It is for sports that involve hitting a ball or jumping over things that timing becomes really important. Timing in this instance means synchronising the shutter to the precise moment of impact. Any moment before or after this moment is unlikely to capture the ball in fast sport (eg tennis, cricket, ice hockey, squash, badminton) although it is not quite such a problem in soccer or rugby as the ball moves more slowly.
If we take cricket as a worked example we can do some sums. Cricket has the supreme advantage that most of the action takes place in one spot (ie in front of the wicket) and this action repeats itself every delivery. In a 50-overs match there are about 300 deliveries, more if you count no balls, fewer if there is a batting collapse. That represents 600 deliveries for the whole match and if you shoot two or three frames per delivery, a total of between 1,200 and 1,800 frames.
In those (say) 1,800 frames there may be 20 dismissals and of these we might assume 50% are from catches, leaving just 10 per match that are clean bowled, stumpings, lbws or run-outs. The maths then, is quite simple, only one frame every 180 is going to contain the bails flying in the air! If you then factor in a player obscuring your view of the stumps, this 'success' rate drops even lower.
This then is the problem facing the professional cricket photographer. They have to shoot every delivery, 'just in case'. They also need more than one frame per delivery, for, if they time for ball-bat impact and the ball misses the bat, the second shot of the sequence may contain the bails in the air, a stumping or a vigorous appeal for a caught behind – all will make a good shot, most of the time.
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