Move over traditionalists, the age of the technologist is upon us. Sports Mechanics, the Chennai-based technology company that handles the analytics for the Indian cricket team — these are the guys who tell a Sehwag he’s off his stance or an Ishant why he’s being whacked over mid-wicket repeatedly — has just developed a program called ‘Over the Rope’, which basically has the dugout doing the thinking for the cricketer.
Developed over the past six months and using complex regression analysis, the software gives a team an insight into which way the match is going, the position of the game and, importantly, what strategies to be employed to win.
“Right now, a batsman walks in and has to look at the situation and analyse how to play, how many runs to get within a certain timeframe and how to go about it, in addition to dealing with the pressure of executing those plans,” said S. Ramakrishnan (Ramky), the company’s director. “With this, he only has to think about executing the plan. If you allow the batsman to interpret things, you’re complicating it for him and putting the team at risk in case he gets it wrong.”
In simpler terms, for instance, this means the coach/dugout will tell the batsman he has to get 40 runs in the next three overs. His job is just to get those runs in that time. The bowler’s would be to prevent that, knowing fully well what the batsman has to get and execute his plan.
So here’s the question that many will pose: Would this not kill the creativity and the natural instinct of a batsman/bowler and make him more robotic?
Ramky believes that isn’t the point. “We’re not trying to kill their creativity but trying to help them win. We’re telling the player: ‘be creative in achieving your goals’. The route is up to him, how to get those 40 runs, not whether 40 or 60 is enough. Dynamic strategising is involved and the program does that based on proven fact and data.”
While this has yet to go to live match trials, Ramky and his team believe this is the way ahead, much like in fast-paced games like American football and baseball, often called the most tech-savvy sport in the world. “In T20 games, one or two bad overs change the game. There is so much money involved that teams and owners will want to cut out the risk as much as possible.”
The problem he foresees, though, is an acceptance of change. For long, the people who ran cricket believed that anything that remotely smelt of technology was an affront to their olfactory senses and even now, many think ‘laptop’ is a four-letter word.
“The teams, players, even fans will need some time to get used to new concepts and a different way of looking at the game. They will have to realise we’re trying to help them win in real time, using technology.”
In fact, SportsMechanics believes that T20 cricket lends itself to innovation and the next thing we’ll have would be the batsmen connected to the dugout. “It should only be one-on-one connectivity, between a batsman and the coach, so no one is worried about communication to the outside world and the possibility of fixing,” said Ramky. “It is something that would take the game to the next level.”
Perhaps, but the opposition to this would be strident — and that age-old debate, that of man vs machine, would rage afresh.