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The Ten: Cricket’s greatest inventions – From Hawk eye to the Merlyn

Broadcast innovations: Hawk eye
by Wisden Staff 6 minute read

From sightscreen to the snicko, here are some of cricket’s greatest inventions – simple chunks of genius that make cricket the best and weirdest game on the planet.

10. Hawk-Eye

Can you remember a time without Hawk-Eye? Quite apart from giving Graeme Swann one of the most successful Test careers of any English spinner, the ball-tracking technology has transformed the way umpires and spectators think about LBW shouts; and had a huge impact on TV coverage, too. Sure, there has been the odd DRS-dust-up, but strip it all away and cricket’s bird of prey is a seriously impressive bit of kit.

9. Tape ball

The idea of layering electrical tape to one side of a soft-ball to make it hoop and swing seems to have sprung up in Pakistan, where ‘Tapeball’ has long been the street’s riposte to the age-old issue of bat’s dominance over ball. The idea is that taping up one half of a tennis ball and giving that side more weight can replicate the properties of the manipulated leather ball. And it works. In the right hands this can result in the kind of carving swing that Waqar Younis once trademarked. Now the big manufacturing companies have cottoned on and sell their own versions of the street classic. As with all good ideas…

8. The Skyer

A thick, meaty rubber mallet brought out in 2008 as a training tool that launches cricket balls higher into the sky than is strictly necessary. Cricket balls launched into the air by the Skyer can hang for up to nine seconds, providing some vintage damage to frost-bitten English hands in early April. Machismo being as it is, beefy gym bunnies will always seize the Skyer and give the balls a hefty whack, and you, standing there freezing and scared, must be prepared to catch the hurtling bullet dropping on you from a great height. Tough luck if it takes your hand off on its way to the turf. That’s cricket.

7. The Merlyn bowling machine

Many new high-tech machines have been developed since Merlyn, but none has captured the imagination so fully. The viciously turning deliveries spat from this don of bowling machines could confound the most fleet-footed of batsmen. Ashley Giles claimed Merlyn helped England win the Ashes in 2005, and the metal box is supposedly capable of bowling any delivery known to man. And it won’t give you an earful for padding up in the over before tea.

6. The sightscreen

Of great assistance to the batsman, especially when faced with ‘frog in a blender’ actions and irritatingly positioned spectators, the stoic sightscreen is another piece of ageless furniture that’s found in every cricket club in the land. Much like scoring and slip cradle practice, the manoeuvring of rickety sightscreens around boggy outfields because your new opening bowler fancies ‘going round’ is another job that should be avoided at all costs. If you must get involved, shotgun foreman duties and save the inevitable stress fracture.

5. The catching cradle

Sitting outside pavilions across the country and bearing a marked resemblance to the carcass of a beached whale, the catching cradle is an essential piece of kit. Invented by one Reverend Gilbert Harrison, we can only assume this man of the cloth had a sideline in breaking people’s fingers, as the speed at which balls rear and kick out of the wooden slats sends even the most dedicated of trainers scampering to the bar. Ideal for sleeping in after a night on the sauce, further drunken usage usually consists of lining up some fearlessly stupid lads from the fourth team to see who can stand the closest while balls are flung in at great pace. Occasionally someone catches one; more often the ball catches them.

4. Snicko

Invented by the English computer scientist Allan Plaskett, this computerised device shows whether a batsman has got a ‘snick’ through soundwaves recorded on a computer screen. Hailed early on by Richie Benaud as the finest technology TV had to offer, Snicko has allowed the armchair fan to assess the most contentious of caught-behind decisions, and – whatever its accuracy – listening to commentators stumble through descriptions of “short noises” has always been entertaining.

3. The bails

While many will tell you that bat’s dominance over ball is a modern phenomenon, the existence of bails is a constant reminder that those who wield the willow have always had it good. As if having to hit three small sticks stumps wasn’t enough of a challenge, early lawmakers decreed that bowlers must also dislodge two more tiny sticks perched on top. The ritual of removing the bails at the end of each session is cricket at its theatrical best, and the addition of an LED flash by Zinger for the Big Bash – and now the world – adds further ‘drama’ to the momentous dislodging.

2. The scorebook

The humble yet beautifully conceived scorebook, with its strange nooks and crannies and mystifying codes, is one of cricket’s most abiding traditions. Every player at every level of the game has at some point recorded their own averages, and the scorebook is the reason for the feverish obsession with numbers that typifies the game. The concentration required to fill it in accurately is a genuine skill in itself, and a worthy test of GCSE Maths for the newest members of club sides. Of course this is only possible if the young ‘uns can wrestle it off the lifelong scorebook artiste; these club cricket heroes carry their quivers of coloured pens to every match home and away, and woe betide anyone who defiles their life’s work with an errant X where there should be an O with a dot in the middle. Modern adaptations (scoring apps that make life easy while generating a whole raft of stats automatically) have continued the tradition in embracing cricketers’ geekier sides.

1. The ball

The construction of the cricket ball, and its central importance to how each match develops, is truly unique. Developers of the football, for example, are continually striving for absolute spherical perfection, each World Cup preceded by news stories concerning the invention of the roundest bag of air ever, and in baseball they change their ball every few minutes. The cricket ball, however, is lasting perfection. First manufactured in 1780 by Dukes of Kent, the company that still provides balls for the first-class game, it has maintained essentially the same properties over the centuries: 5½ ounces of unforgiving cork covered by four quarters of shiny leather casing, all held together by six pieces of string woven together proudly on the outside. This is known as the seam, and it’s forever winking at those crafty fast bowlers with sturdy fingernails.

Only the colour has changed: first it was the white ball, introduced to allow for coloured clothing and floodlit cricket, and now we have pink and orange balls, which still haven’t satisfactorily solved the problem of playing day/night Test cricket in white clothing. While nothing excites a fasty quite like being handed a new, rock-hard pill, some amateur quicks on the margins of society have been known to go even further, lacquering up their favoured ‘net ball’, and storing it in the freezer for extra jaw-obliterating hardness.

First published in 2015

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