Cricket is not solely judged by the outcomes of the game anymore; nor is the connection with its audience solely limited to what happens on the cricket field, it is more about how the viewers and fans perceive and feel for the game. An Indian cricket fan may view a match between India and Australia very differently from an Australian fan, or for the matter a neutral South African fan, even though the moments and result of the game might be the same.
In the days of radio, the story of a cricket match depended largely on how a commentator narrated the action on the field. What you perceived was greatly influenced by what you heard. If a commentator had said Kapil Dev was in an aggressive mood – there was no debating that observation (period!). When television broadcasting opened up, the narration also broadened. Commentators were no more the only storytellers of the game. You saw, you heard, and perceived the story from what you understood. Even during this period, the perception of the game was still limited to what happened during the game. The availability of data, other than the scorecard, was limited and hence restricted any thoughts for further analysis and interpretation. For players and captains then, instincts dominated the gameplay. Strategy and tactics were determined mostly on the skill and memory of the player.
The acceptance of data analytics by different cricketing bodies opened-up for insight-driven decision making, on and off the field. Today, data and video analytics play key roles in the way the game is played and match-ups strategized between players and teams.
With the arrival of Decision Review System (DRS) in the global stage, there is a new entrant on the scene – the next wave of analytics through sensors, which is set to take the players, broadcasters, and fans closer to the place where the real action happens.
Statistics on outcomes:
Every ball that is bowled and every shot that is played or fielded is recorded on a scorecard. This data is then aggregated and sliced & diced to analyse the records for batsmen, bowlers, fielders, and even for Umpires. The analysis is used by players to enhance their game and strategize against the opposition and by commentators to build the narration of the events. It also extends to match-ups by fans to compare & contrast with other players, by brands for advertising, etc.
Today, there are statistics at every level of the game – match outcomes, match type, teams, players, stadiums, toss, weather conditions, and sometimes to unrelated events of the game or superstitions like commentators’ luck, player jerseys, audience count, match dates, etc.
Analysis from video feeds:
Video based analysis primarily started as a training tool, for the analysts in the team to understand the bowling, batting, and fielding techniques of their players. When the broadcasting feeds became available, it also became a tool to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition players and to chart game strategies.
Ball tracking provided a new way for commentators and viewers to look at the movements of the ball on the pitch and the ability of the batsman to adapt to the bowling. Visualizations like Wagon wheel and pitch maps provided unique insights into the strengths / weaknesses of the players and techniques adapted against the opposition’s tactics. With more computer vision techniques getting deployed in the game, we are likely to see many more innovative solutions in cricket, around player tracking, event analysis, etc.
Sensor based analytics:
With insights complementing the instincts of the players on the field, the need for data has also evolved from “What & Who” (outcomes) to other questions like “Why & How” (diagnosis) and “When & Where” (moments).
Players use smart vests during training to understand their energy levels and fitness. On the DRS front, we have sensor-based technologies like Snickometer, Hotspot, and LED bails that help in understanding the cause of an event and to make a proper judgment. On the bowling front, Speed Gun measures the release speed of the ball from the bowler. There were also attempts to use sensors inside a cricket ball to understand the seam and spin movement on the ball.
One of the recent innovations on the batting side is to use smart sensors to help the batsman to understand the data and insights behind a cricket shot. Spektacom’s PowerBat technology uses sensors in the cricket bat to understand pertinent parameters like bat speed, twist, impact of the ball on the bat, etc. A batsman may use this data to understand the effectiveness of his/her batting technique against a particular bowler. It helps players and viewers to not just look at an outcome of the shot, but also to diagnose and understand why the outcome happened.
It is time for the Cricket Bat to talk to you
While the usage of smart sensors in cricket is still at an early stage, it is bound to drive the next wave of storytelling in cricket. The nexus of sensors, machine learning, vision-based solutions and analytics will add an interesting dimension to the game and its story. It will provide a new viewpoint beyond the regular outcomes we have analysed so far, and is set to enhance the way the game will be perceived and analysed by the stakeholders of the game.