Channel 9 drops Hot Spot for Ashes

Following a summer in England where it caused as much controversy as it settled, BBG Sports’ innovative Hot Spot camera technology will not be used by host broadcaster Channel 9 in Australia for this winter’s Ashes series.

Hot Spot, which first debuted in world cricket in 2007, essentially uses infrared camera technology and heat sensors to detect whether a batsman has hit a ball, particularly whether it has come off the edge of a bat. This can be hard to detect by slow motion replay, never mind by eye alone by the umpires out in the middle, and Hot Spot has thus become a key part of the Decision Review System (DRS) that has propelled cricket to the forefront of utilising modern technology to underpin refereeing decisions.

However, this summer’s Ashes series between England and Australia saw it involved in at least three controversial and potentially match-changing incidents. One was down to operator error – one of the two cameras used at each end to power the technology didn’t record a crucial ball, reflecting the fact that often these systems are shoehorned into OB plans without having their own dedicated resources – while the others prompted dark mutterings that a way had been found to cheat the system. Cricketers have often used silicone tape on their bats to protect the wood from too much damage, but it was alleged that some were using it – and even other, more mysterious substances – to deliberately mask the heat signature that the impact with a cricket ball on the edge of a bat causes.

Indeed, Warren Brennan, the system’s inventor, has made the same claim. Given that England batsman Kevin Pietersen has recently been awarded undisclosed but “substantial” damages following an advert for opticians Specsavers that showed his picture alongside the statement “‘Bat tampering’ in the Ashes? Apparently Hot Spot should’ve gone to Specsavers” he might perhaps be reconsidering his words. But then he has also said though that: “What I learned out of the UK this year is that the system needs to be improved continually,” so perhaps m’learned friends can stand down.

Brennan has also commented that an increase in rights costs has led to budgetary constraints and left the host broadcaster unwilling to contribute to the reputed £6000 per day costs for the technology (which, over a 30-day test series, are rather appreciable). Whatever the truth behind the decision, there is a certain amount of relief amongst the cricketing community that it will not be present and casting a cloud over the on-field action. Umpires are allowed a degree of fallibility; the technology is not.

The absence of Hot Spot, however, hardly means that television officials will be busted back to the pre-DRS days of eyeballs only, with Eagle Eye ball-tracking software for LBW decisions, audio from stump microphones for the edges processed and linked to slow motion replays (universally called ‘Snicko’), and a bevy of slow and ultra slow motion replays available. Cricket remains a pioneer in many senses, but the whole episode does illustrate nicely how hard it is to introduce video-based technology into on-field decision making in sport.

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