Real Time Snicko and Hot Spot in for Ashes

In what amounts to a rather last minute reprieve, it looks like Hot Spot camera technology will be augmented by the new Real Time Snicko and used by host broadcaster Channel 9 in Australia for this winter’s Ashes series after all.

The Ashes starts tonight/tomorrow, depending on where you are in the world, so the statement released by the ICC (International Cricket Council) on the matter is a tad close to the wire.

“The ICC today confirmed that Real-Time Snickometer (RTS) will be part of the Decision Review System (DRS) in the forthcoming Ashes series, which begins in Brisbane on 21 November,” it said. “The decision-making technology that will be used as part of the Nine Network’s coverage of the Ashes includes Virtual Eye (ball tracking technology), Hot Spot and RTS.”

Essentially it seems that a deal was reached with BBG Sports to supply both technologies, which had been stymied up till then both by cost implications (hire is estimated to run anything up to £6000 per day) and the well-publicised problems with Hot Spot that emerged over the summer.

Hot Spot, which first debuted in world cricket in 2007, uses infrared camera technology and heat sensors to detect whether a batsman has hit a ball, which is particularly relevant when it has come off the edge of a bat. However, the summer Ashes series between England and Australia saw it embroiled in several controversies and accusations that a way had been found to cheat the system using silicone tape to deliberately mask the heat signature that the impact between bat and ball creates.

It has to be said that those issues are still not resolved, but the addition of RTS to the DRS will certainly alleviate them. Snicko is basically a simple system that uses on-field mics in the stumps behind the batsman to detect audibly whether there has been an edge. This is then matched to the timecode of slow motion footage to check whether the noise came from the ball hitting the bat or some other incident (the ball hitting a pad, the bat hitting a pad…there are quite a few possibilities). It is extremely reliable but, to date, has required a certain amount of post processing and manual fiddling before producing a result, certainly too much to be used even in a fairly languid game like cricket.

Real-Time Snicko, which has been in development for the past year and was trialled with some success during the English season, has been approved — where Snicko never was — due to the fact that it’s almost entirely automated and provides a valuable back-up to Hot Spot. It won’t be used all the time, only when a decision regarding an edge has been appealed by the fielding side. As ICC Umpire Performance and Training Manager, Simon Taufel, who conducted a training session with the umpires on the use of the RTS on Monday said: “The RTS will complement Hot Spot by providing an extra tool that umpires can use to find the conclusive evidence needed to overturn an on-field decision.”

If all that sounds complex, then don’t forget that this is a sport governed by 42 separate — and evolving laws — and is also, for all its hidebound image, very much at the forefront of technological developments in video referee technology.

Both Virtual Eye and Hot Spot are already on the list of approved DRS technologies and can be used by TV umpires in any series in which they are available. Real-Time Snicko is not yet on the list, but is considered as being ‘under evaluation’ and its use during this series is seen as part of that process.

The other change to the DRS from the previous Ashes, which was very much sneaked in to the end of the statement, is that teams will have their number of reviews topped-up to two after 80 overs of an innings. Certainly the authorities will be hoping that the technology works smoothly this time round and, as the series goes on, if any change generates headlines it is this one.

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