for 6 hours at Colombo airport and when it finally appeared, each case was covered in, ahem, helpful suggestions to improve their cricket.

Technology has enhanced the on screen viewing experience of cricket immeasurably. Just after every ball is bowled, there are camera shots from multiple angles available to replay in an instant. Hawkeye can predict the path of the ball in cases where the batsman’s leg gets in the way. We instantly know how fast the ball was bowled and we can see from a cluster of trajectories the different tactics the bowler is trying in order to get his man out.

For the batsman, we have the wagon wheel which shows the trajectory of every shot played with different colours indicating how many runs were scored on each ball. There is an appeals process now where players can challenge decisions when they think the umpire might have made a mistake. The statistics are available for every player whether they are batting or fielding.

Football matches are now riddled with statistics. I seem to remember that during England’s last game of the Euro, their percentage possession of the ball was 40% in the first half and even worse in the second half. Our pass completion was appalling and don’t get me started on the number of shots on goal. Nowadays, not only do you have to endure your national team playing like Accrington Stanley on a bad day, the message is pummelled home with statistics.

They have their detractors, but for me the technology improves the viewing experience immensely. I find the statistics strangely comforting. I’m not obsessed by sport, so anything that helps me to understand what’s going on is a good thing in my view. If it helps to ensure FairPlay – so much the better.

I’d like to think that all those statistics are gathered using complex methods to recognise when each player has the ball and measure the possession with pinpoint accuracy but somehow I suspect there is an army of little old ladies somewhere who click a button on a device every time their player gets the ball or completes a pass.

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