Any takers for a brave new world of cricket with IoT and AI?

Zing bails that light up when the ball disturbs the stumps. Hot Spot and Snickometer that tell the third umpire if a batsman has edged the ball. A pitch map to show where the ball has landed. Hawkeye’s ball tracking for DRS (decision review system) or to show viewers how much bounce or movement a bowler is getting. Multiple cameras, including a ‘spider cam’, to decide on close line calls or to dissect a batsman’s technique or a bowler’s action. Stump mikes that catch Australian captain Tim Paine’s sledging and Indian all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin’s cool riposte.

Tech has crept up on cricket, despite the reluctance of administrators to make changes. It has enhanced our enjoyment of the game manifold. Gone are the days when umpires used to blatantly favour the home side.

Apart from umpiring, it has made the viewing richer. The speed gun tells you how Jasprit Bumrah measures up against Pat Cummins.

Tech also helps players improve their performance. Ball-throwing machines have made it possible to have long practice sessions without net bowlers. Analytics tell players what’s working and what isn’t or spot chinks in the opposition armoury to lay traps.

Crunching data

Most of the tech inputs come from sophisticated cameras and computer vision technology. The rest is from analytics based on video and scoresheet data from past performances in various conditions.

Not surprisingly, new technologies like IoT (internet of things) and AI (artificial intelligence) are the next things to arrive. They are already in evidence in other sports like baseball and golf.

TrackMan, priced at nearly $20,000, uses a dual radar system to capture everything in a golf club’s swing, impact and the ball’s flight. Blast Motion has a more modest price tag of $150 for its device using a combination of IoT sensors and video to analyze the bat swing in baseball.

Cricket has taken the cue. Bengaluru startup StanceBeam has an IoT device out on the market that can be fitted on top of the handle to capture the speed and angle of the bat at the point of impact with the ball. Max speed at impact would indicate a powerful shot.

Another startup in the tech city—Spektacom, founded by erstwhile ace leg-spinner Anil Kumble—uses a sensor stuck to the back of the bat to pinpoint the ball’s impact location. It’s an additional parameter for algorithms to assess the power of a shot based on proximity to the bat’s sweet spot.

Others are trying to put sensors inside balls to capture more nuances in their speed, trajectory or even the revs a spinner imparts.

More the merrier, says StanceBeam founder Arminder Thind gamely. “This is a new category, so it’s good to see big names jumping into it.”

Keys to success are in tech validation and product-market fit. StanceBeam took its product to the Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), where data from its sensors was compared with tracking results from motion capture cameras. The IISc team gave a thumbs-up after finding that the speed and angles of the bat swing captured in the two systems were closely correlated.

As for adoption, Thind says coaches from India and abroad have come on to its digital platform that enables players to post their sensor data and practice videos for assessment.

“We have kids in India training with coaches in Australia on our platform. So, we’re breaking the access barrier, especially for players from small towns,” adds Thind.

The StanceBeam device made in India is available in multiple countries as well as e-commerce channels like Amazon. Kookaburra, a leading maker of cricket balls, bats and kits, has become its global distributor.

Still, the adoption of IoT in cricket equipment is likely to scale up only when big-name players start using it. The startup has roped in Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan as a brand ambassador, but the real deal will be when teams feel it can be a game-changer, beyond its novelty value.

Testing bed

Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, which are constantly trading players and honing strategies, are an obvious target for new tech.

“Sending someone out to bat at a certain point in a T20 game where you need to raise the scoring rate, for example, can be based on how well he was hitting the ball in the nets. And this can now be quantified from bat sensor data,” points out Sankar Rajgopal, R&D consultant at King’s XI Punjab, who has been beta-testing Spektacom’s IoT bat sticker ahead of its commercial launch.

Team selections could also be based on this. One could imagine a scenario where a player’s bat swing data becomes a factor in IPL auctions, especially for new players breaking into the league.

It could well prove more useful than performance stats from domestic cricket, which can be heavily skewed by easy batting conditions and weak bowling.

Malavika Velayanikal is a Consulting Editor with Mint. She tweets @vmalu

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