A comprehensive invasion

Sachin Tendulkar being helped up to inspect a bowling machine at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera on the eve of the first Test match between India and England on November 14, 2012. Such machines help batsmen fine-tune their reflexes, especially against the short ball.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Technology is just an aid to help a player be at his optimal best but in the cut and thrust of a game, it is his skill-sets and the grey matter in his head that comes to his rescue and we, as viewers, can watch the very best on television! In that sense, there is no running away from technology, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Cricket has come a long way from its primitive ways when a clump of wood was used to whack the ball in the English countryside. Many years and many heroes later, ranging from Sir Don Bradman to Sachin Tendulkar, the game marches on with its momentum often resting on a strong undercurrent of technology.

Technology has invaded and acquired a chunk of cricket’s space through aids that help in preparation, be it video-analysis that all coaches swear by, practice tools like bowling machines and razor sharp camera angles that makes the third umpire’s job easy and brings thrills into drawing rooms. Add to it the evolution of protective gear, stronger helmets and pads and you do get the picture.

During the recent World Cup, technology or its varied uses may have suffered a stigma thanks to the then England coach Peter Moores’ ill-timed comment about checking ‘data’ after his team was stunned by Bangladesh and crashed out of the premier championship. Moores’ leaning towards computers and number-crunching came in for derision but despite that aberration, there is no denying the slow but sure seepage of science and engineering into dressing rooms, team hotels and the grounds.

Yes, the game at its core is a test of skills, be it batting, bowling or fielding, but technological inputs provide the right ballast for a player’s cricketing expertise to prosper. A bowler may learn from his video-analyst that a rival batsman tends to drive uppishly on the off-side and the input would be to either choke that area or tempt him into essaying a loose one with enough protection on the off-side.

Similiarly, a batsman may get enough knowledge about a bowler’s stock delivery, the various ways the fingers curl on the ball at the time of delivery and to get that extra awareness about which way the ball would cut, spin or swing.

Batsmen often rely on the bowling machine to get into their peak-reflex-stage while coping with the short ball. Sometimes they ask a team-mate to pelt them with water-soaked tennis balls from a short distance on cement pitches. Be it the reliance on technology (bowling machine) or practical props (playing against the tennis ball), surely an air of predictability creeps in as you are sure that the next ball is going to be a bouncer. But batsmen, who have undergone the grind, swear by these methods stating that their muscle memory is fine-tuned and as and when in a match situation, they find a bouncer heading their way, they are ready for a counter.

Technology is also used in the apparently low-profile aspects like say bat manufacturing. Rahul Dravid, always obsessed with his batting craft and keen to prepare at his optimal best, was known to contact bat-makers ahead of overseas tours and request them to alter the sweet-spot inside the bat (sweet-spot is the core area of the bat that is often used to make contact with the ball). When he travelled to Australia or England, he asked the manufacturers to raise the sweet spot as he knew that the extra bounce needed to be countered adroitly.

Video analyses of the game have been in vogue for quite some time. Here the then captain Sourav Ganguly is all engrossed in video clippings during a conditioning camp in Chennai on July 3, 2004.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Bowlers, often wrongly considered as intellectually inferior with all the clichés centred on their brawn, lean on technology regularly. It could be as simple as getting your ideal run-up calibrated with a measuring tape to the more complicated bio-mechanical analysis of the entire body through the process of build-up, release and follow-through. It is a study that helps iron out chinks in the action or reduce the muscular-burden on various joints and bowling legend Frank Tyson was a huge votary of this approach.

Another area in which technology has made rapid strides is in the sphere of umpiring. Marginal calls on run-outs have become easier to judge thanks to the all-knowing television camera and the microphones near the stumps pick up sounds, be it a snick or an obnoxious sledge. Yet umpires have mixed emotions about technology being a relevant accessory to their officiating roles. Last year when Sportstar ran into Dickie Bird, he rued the loss of the human element in umpiring as he felt that technology was making his counterparts look like robots.

Another senior Indian umpire said: “Everyone, especially commentators make a huge noise about Hawk-Eye when it comes to LBWs.

“They mention the angle, the bounce and tend to run us down, but what they don’t get is no technology can exactly predict swing and the angle it takes or its elevation and so in such cases it is better to accept the umpire’s judgement rather than run him down. As an umpire, I have an exact feel of the pitch, its vagaries, its funny spots, the air around, whether there is moisture, I mean there are too many intangibles that I take into account before I adjudge a player LBW or not!”

Now, speaking about the good old fan, it is nice to sit in the hall with a bunch of raucous friends, quaff some beer and watch a game in High Definition but there is no mistaking the aura that envelops a contest in a packed stadium. That sense of theatre never comes through in television but yes you are spared of the hassle of security checks and serpentine queues, especially in the Indian context.

There is no denying technology’s overwhelming straddling of cricket but as Shane Warne said, during the inaugural IPL in 2008, it is primarily about executing your skills on the ground that matters irrespective of the cricketing videos you watch the previous night.

Technology is just an aid to help a player be at his optimal best but in the cut and thrust of a game, it is his skill-sets and the grey matter in his head that comes to his rescue and we, as viewers, can watch the very best on television! In that sense, there is no running away from technology.