Inside The Belly Of The TV Cricket Beast

John Mair spent the weekend in Guyana to report on Test Match cricket, and reveal the scale of equipment and people needed to televise such a worldwide event. He reports:

I have been watching the first cricket Test Match between Pakistan and the West Indies at the Guyana National Stadium at Providence on the East Bank of the Demerara River. Much of this was from the Press box, but some with a unique inside view. In my opinion the best view you get of this match, or most modern sporting events, is on the TV so I thought I should go to source and see the Television folk in operation on the ground floor of the Media Centre.

Writes John Mair…

First impressions were that it was fascinating and very impressive and slick. Like synchronised swimming, it looks easy on the surface, but below it is a massive team effort. The director has a choice of up to thirty sources at any one time to make into one the world can see. Fifteen plus cameras are placed around the ground to get just the right shots to catch all the wickets, run outs and more. The cameramen do not need directing-they are always looking for shots of the action and away from the action, such as in the crowd – pretty girls feature a lot! The director and his vision mixer are given a wide choice of shots, especially in the slow times when they need to visually ‘fill’. But that is not all.

All the cameras are recorded on six digital recorders by a small team. Any piece of action is instantly available for replay from machines labelled blue, green, yellow, red, purple and black. The instant replay and super slow motions are what makes modern sports broadcasting different from what went before – no decision can go unquestioned. Some that are, prove to be wrong putting pressure on the umpires who have to make their decision in a second.

But the television and the umpires off the field also get access to Hawkeye, a by product of the rocket industry, which has revolutionised leg before wicket decisions in particular. Speed is speed, trajectory is trajectory, science is science and out is, well, out. Hawkeye, plus the other state of the art graphics gizmos, make analysis easy, whilst making TV cricket commentary sparser and more much informed as a result. The famous voices get to see the output but also they catch the live action from their eyrie at the top of the media centre. In the control gallery where the director and his team are, there is no daylight and no sight of the match. All is viewed through cameras and technology.

It takes a team of forty people, plus equipment shipped in from the UK to bring those pictures to your living room back home on Sky Sports. Forty people all working with great concentration and in sync (like the synchronized swimming) for seven hours of play every day. This is no mean feat. I was mightily impressed and that does not happen too often. While you enjoy the cricket, think of those legs below the surface paddling away.

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