Is technology in cricket a burden to the game?

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” is an oft-quoted remark in Software Engineering. The same holds true in many other realms, including the rules of cricket. Of late, we’ve seen many new rules coming into effect for the sake of introducing new technology. In this article, we’ll delve into this development that has fuelled many debates.

In this era of technological advancement, where technology has pervaded every aspect of our lives, cricket has remained among the few sports that have resisted the urge to adopt technology to a large extent. But this scenario is changing and changing fast. Over the past three decades, we have been witness to the slow and sometimes controversial adoption of technology in cricket.

With the advent of Kerry Packer were born the concepts of night matches, entertainment during breaks and television coverage. For the first time since the fifteenth century, cricket was being – as some called it – monetized. About the same time as India won the World Cup in 1983, the introduction of colour television helped bring about a sea change in the way the game was played and viewed. White balls were introduced, coloured clothes were introduced for the shorter versions and the game became more spectator oriented.

The 1990s saw further adoption of technology in the form of slow motion video. This was primarily used to aid the umpire in deciding on close appeals.Through all these advances in cricket technology, one aspect of the game remained unchanged – the sacrosanctity and authority of the umpire. We have been privileged and honoured to see one of the greatest umpires in cricketing history – David Shepherd. Umpires of his ilk, such as Dickie Bird are still revered by many. Theirs are names that evoke respect in players and followers of the game alike.

But in recent years, technology has been introduced that supersedes the authority of the umpire. The International Cricket Council, earlier the Imperial Cricket Conference, has been experimenting with rules that allow for technology to be used in case the players do not agree with the umpire’s decision. Among the technologies available are:  Snickometer to detect faint edges, hawk-eye to measure and predict ball trajectory, hotspot to check ball or bat impact. The ICC rules allow only for non-predictive technologies. For example, in a leg-before decision, the umpire can see the trajectory of the ball till its point of contact with the pad/bat. Technology is available that can predict the path of the ball beyond this point, but no one can ever predict the path of a cricket ball due to its unique shape and aerodynamics.

The introduction of these new rules by the ICC has fuelled many debates regarding the status and authority of the umpire. Cricket is among the few sports that can claim to be steeped in tradition from the sixteenth century since the creation of the Hambledon Cricket Club in 1598. Cricket has always been regarded as a gentleman’s sport, and central to this status are two clauses:

1. Respect for the rules and the opposition players.

2. The sanctity of the umpire.

The first clause is almost always adhered to, and rarely do we see anyone show disrespect for the rules or his opposition players. But the second clause stands the risk of being offended by the continually diminishing authority of the umpire that has been the handiwork of the ICC. Due to these new rules, players frequently question the umpire’s decisions and dent his authority that has been a cornerstone of cricket over the centuries. So it is high time that the ICC take a call on whether to maintain the gentlemanly status of cricket or to modify rules for the sake of technology. Bob Dylan’s lines hold true here:

For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Cricket can lose out on adopting technology, but the traditions of this wonderful game shall be carried forward for many more centuries to come.

The author is a student of Computer Science and Engineering at SSN College of Engineering, Chennai.