Snickometer – Should it be included in the DRS?
What is Snickometer?
Snickometer is a tool used in cricket to graphically analyse audio and video in slow motion to detect whether the ball hit the bat or pad, canopying even the faintest of touches. Snickometer can be used to judge if the batsman has edged the ball in a caught-behind decision, or if the ball hit the pad first in an LBW decision.
Snickometer was invented in the 1990s by English computer scientist Alan Plaskett and was first introduced by Channel 4 in UK. It has been used by cricket broadcasters in UK, India, Australia and New Zealand since 1999.
It was initially a part of the UDRS (Umpire Decision Review System) along with Hawk Eye and Hot Spot, but in the revamped DRS system, it was removed because of doubts over its accuracy, and only Hot Spot has been in use to detect edges.
How does it work?
Snickometer involves use of the stump microphone. When the ball hits the bat, it produces a sound of a particular frequency. The stump microphone picks up the sounds and relays it back to the system. The audio is cleaned by using filters to remove the ambient noise. The sound is then amplified at the receiver and the variations of sounds are plotted on a graph.
The graphic display can be used to judge if the ball hit nothing: a flat line; hit the pad: a dull, flat peak; or hit the bat: a lot sharper peak.
The graph is viewed along with the shot reply to synchronize the ball movement and the variations in the plot.
Pros and cons
The technology involved is relatively simple and low cost, requiring a good stump microphone and a slow motion display, which are anyways available at all international cricket matches.
However, Snickometer might take a reasonable amount of time to give the output, due to synchronization required between audio and video. It requires a physical process by a technician to overlay the pictures with the sound from the stump microphone. This can lead to delay in producing the final product and there is also a risk of inconsistencies in the result. Also, in case of doubt over impact (ball-ball/bat-pad/ball-pad), it will be up to the discretion of the umpire to take the decision.
No technology is hundred percent fool-proof, but there have been steps taken to improve the reliability and usability of Snickometer.
Real Time Snickometer
The challenges faced by Snickometer due to the delays caused led to the development of Real Time Snickometer. It is a fully automated system which can do the processing within 5-10 seconds of an appeal.
The tool has a dedicated server hardware set up, with a minimum of 12 different camera channels and two stump microphones, which will automatically align audio and video to speed up the process.
Australian company BBG Sports, who invented the Hot Spot technology, have been conducting trials over the Real Time Snickometer for over a year in Australia and UK. Warren Brennan, the head of the BBG Sports, has been working with Alan Plaskett for the development of the tool.
Brennan has been quoted saying: “Allan and I both envisage a daily pre-match calibration process that will be supervised by the third umpire as the most accurate way in which to set a synchronisation offset between video and audio.”
The road ahead
Brennan is of the opinion that the combination of Hot Spot and Real Time Snickometer is the way ahead for DRS. Combined use of technology would be the best way to eliminate doubt over faint edges and bat-pad decisions.
Saying that the infra-red and audio technologies will complement each other, Brennan pointed out: “The major strength of Hot Spot is fine-edge detection for spin bowlers. A spinning ball, with its rotating action, will grip-and-rub more profusely against a cricket bat creating more friction. This in turn creates more heat which is much easier for the Hot Spot cameras to identify.
“While the strength of the RTS (Real Time Snickometer) is for faster bowlers, where the wicketkeeper is standing 20-plus metres behind the stumps. From this position the noise of the wicketkeeper moving his feet creates little problem unlike when the wicketkeeper is standing up-to-the-stumps for a spin bowler.”
When asked about his hope for getting the proposed system implemented by ICC, Brennan said: “We have tested RTS in the Champions Trophy and the series against New Zealand as well as the Ashes. No technology will ever be 100% but RTS in conjunction with Hot Spot comes very, very close.
“It is a second reference point for the third umpire and one which he would now be able to access within 10 seconds of an appeal. I am sure ICC would want an independent evaluation of the proposals before making it part of the review system but I hope it will become part of DRS before the end of the year.”
Pointing out that India’s continued opposition to DRS was hurting the cause of technology, Brennan said: “Ideally the system would be independent with the third umpire working with a technology operator beside him and not reliant on a television director. The ICC has not put any money into it, something I suspect will not change as long as India holds out against DRS. But, if they were to, I think it would make it easier for the umpires.”
Answering concerns about accuracy of the tools and how he plans to address them in the future, he said: “Technology evolves and improves, never standing still. For example, we are on the second generation Hot Spot, using cameras from above as well as from the side, and within 18 months our British suppliers, Selex ES, will have a new camera with three times the number of pixels that will provide an even higher resolution.”