(Pocket-lint) - Cricket is all about statistics, something that Sky Sports recognises and prioritises in its coverage of the sport and The Ashes specifically.
The latest iteration of the Sky Sports app has a dedicated section for the England versus Australia series that embraces statistics in a far greater way than ever before, down to giving you the choice of watching every Hawk-Eye rendering of each ball delivered. And the TV presentation is greatly enhanced through the use of automated figures, batting averages and historical detail of every kind.
However, there are plenty of related stats that aren't whizzed onto a screen in fancy fashion or cunningly slipped into an ex-pro's mouth as he talks you through the action. Instead they relate to the circus that goes on behind the scenes and how the matches are delivered to your TV, tablet or smartphone.
For example, did you know that it takes 15 miles of cabling to present the TV coverage of the current Ashes test from Lords? Or that the outside broadcast truck built by Sky and facilities partner CTV cost a staggering £8 million to create? And that it is the largest in Europe?
Those nuggets are not likely to be part of Sir Ian Botham's commentary, to be honest. Nor will the OB unit be picked up in shot by one of the 45 cameras around Lords used to film the match-up. Instead, it sits in a car park area behind the nursery training fields, out of sight, out of mind, but doing possibly the second most important job at the venue behind the cricketers themselves - bringing their talents to our homes in as entertaining and in-depth way possible.
The man behind the curtain
Pocket-lint was invited to spend a few hours with the Sky Sports production team at Lords on day one of the second Ashes test to see exactly how such an enormously popular sporting event is put together. And considering we've also been witness to Formula One and Football broadcast presentations in recent times, we were blown away by the sheer scale of Sky's cricket operation.
Of the 45 cameras dotted around the ground - and in the sky, we learnt - only 22 of them are manned. The rest are stationary or automated. Compare that to a football match, which requires around 30 cameras to film the action, and it's a massive production to keep under control. Indeed, a test match like the second of the Ashes, requires two directors on each day - one for the sporting action and another for the fun in the periods between play.
That means each of them gets a well-earned break, something not afforded during one day matches where a director might have to man the gallery for up to 11 hours straight. It also prevents them having to watch the huge amount of monitors in front of them for too long a period at a time.
In the gallery there are so many monitors, displaying each camera, graphical overlay and Hawk-Eye feeds, that just keeping up with the action and ensuring the viewer can make sense of it all is like conducting an opera. And considering that the orchestra is made up of over 120 people on the day, that's no small feat.
Eyes of a hawk
One of the elements that has become so important to televised cricket coverage in modern times is Hawk-Eye, the visual computer system that works out the trajectory of every ball. And such is its significance that it has an outside broadcast truck of its own... well, more a van really.
In that vehicle sit four experienced analysts who track and log every single ball bowled to offer a detailed estimation of its path if objects, such as the bat or batsman, get in the way. And it is something that can be viewed as of this particular series by everyone that has access to the Sky Sports app - not just as part of the general coverage, but as a separate ball-by-ball pop-up.
Six cameras, of which four are commonly used, are situated around the wicket, capturing HD footage at 300 frames per second. They track the ball throughout its entire journey, sending the spatial information in real-time back to a dedicated computer in the Hawk-Eye truck. This then makes valued judgements on where the ball would have gone had it not been hit by bat or leg. It is a system that has changed cricket forever.
Introduced originally in 2001 and used as part of Channel 4's cricket coverage back then, it has changed dramatically in the intervening years and is now integral in analysis, by fans and experts alike. And seeing the system in action in the battle bus gave us an extraordinary insight into how smoothly the operation runs and how accurate the end results are. Software is always being developed, we were told, but it would be hard to see how much more efficient the operation could become in future.
It benefits the sport rather than obstructs it. Hear that football?
The rest of our took us through the Sky Sports OB truck, through the sound, editing and camera racking departments. The last was of particular interest as all cameras around the ground are fed into this area first and every element bar focusing is controlled remotely. That means brightness, colour balance, exposure, focal ratio and other modes that a cameraman would normally have to concern themselves with are taken out of their hands so they can concentrate on filming the sport itself.
And by controlling racking separately, the team can ensure that all camera views are identical in style when they get back to the gallery and therefore you, the viewer. If one camera is in shadow, for example, it might need a little more exposure than one situated in bright sunlight. You, however, will never know.
Other areas we visited included The Ashes Zone, where presenters can replay shots and incidents from the match in a dedicated area shielded from onlookers, the commentary booth and the Sky Sports studio itself - which is empty while play continues. These latter locations are housed in the Media Centre at Lords - the large spaceship-looking building you'll often see towering over the venue - and the view is spectacular.
We visited the commentary position as Sir Botham and Michael Holding were at the microphones, but arguably the most important person in that room was Benedict Bermange. He sat by the commentators, feeding them information and statistics from a vast database of cricket knowledge, partly from his laptop but mainly from his own head.
He also used binoculars to watch every ball, rather than the monitors, proving that while technology has improved cricket coverage immeasurably over the years, you can never really replace a deep human understanding of the sport.
In fact, if anything that served as the underlying message to take away from our day at Lords with the Sky Sports team. We went there looking for the tech that gives us such in-depth coverage of a sporting event many of us hold dear to our hearts, and left realising that the technology is simply the enabler.
Presenting The Ashes is a huge technological undertaking, one that requires vast amounts of cabling, computers and cameras. But none of them would be in any way useful without the 120 or so highly experienced humans that work tirelessly behind the scenes. Or the presenters. Or the cricketers themselves, of course.
Yes, tech provides the sight, sound and statistics, but it is the human element that tells the story.