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Friday, January 28, 2022

Manipulating DRS images highly unlikely but scope for human error, says experienced broadcast director

In light of the controversy around Elgar’s ‘non-dismissal’, Hemant Buch, a professional with experience of working on more than 100 Tests, feels chances of foul play are remote even though some technicians at work may differ in skill level.

Written by Mihir Vasavda |
Updated: January 15, 2022 8:16:00 pm
The players alleged that the ball-tracking system was manipulated.

Before Team India lost the series against South Africa, they lost their heads.

During the final session of the third day of the deciding Test in Cape Town, led by captain Virat Kohli, the Indian players fired a barrage of opinions at host broadcasters SuperSport. The players let their displeasure known over three key issues: the use of technology, in particular, the ball-tracking system that they alleged was manipulated; the use of stump-mics; and the conduct of the SuperSport crew.

What Kohli said: “Don’t hit them on the pads, boys. Either stumps or caught behind, that’s it. Real experts sitting in the DRS column, boys… couldn’t believe they gave me out in the first match. Different ball been shown for tracking, lads.”

Context: Ashwin believed he had trapped Dean Elgar in front of the stumps and umpire Marais Erasmus, too, raised his finger. However, after the South African captain reviewed the decision, the tracking system showed the ball was going over the stumps. The decision enraged the Indians and even Erasmus was caught muttering, ‘that is impossible.’

Hemant Buch, who has been the broadcast director for more than 100 Tests, said while a human error is possible, it is highly unlikely that the ball-tracking visuals could be manipulated, as implied by the India captain.

The ball-tracking technology is supplied by Hawk-Eye, one of the two vendors approved by the ICC. Six cameras are used for this system and there are five people employed by Hawk-Eye to work on the broadcast. These people, Buch said, control the camera’s iris, plotting the pitch of the ball, working on Ultra-Edge, and so on.

“There are people of varying skill levels and varying degrees of experience working for the company. Sometimes, you find it is taking more time in bringing up the track, sometimes it happens very quickly. Skill levels differ,” Buch said.

Because of the human intervention involved in the tracking system, there is scope for errors. “But you have to remember that you are talking about one or two decisions in the entire series which are wrong with Hawk-Eye,” Buch said.

All the data collected is provided to the ICC after the match. “There are so many checks and balances that if it (manipulation) happens, they’ll be caught out,” Buch added.

What Kohli said: “I wonder if the stump mic catches all this chatter here, huh?”

Context: For the second time in the match, Kohli spoke angrily about stump mics. Even on Day 2 of the Test, Kohli was heard saying, ‘stump mics are way too loud’ when India was bowling, implying selective broadcast done by SuperSport, to put increased attention on what the visitors say on the field.

The increasing use of stump mics has been a widely-debated topic, especially among current and former cricketers who feel it could lead to players getting fined for saying things in the heat of the moment.

Usually, audio engineers turn the faders up when a ball is bowled to capture the sound effects of the game: the bowler’s run-up, the batsman taking guard, the ball hitting the bat or an appeal. During the period between deliveries and overs, the fader is turned down.

In South Africa, however, they are often kept on for longer durations. In 2018, Australia had requested SuperSport and match officials to turn down the mics when the ball was dead although it was ignored by the broadcasters.

Buch, too, felt that compared to the Ashes, being played simultaneously, ‘you hear everything that’s happening’ on the field in South Africa.

ICC rules allow stump mics to be broadcast at all times, but Buch said the volume is pushed up ‘only at certain times’ when the ball is dead because ‘you don’t want anything abusive to go out’. A director, who can listen to everything that’s said on the field, can up the volume if he comes across interesting banter – as Buch did recently when West Indies wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva tried sledging Sri Lanka’s Charith Asalanka during the second Test last month.

At times, Buch added, on-field umpires give the players a heads up when the mics are being used. “I think the Indians feel that stump mics are deliberately kept high when they are bowling,” Buch said. “I am not sure if that’s 100 percent accurate, but it is apparently what they feel.”

What Kohli said: “Focus on your team as well when they shine the ball. Not just the opposition, trying to catch people all the time.”

Context: It was a clear reference to the 2018 Sandpaper-gate scandal when Australian players were caught tampering with the ball by the cameras that constantly followed them. Kohli’s comments showed he felt his team, too, was being put under constant scrutiny and were placed by the broadcasters under the microscope – or erm… microphone – to throw them off guard.

During Australia’s tour to South Africa in 2018, there were suggestions that SuperSport was ‘targeting the Australians, looking for ways the tourists were possibly manipulating the ball’, according to cricket.com.au.

While the Indians were not caught out by the prying eyes of a camera, they felt they were targeted with the use of stump mics and that the technology was being used against them. Not just Kohli, other players, too, let their frustration known. “Find better ways to win SuperSport,” Ashwin was heard saying.

The anger over the reviews, however, was misplaced. SuperSport, as they clarified in a statement, isn’t responsible for the technology.

In a statement to AFP, the broadcaster said: “SuperSport notes comments made by certain members of the Indian cricket team. Hawk-Eye is an independent service provider, approved by the ICC and their technology has been accepted for many years as an integral part of DRS.”

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