Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Rosten's Ball Tracking Research And The ICC's Cricket Committee

This post could have been written at any time after the ICC published results of its annual Cricket Committee meeting on June 1, 2012. I have been waiting to get confirmation from ICC about its Cricket Committee meeting.

Since that meeting, the Chief Executives' Committee, relying "on fresh and successful testing of DRS technology", "reiterated its commitment to the Decision Review System becoming mandatory in international cricket" (as Sharda Ugra's story on Cricinfo states). This reportage was followed by two further stories - first, as story titled "Universal DRS falls at Board Table", and then a story from Australia in which the Chairman of Cricket Australia said that DRS research was not shown to the ICC's Board.

Going by reports by the ICC, and reports by Cricinfo's Sharda Ugra and Daniel Brettig, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that "Universal DRS" was recommended by the ICC's Cricket Committee, further ratified by the Chief Executive's Committee, but mysteriously not taken up by the ICC's Board. The BCCI is not satisfied by the technology in DRS, and there the matter rests - no resolution at the final hurdle. Whats more, this makes it very easy for one to suspect that the BCCI has been pressuring other Boards into not bringing the matter to a vote.

Except that none of this is supported by what the ICC said. The facts lend themselves more reasonably to a far more complicated situation. Two conclusions are inescapable.

1. The ICC does not believe Rosten's research is necessary. This research is probably being carried out only to satisfy BCCI.
2. The ICC's CEC did not recommend "Universal DRS" (i.e. DRS which would be mandatory)

Here is why.

In its report of the Cricket Committee meeting, the ICC said
The Cricket Committee re-iterated its view that, depending on the ability to finance the technology, that DRS should be implemented universally in Test and ODI cricket.
Following some concerns about the accuracy and reliability of the ball tracking technology, ICC engaged Dr Edward Rosten, a former Cambridge University lecturer and an expert in this field, to provide an independent evaluation of the accuracy of the two ICC DRS accredited ball tracking suppliers.
The committee was presented with a provisional report covering a review of ball trackings provided in the recent South Africa v Australia series. In the 14 examined sequences Dr Rosten said that his company's results were in 100 per cent agreement with the ball tracking system in use in that series.
There are two accredited providers of ball-tracking technology. Dr. Rosten had only tested one of these two providers, as he examined 14 sequences from 1 series. Yet, without testing the other accredited provider of technology, the ICC's Cricket Committee recommended that DRS should be "implemented universally" - i.e. that both accredited vendors were good, whether or not they had been adequately tested by independent authority! The ICC confirmed this to me in an email. They wrote:
It is correct that the Rosten report considered by the Cricket Committee only covered one of the two accredited ball tracking systems. It was a provisional report. Dr Rosten is still busy with his research on the other accredited supplier and will furnish ICC with a final report once he is finished. The Cricket Committee recommended the mandatory use of the DRS on the basis that accredited ball tracking suppliers will be used. The Cricket Committee does not itself accredit the ball tracking companies. This is ICC’s responsibility (in practice, the ICC cricket operations department). At this stage, two ball tracking companies are accredited by ICC.
In 2011, this same Cricket Committee recommended that DRS be used universally in international cricket based on a presentation on ball tracking technology by Stephen Carter, the Managing Director of Hawkeye Innovations, one of the vendors of the technology. Even then, they did not feel the need to examine both ball-tracking systems with equal rigor. As I have shown before, the two vendors use very different approaches with respect to human involvement, and have very different ideas about the importance of frame rates in their respective ball tracking systems. The task of ball tracking is undertaken differently in each case.

As for the Chief Executives Committee (CEC), they only passed on the Cricket Committee's recommendation with the caveat that implementation would be subject to "subject to the Members' ability to finance and obtain the required technology." The Chief Executives effectively recommended that the situation be exactly as it is now - they did not recommend that the ICC should take over financing of DRS. The ICC's Board did accept two specific recommendations made by the Cricket Committee with respect to DRS - first, that the 'Umpire's Call' zone for pitching point be expanded just like the 'Umpires Call' zone at the stumps; and second, that Hotspot be made mandatory.

"Universal DRS" as Sharda Ugra calls it, was never on the table, and was never recommended. All recommendations were subject to member boards finding funding. Any "universal" DRS worth the name, would have to include funding from the ICC. The funding issue has been an issue raised by BCCI for a for the past two years at least.

The only way that a responsible Cricket Committee could recommend that DRS be used universally subject to costs (i.e. that the technology and the protocol in DRS as currently designed is fine), despite not having independent assessment of all accredited vendors, is that the Cricket Committee does not believe that these independent assessment is necessary. The other possibility is that they simply don't care about rigorous testing.

Further, if Sharda Ugra has quoted the ICC correctly in her story from June 25, then their assertion that Rosten had "tested the accuracy and reliability of ball-tracking in a recent Test series and concluded that the results were 100% in agreement with the outcomes produced from his assessments." is flatly false. It flies in the face of what they told me over email - that it was a provisional report (in another email, the ICC's representative told me that it was a preliminary report), and that Dr.Rosten was still busy with his report. The ICC's own report of the Cricket Committee meeting also calls Rosten's report "provisional".

In his Cowdrey Lecture, Tony Greig blamed BCCI for frustrating the ICC, and the hard work of its Cricket Committee. He said it was a  "a sorry state of affairs and very frustrating for those who give so much time to getting things right.". This, about a committee which is unable to take a request for an independent assessment seriously! For how else can the Committee's recommendation for universal DRS, even though the assessment had not been completed yet be interpreted?

It consistently becomes clear that between the ICC and the BCCI, it is not the BCCI which has a monopoly over incompetence or lack of diligence. Whats more, the ICC's competence is assumed, while in the BCCI's case, it is incompetence which is assumed. When it comes to the DRS, the ICC has been consistently unable, and based on the current evidence, unwilling to satisfy some very specific questions raised by the BCCI - about reliability and financing.

The ICC has refused to release Dr. Rosten's provisional report to the Cricket Committee. They have confirmed that he did submit a document.

Maybe it is time the press stopped covering the DRS issue at the level of the Boards, and started looking into the details. In the instance of this year's ICC meetings, the BCCI did not block "Universal DRS" as has been suggested. Furthermore, "Universal DRS" in any meaningful sense was never on the table. As for Cricket Australia's Wally Edwards' point about evidence not being available - it reasonable to conclude that it has not been made available for the very good reason that it is still a work in progress. Furthermore, even after it has been made available, it will have to be scrutinized. Dr. Edward Rosten has not conducted any field tests, nor was he commissioned to do so. That responsibility of the Cricket Committee - to specify the requirements of the testing is something nobody has gone into. Nobody has considered the question - "Did the ICC's Cricket Committee ask the correct questions about the reliability of ball tracking?".

Those, you will agree, are advanced problems - ones that go far beyond basic issues.


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  2. To me Ball Tracking is not a big sin, in cricket and Sports Bet is a another things.

  3. Good post sir, it was good to read.