Tech Innings in Cricket: It all started with IPL

By : |February 24, 2015 0
From really clever off-ground auction strategies to on-the-ground and nick-of-time decisions, technology has been playing a really fitting saucer for many Cricket Cups. Here’s a peek at how IPL champion KKR has been ruling this pitch right and sharp all this while.

Pratima H

MUMBAI, INDIA: CRICKET is in the air, and you can literally smell it hanging in every inch around you, no matter where you have been perched this month – whether you are sitting nervous at a World Cup stadium, or celebrating India’s signature win in some street, or munching popcorns as you see IPL auctions for this season unravel – the game has taken over the collective frenzy of almost every Indian.

But technology conjunctivitis seldom leaves our eyes at CIOL, and as always we are tempted to check, what, if and how much has this game been betting on IT? Do words like Big Data, Analytics, Social mining, Algorithms that have bowled the industry over with their limitless potential, have any connotation out there for Cricket players?

After all, in every major game around the world this year itself, we have seen so many tech-cheerleaders hopping around; from sensors helping players train for optimizing impact and avoiding injuries and penalties, player-customised recovery drinks boxes, ergonomic-smart shoes that absorb speed and repel sweat while maximizing propulsion and traction, wearables that double up as accurate-real-time illegal-bowling-watchers; to high-speed cameras, micro-massage-capable jerseys, sweat-ventilation-smart sportsgear, Goal-Line Technology (GLT) batting competitive analytics, predictive intelligence and what not. Technology is making a home run everywhere whether it is FIFA World Cup, T-20, IPL or Super Bowl. And with Cricket season ready to blanket the country all over again, we pulled out a few minutes with AR Srikkanth, a seasoned champion of Technology who has been sporting IT in its best form for last few years.

AR Srikkanth, Performance and Strategies Analyst at KKR has been the numbers man behind the scenes for Kolkata Knight Riders since 2009. A young chap by age, let him not deceive you with his looks as he plays a rather rigorous and tough part in helping the coaches to analyze and dissect games and strategize against opposition players. He helps formulate game plans with the coach and the captain and has also played a central role in the auctions. Srikkanth has played junior state cricket and has worked with more than 10 international coaches, so he stands out as someone who is more than a helicopter analyst and knows his game too well. He enjoys helping players on and off the field and chips in occasionally with some mean leg breaks in the nets.

Here this tech-umpire gives us a delicious view of how Technology is the opening batsman of sorts when it comes to the best 11 T words (Think of Tactics, Tricks, Team Work, Tenacity, Timing, Turnaround, Toss, Trajectory, Tolerance and of course the Third Empire – and you get the drift) that make and break Cricket as we know it.

We lay down a rough pitch for him – the practical, ethical and naysayer side of technology table, and still he does not let the debate wobble a bit but rather comes out winning on every spin. Grab a front row as the game begins.

How much has technology started being toyed with – both on the field and off it?

From a strategy point of view, it has come a long way than what started in 2008 or 2009. Right now there a lot of takers – from coaches, players to team analysts etc who have started embracing technology. This is playing a good role on performance-enhancement, on helping better understand abilities of one team as well as its opposition and many other areas. We at KKR, have used different kinds of software and tools right from the inception and across many dimensions like auctions, choice of what players to pick, analysis during tournaments and after them, studying strengths and weak spots of opposition team like good shot for a batsman or other outcomes of predictive analysis etc. We give lot of inputs to players and coaching staff, with better insights on opposition with as much as we can provide through technology.

So technology is in good form out there?

Technology certainly helps teams to get better and understand various conditions across the world – whether it is about a pitch or a certain bowler. India has a far better T-20 and ODI side globally and thanks to IPL, technology has really flourished in Cricket. Today, almost every team has an analyst and every Indian player knows the kind of preparation a tournament entails, both from his side and opposition side. That way, he studies his game well and technology plays a good role in performance.

How has the analytics part worked so far? Let’s say applying it in auctions or on-the-game?

There are both short-term and long-term decisions when players are being chosen. We also study their graphs on pressure-performance, team-work, future potential etc. It is now possible for scouts to watch almost every one, playing any time, any where in the world, thanks to technology and that helps in better strategizing for sure.

But now everyone can piggyback on it. Does it become increasingly difficult or edge-blunting when technology starts becoming a common denominator with every team?

I see it this way. Even if the opposition is using a technology, the ‘how’ you use it can up one’s game a lot. It’s like F1 in many ways. Everyone has an advanced car but what separates a Ferrari from a Lotus is the strength of the personnel in and around the car. In technology’s case, the raw data or information is a basic layer, what comes atop it is the intelligence one can whip out of it and as fast and well-timed as possible. It is also about how well you can communicate this to players and help them intercept it rightly. Most players are not numbers-friendly and you would find many stars who would rather just concentrate playing for the country than get immersed in number-crunching. You have to drill intelligence out of numbers and give it to them and in a way that they accept and leverage it. Sportsmen do not like too much information. Knowing what to do and when can change a lot with technology. Communication in the right way and time is crucial.

Why has IPL been at the fore-front of using technology so well?

Yes, in a sense it all started with IPL. It is such a fast moving game so the same level of analytics is expected. That has been explored here really well.

Why is technology not a form of steroid? It’s amazing but may be not apt for Sports because it takes the game out of the sport?

I beg to differ on that. The recent World Cup of football saw some debate on a new Goal Line technology. In any field, a human error is always possible. Technology minimizes such errors. Of course, not all technology is 100 per cent accurate but is how administration and player groups use it. I feel technology has improved a lot when it comes to criteria like quality, neutral perspective, precision, and viewer engagement.

Can it still allow for a level-playing field between two teams?

It is a ‘work in progress’ and hopefully and eventually, we will get to a point where everyone will embrace technology as a collaboration element. For that, acceptance has to shape up and with time, it will.

Is technology still somewhere on the regulator’s blind spot across many games and across the globe?

Yes there is a spot of that sorts. If a parent body allows use of a new tool but a subsidiary group is not willing to take it then there is lack of homogeneity. It makes sense only if its used across the field and across the board. It is also a different scenario for viewers if one body is using it and another is not. So may be yes, acceptance level has to change.

What’s the future of intersection of Sports and Technology?

From an IPL Point of view, scouting of new talent is going to be a huge segment. Like NBA, Baseball or EPL. There would be team franchises some day and Cricket may get to a point where franchises change the scenario. May be it is still ten to 15 years away but down the line Cricket can become a lot like Football on a global scale. That’s where technology will be a good support.

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