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Friday, September 23, 2011

The innovative Spider Camera at Chepauk - IPL 4 : CSK Vs Kochi

From the days of mid 1970s to the modern day telecast – what a transformation !!  Cricket has changed a lot – so also the technology.  Way back in 1975 when West Indies toured India, remember seeing the Test match both at the venue and then on TV screen.  Those were the days of B&W televisions – Telerama, Solidaire, Dyanora were some of the brands.  There was only one Doordarshan – only channel.  At National Boys High School, Triplicane,  a television set was placed and they charged a measly [or was it princely amount of those days] of 50 paise for a place.  India beat the West Indies on the Pongal Test and leave was announced by the State Govt. to celebrate the occasion.

Subsequently there were tours by England (Keith Fletcher, as Captain and John Lever of Vaseline] and then Kiwi under Glen Turner – Venkat scored a 64 and Indians won.    On the days of matches, TV coverage would start 15 minutes earlier to the match.  Scores of people would sit in front of the TV set at every home, waiting anxiously – the DD would play the tune and then a person would announce ‘vanakkam, ithu Chennai tholaikatchi nilayam – Band 1 channel 4 il indraiya neradi oli parappu aarambam – Greetings, This is Chennai Television –  direct telecast is about to begin in Band 1 – Channel 4”.  The TV camera would show the roads leading to Chepauk, will invariably show the television tower, the imposing buildings of Agricultural Dept abutting the stadium and sometimes even the road leading to Anna square.  People would turn delirious when the two umpires would be shown walking to the middle.

The most distinguishable feature of coverage was there would only one camera – yes -  you can see the bowler running in from the Wallajah road end and the back view of batsmen, wicket keeper and the slip cardon.  In the next over, when the bowling is from the Pavilion end, you cannot see the face of the  bowler – only his run-up, but the batsmen and wicketkeeper can be seen.    It continued for so many years until cameras at both ends were introduced in Australia in 1977. 

When Bishan Bedi toured Australia and lost a thrilling series 2- 3 to depleted side led by Bob Simpson, there would be no live coverage but around 9 pm, a week or forthnight after the match – half an hour capsule would be shown.  There would be slow-motion action replay of wickets and close appeals.  That slo-mo was really appealing to watch – you can imagine Bishan Bedi trundling a few steps, slowly bending his hip, hands going over and releasing the red cherry in a loop – poetry in action.

It took close to 4 decades when viewers could see the action from the both ends and understand whether a LBW shout was justifiable.  Now there are innumerable, placed in vantage points and one over the sky !  Innovations include onscreen graphics from a pen pointer showing where the fielder is and where he ideally should be to today’s run rate projections and more.  With Kerry Packer came the coloured clothing and day night matches, stump microphones.  Identifying players has become a lot easier after they started sporting their names on the back of their t-shirts.  There have been hawk eye, hotspots and more contributing to some correct decisions and enhancing the knowledge, perception and interests of the television viewers.

Cameras originally could portray dull images of players and cannot zero in on the action exactly – many a times, the camera would go to the wrong side missing the entire action, especially for miscued hits. The Hawk eye when introduced was great – it was a derivation from missile-tracking technology,  relied on a number of fixed and calibrated camera positions to produce a 3D grid which then tracked the ball predicting where it would have gone.  The ultra slow motions showed the World the way ball spun across the seam and bat twisting upon contact with the leather. 

It was certainly new to us at Chepauk but had been used in India in some matches earlier and in other Sports internationally.   In IPL there was another innovation – at Chepauk one could see a drone like object hovering over the space – it was a camera connected to 4 ropes on different sides – it can bend lower, reach closer to the batsman or reach any part of the ground.  Customarily when openers made their way, you could see men holding camera close on the shoulder walking backwards in front of the player for a few extra steps on the ground and hastily retreating.  In IPL, you could have seen your favourite player in close up even capturing his muttering or the chewing of the gum.  All by the sky camera called ‘spider camera’.  This remote controlled device could have been a distraction to some of the players but enhanced the viewing experience

Somehow Sachin gets involved.  He was the first to be given out by the Third Umpire !  In the game between Mumbai Indians and Pune Warriors at the Wankhede, Sachin Tendulkar signalled for the camera to be moved away because it got too close a couple of times while he was batting – it was a distraction.   Mumbai Indians allrounder Kieron Pollard reckoned the camera was a hindrance even for fielders.

 the camera and closer view
For the uninformed, Spider camera is an  aerial device that is suspended with the help of cables tied to the floodlight pillars, the spider cam is meant to enhance the television viewing experience for those who prefer watching the match in the comforts of their homes. The idea is to keep moving the camera continuously to cover all angles and capture every vital moment in the game, thereby making the live telecast of a match much more interesting.  The four pronged cables allows the camera to move both vertically and horizontally over a predetermined area.  The name "Spidercam" is a trademark. The Spidercam operates with four motorized winches positioned at each corner at the base of the covered area, each of which controls a Kevlar cable connected to a gyro-stabilized camera-carrier, or dolly. By controlling the winding and unwinding of the cables, the system allows the dolly to reach any position in the three dimensional space. The inputs of the Spidercam "pilot" are processed by software which forwards the commands to the winches via fiber optic cables. Two of the Kevlar cables also have fiber optic cables woven into them to carry commands to the camera and the remote head, and bring the camera's high definition signal back to the control station. The remote head, which houses the camera, provides pan and tilt movement and includes the lens remote which controls focus, zoom and irising. A gyro sensor in the dolly stabilises the horizon. A specially trained Spidercam camera operator controls the camera.

It is the product of an Austrian Company - Jens C. Peters, the founder of CCSytems Inc., developed the Spidercam system.   Reportedly it was tested in 2003 in a large event hall in Austria.  It was initially used for live events such as concerts.   The "Champions League Twenty20" used two spidercam® systems for the cricket encounters at the different stadiums in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.

Earlier when used by BBC’s 6 Nations Rugbu coverage it sparked a tide of complaints from fans stating that it made them feel 'dizzy' and 'sickly'. Fans  were  annoyed at the swooping shots and strange camera angles during the match, claiming it spoiled their enjoyment.

In Cricket, this overhead gear has certainly taken Television broadcasting to newer heights.

S. Sampathkumar.

This was written immediately after the IPL 4 match  :  CSK Vs Kochi on 18th May 2011 at Chepauk.  – much before the present debate on UDRS – to my dismay I found that it was lying in drafts when I thought I had indeed posted it.  


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