Cricket has never shied away from the use of technology for ensuring fairness in the game or improving the audience’s experience. However, when it comes to using tech on the pitch by players, the game’s governing body – International Cricket Council – has kept a rather conservative approach, a stand it took when former South African skipper Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald walked out with earpieces during the 1999 World Cup against India.
Taking a leaf out of the American sports where it was a common practice for players to wear earpieces to communicate to their coaches, South Africa’s head coach Bob Woolmer suggested the two Proteas senior players use the equipment. The move was first carried out during a practice game of the World Cup, where no one seemed to take notice of it.
So, the trio of Woolmer, Cronje and Donald decided on using earpieces during the opening World Cup game against India. However, it did not long for the commentators to notice something unusual around the players’ ears when South Africa took to the field in the first innings.
Soon, Indian openers Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar took notice of the earpieces worn by Cronje and Donald, and approached on-field umpires Steve Bucknor and David Shepherd, just at the start of a drink break.
The umpires spoke to Cronje who told them about what was going on. However, the umpires could not decide if the use of earpieces by South African players was illegal, and they approach match referee Talat Ali as the drama unfolded on the ground. He too was unsure and contacted ICC over the legality of using earpieces during the match. The governing body said that while the use of the equipment did not break any of their rules, it was unfair to the other side.
Both players were asked to remove the devices and the use of such devices was subsequently banned by ICC.
South Africa went on to win the match and Woolmer defended the move using earpieces saying that he just was trying to be innovative and did not intend to upset anyone. Woolmer added that he should have asked for ICC’s permission before going ahead with the move.