Innovation in cricket has traditionally been looked at with caution, especially by cricket’s more traditional fan base. But the introduction of bails with LED lights seems to have been almost universally accepted by fans, players and administrators – a rare occurrence in modern cricket.
The Australian company Zing International created the bails with LED lights. The system is known as the Zing Cricket Wicket, or Zings for short. The lights in the bails help match officials make decisions in the game over the dismissal of batsmen. The lights flash only when both ends of the bail break contact with the stumps, which makes it extremely clear when the dismissal occurs. Since their approval by the International Cricket Council in 2013, the system has been used extensively in international matches and tournaments.
The director of Zing International, David Ligertwood, has an interesting origins story for the now ubiquitous bails. His business partner Bronte Eckermann was lying on his couch, drinking red wine, and realised that the flashing LED toy his daughter enjoyed could be combined with the excitement of a clean bowled dismissal. The idea then evolved as both men realised it could also be a fantastic decision review tool.
The bails would help address a problem that had plagued the sport for a while. Cricket had long struggled with stumping and run-out decisions as it’s never been easy to determine the exact point at which a bail has been removed from the stump. The wide adoption of the Decision Review System, as well as the introduction of more camera angles, further increased the need for determining the exact moment at which the bails were dislodged.
Zings provided an easy and convenient solution. The bails would light up as soon as they were removed, which meant that every camera angle could be used to help make a decision.
The bails took time to be finalised though. Like most new products, Zings had its share of difficulties in the manufacturing process. Since cricket is played with a hard ball, the early development phase was plagued with the need for a set of wickets and bails that could withstand extreme force. The circuit boards needed to be carefully designed so they wouldn’t fall apart upon impact. Creating a product that could withstand the impact of a hard ball would be tough enough, but it also had to be able to withstand the pressure of the hard ball at 160kmph.
With the specific requirements in manufacturing, sourcing a large scale of materials also became difficult. Most cricket equipment is made by different companies, in different parts of the world. Procuring components from around the world became problematic, so the company began manufacturing all components in-house over time.
With the durability issue being taken care of, the company had to address functionality. The lights needed to switch on extremely quickly, or the entire product would be meaningless. In a sport where milliseconds matter, speed was of the essence. To facilitate this need, the bails were fitted with microprocessors to determine contact between the bails and stumps. The LED lights switch on within 1/1000th of a second from the bails being completely dislodged from the stump.
With the system ready, tests were conducted to convince the umpiring community. Close-up shots with a camera recording 1000 frames per second were taken to demonstrate that the lights would only go on once both spigots of the bail were lifted. The ICC then ran its own independent tests to ensure that Zing bails were accurate and reliable.
With everyone convinced that the system would work, they were tried out in Australia’s Big Bash League and then used for the first time in an international tournament at the 2014 ICC World T20 in Bangladesh.
According to David Ligertwood, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. As the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact that Zings are now used in virtually every T20 league, and a high percentage of ODIs and T20Is is a testament to the product’s popularity. Even Test cricket, not always the most amenable to innovation, has begun to experiment using the bails.
In polls conducted online, fans voted Zings to be the most liked aspect of the Big Bash League telecast. Cricketers have also spoken in favour of the system. Most cricketers appreciate the speed that Zings have brought to decision making – it is now much easier to judge a run-out or stumping, and the game just moves on quicker.
With international cricket having accepted Zings happily, the company has begun working on developing a club version for the bails. They are aiming to create a more affordable system for schools and colleges which will help make Zings ubiquitous for future generations.