Cricket is a gentleman’s game. As exhibit A, picture the figure of an umpire, all authority and dignity, allowing a bowler to run his way up and pitch a ball at a batsman. But what if the umpire’s role is given to a computer chip, one planted in the core of the ball sent whizzing through the air? Kookaburra, Australia’s sports equipment maker, has developed what it calls a SmartBall, a chip-loaded ball that can transmits all sorts of data live, from the speed of its motion and pace of revolution, pre-bounce and after, to the slightest snick of any contact. Sound analysis will no longer be needed for a tricky caught-behind decision, let alone the judgment of an umpire. Computer systems will take over.
On-field umpires are not redundant yet, though they are under increasing pressure to make accurate decisions. If they don’t, an off-field umpire can consult assorted sensors and overrule them. The SmartBall, engineered by Kookaburra in association with SportCor, a technology firm, promises to take electronic decisions into another orbit. The chip, for example, would even know whether a ball scooped off the grass had touched the ground or not, or crossed the boundary, for that matter. Not close-range recordings would need to be reviewed for close calls.
The appeal of wired umpiring lies in its accuracy. But would the game retain its charm? That’s not so obvious. Having umpires around, with all their quirks and follies, has always been part of the game’s fun. While technology cannot be resisted, let’s hope we never see a day when all we have on the field are two batsmen, a bowler, wicketkeeper and nine fielders. It would be dull.