The first Npower test match between England and the West Indies started on Thursday. The home test matches this summer are exclusively live on Sky Sports, following the ECB controversial sale of the rights to the satellite provider in 2005. Only a small proportion of the country's ten million cricket fans have Sky Sports, and only a small percentage of those were able to dodge work commitments to tune in to the kick-off of the international cricket summer season. Not many people, therefore, will know about Skys new gadget: the Hot Spot.
Viewers of Cricket over the last fifteen years will remember the advent of various pieces of new technology. Stump microphones and cameras in the early nineties, the red zone for LBW replays, slow-motion (and now ultra-motion) replays of catches and run-outs, the snickometer and, most importantly of all, the Hawkeye revolution which has expanded out of cricket to revolutionize all televised sports coverage including most recently - snooker. Only slow-motion replays of catches, run-outs and stumpings have affected the way that cricket is conducted out in the middle with those decisions now referred to the third umpire. Hawkeyes predictions are not deemed perfectly reliable and, as such, are not employed by the umpires in LBW decisions.
On first impressions, the Hot Spot appears to be so infallible that in a year-or-twos time, calls to give the third umpire decisions over alleged snicks caught behind would be impossible to resist. The Hot Spot replaces the need for snickometer. Snicko (as Richie Benaud called it) works by showing the peaks in the audio signal from the stump microphone and comparing it to the frames of the TV replay. A sharp peak as the ball passes the edge of the bat shows that the batsman nicked the ball and should have been out. But Snickos results are not always compelling: there are often many peaks close together, and the balls contact with the bat is nearly always between-frames.
The Hot Spot is a high-definition infra-red camera. When the ball touches the bat however faintly the friction causes a small area of heat to be generated, visible on the front or edge of the bat for a couple of seconds. From what I saw on Sky Sports on Thursday, I think Hot Spot will certainly be a regular feature for the viewer, and reckon it will soon become so for the umpire too.