Manipulation of DRS images highly unlikely, but susceptible to human error, says senior broadcast director
Before Team India lost the series to South Africa, they lost their lead.
In the final session of day three of the decisive test in Cape Town, led by captain Virat Kohli, the Indian players launched a deluge of opinions on host broadcasters SuperSport. The players expressed their dissatisfaction on three key issues: the use of technology, in particular the ball tracking system which they believe has been manipulated; the use of stump mics; and driving the SuperSport crew.
What Kohli said: “Don’t hit them on the pads, boys. Either stumps or caught behind, that’s all. Real experts sitting in the DRS column, guys…couldn’t believe they let me down in the first game. A different ball was shown for follow-up, guys.
Background: Ashwin believed he had Dean Elgar trapped in front of the stumps and referee Marais Erasmus also raised a finger. However, after the South African captain reviewed the decision, the tracking system showed the ball going over the stumps. The decision enraged the Indians and even Erasmus was caught muttering, “it’s impossible”.
Hemant Buch, who has been the broadcast director for more than 100 tests, said that while human error is possible, it is very unlikely that the ball tracking visuals can be manipulated, as left hear the Indian captain.
Ball tracking technology is provided by Hawk-Eye, one of two ICC approved vendors. 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 iris, track the ball’s pitch, work on Ultra-Edge, and so on.
“There are people of different skill levels and varying degrees of experience working for the company. Sometimes you find it takes longer to bring up the track, sometimes it happens very quickly. Skill levels differ,” Buch said.
Due to the human intervention involved in the tracking system, errors are possible. “But you have to remember that you’re talking about one or two decisions in the whole series that are wrong with Hawk-Eye,” Buch said.
All collected data is provided to the ICC after the match. “There are so many checks and balances that if this (the manipulation) happens, they will be caught off guard,” Buch added.
What Kohli said: “Wonder if the stump mic picks up all that chatter here, huh?”
Background: For the second time in the match, Kohli spoke angrily about the stump mics. Even on Day 2 of the test, Kohli was heard saying, “The stump mics are way too loud” when India were bowling, which involves a selective broadcast done by SuperSport, to bring more attention to what visitors say on the ground.
The increasing use of stump mics has been a widely debated topic, especially among current and former cricketers who believe it could lead to a fine for saying things in the heat of the moment.
Usually, sound engineers raise the faders when a ball is played to capture the sound effects of the game: the pitcher’s run, the batter taking guard, the ball hitting the bat, or a call. During the period between deliveries and overs, the fader is lowered.
In South Africa, however, they are often kept longer. In 2018, Australia asked SuperSport and match officials to lower the microphones when the ball was dead, although this was ignored by broadcasters.
Buch, too, felt that compared to the Ashes, played simultaneously, “you hear everything going on” on the pitch in South Africa.
ICC rules allow stump mics to be played at any time, but Buch said the volume is only increased “at certain times” when the ball is dead because “you don’t want something kind of abusive”. A director, who can listen to everything that is said on the pitch, can turn up the volume if he comes across interesting banter – as Buch did recently when West Indies wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva tried to make some luge with Charith Asalanka of Sri Lanka in the second test last month.
Sometimes, added Buch, the referees on the field warn the players when the microphones are used. “I think Indians feel like the stump mics are deliberately kept high when they’re bowling,” Buch said. “I don’t know if that’s 100% accurate, but that’s apparently how they feel.”
What Kohli said: “Also focus on your team when they shine the ball. Not just the opposition, trying to catch people all the time.
Background: This was a clear reference to the 2018 Sandpaper-gate scandal when Australian players were caught tampering with the ball by the cameras constantly following them. Kohli’s comments showed he felt his team, too, was constantly watched and placed by broadcasters under the microscope — or er…microphone — to catch them off guard.
During Australia’s tour of South Africa in 2018, it was suggested that SuperSport “targeted Aussies, looking for ways in which tourists possibly handled the ball”, according to cricket.com.au.
Although the Indians were not caught off guard by the prying eyes of a camera, they felt they were being targeted with the use of stump mics and the technology being used against them. Not just Kohli, other players also expressed their frustration. “Find better ways to win SuperSport,” Ashwin was heard saying.
The anger over the criticism, however, was misplaced. SuperSport, as they clarified in a statement, is not responsible for the technology.
In a statement to AFP, the broadcaster said: “SuperSport notes the comments made by certain members of the Indian cricket team. Hawk-Eye is an independent service provider, approved by the ICC and its technology is accepted for many years as an integral part of the DRS.