Both Russ and A Cricketing View have excellent dissections of the merits of Hawk-Eye and its use in LBW decisions. Read both, especially Russ’ thorough analysis of Tendulkar’s referral of Saeed Ajmal’s LBW appeal (ultimately upheld, to the shock of most observers in the stadium and in the commentary box).
Let me just add this: the above discussions — and the broader debate right now in cricket — concern the accuracy of the technology. That’s important, but there’s a bigger principle at stake than scientific precision. I’m increasingly of the view that LBWs are not simply about the strict rules, but about a larger point: batsmen are supposed to hit balls with bats, not with pads. And when they fail to do so — intentionally or otherwise — they should be penalized.
Stay with me here. Right now, to adjudicate LBWs, we focus on a) where did the ball land; b) did it hit a batsman’s pads in line with the stumps; c) does it seem, looking at both height and the ball’s trajectory, that the ball will hit the stumps? But what if we added other, admittedly subjective criteria, like: a) was the batsman snookered by a brilliant ball? (E.g., Shane Warne’s flipper, anyone?) b) Did the batsman fail at a basic level and simply miss a ball? c) Umpires are loath to admit it, but I’m certain some LBWs are decided depending on the situation of a match — so, tailenders are easier to give out, unless they are the 9th wicket in a close match (recall Mitchell Johnson v. P. Ohja, during V.V.S. Laxman’s innings against Austalia).
Some people really resent these decisions, seeing them as a less-than-objective divergence from set rules. There should be no room for interpretation, these people say, because the umpire will have too much independence. In an earlier post on Asad Rauf, I compared this debate to the one in America concerning “activist” judges and “originalist” ones, who prefer a very strict reading of a legal text in reaching decisions. Well, count me in the first camp here. The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.