Tom Peck: Steve Smith should be more like Zwier Spanjer...

Hi-tech cameras cannot lie, so don’t make them the fall guy in the sky

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We can but hope that the cultural horizons of Australian batsman Steve Smith extend beyond the newest social media tour de force that is the LAD Bible, because it’s clear they are mocking him.

It can be no coincidence, surely, that within just moments of Smith blaming the overhead camera for his horrendously misjudged catch at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the LAD Bible pushed out the contrasting heroics of Zwier Spanjer (video below) to more than 10 million of the world’s top, top LADS.

Should you happen to not be among this hallowed number you may need to be told that Spanjer, a young, hitherto unremarkable Dutch hobbyist, had been making the best of a freezing, rainy day, flying the drone he’d been bought for Christmas by a winding river somewhere outside Amsterdam. What he did next is a reminder that aerial cameras are an innovation to be embraced, not feared.

Drone cam is calmly banking high over the tiny gothic church, and suddenly calamity strikes. The battery’s dead, Spanjer knows it, and all 500 quid’s worth and counting of drone begins its whiney agonising descent to earth. Still 60 feet up, the onboard camera perfectly captures the gathering horror in the Dutchman’s eyes as it becomes a certain fact that the arc of his beloved toy’s descent will terminate in the icy water.

It captures perfectly too the panicked Spanjer’s channelling of Gordon Banks, as he swan-dives without a moment’s hesitation into the black depths. With the machine’s lights reflecting and enlarging on the surface as it rushes towards impact, at the last second somehow Spanjer lunges forward, gathers the drone in one hand and with the next teetering step flicks it on to the bank and safety as if it were merely a Pele header.

This is everything Smith could have done. The camera fixed, the ball descending. Catch. Out. A new cricketing image is born. Instead Smith drops it and gets angry.

To take umbrage at the “fucking wire”, as he exclaims while pointing skyward from his little corner of supine fury in the outfield, is to fail to acknowledge that it is chiefly via the medium of technological innovation of this kind that he and his friends have been elevated to greatness.

Who was better, Zidane or Puskas, the old debates go. People like to say you can’t compare them because the balls and the boots have changed so much. But the advancement in those realms is infinitesimal when compared with the changes in how sport is recorded, broadcast and consumed.

(In the not so olden days, by the way, as Ronnie Rosenthal knows better than anyone, you turned your eyes skyward when there could be no possible earthly force to blame but yourself. Now, there is a ready-made fall guy waiting right there.)

What if Smith had caught it, right under the Spidercam? That would have been one for the grandkids, wouldn’t it?

That said, not all innovations drag us forward. What a wondrous spectacle the darts has been this year, but even so, it is no insult to observe how little is added to the realm of human understanding by replaying in 1,000 frames a second the journey of a single arrow as it flies the 7ft 9.25in from oche to board. Likewise, though few saw it, those who did won’t forget the sound of John Virgo and Stephen Hendry last summer, in that often achingly long gap between the frames, reduced to breathless whispers over mega slo-mo pictures of the chalk nebulas that atomise in bright turquoise over the green baize when cue strikes ball. “It’s amazing, isn’t it, the chalk that comes off,” says Virgo at one point, before whole paleolithic periods of nerve-shredding awkward silence pass by in which, with so little else to say on the topic of chalk flying up, Hendry talks him into an unbelievably ill advised John McEnroe impression.

It is worth noting that such dubious advancements are not limited to sport. It was not so long ago that, in November 2008, CNN was marking the dawn of the saviour in the White House by unveiling the new hologram cam contraption. But it turned out that having righteously angry neocons launching their toys from the pram while beamed up Scotty-style into the studio, rather than just their flapping chins nine feet high on the back wall, didn’t offer much extra by way of analytical insight.

Still, Smith picked himself up and dusted himself off in the end, and got back on with a series that was already in the bag in any case. When the fans’ enjoyment detracts from the purity of the action it always feels like a line has been crossed, and that’s what happened here. But getting angry with the TV cameras is folly indeed. If you don’t want to be a hero, Mr Smith, there’s a Dutchman with a remote control who does.

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