The last few years have seen a lot of technology enhancements in cricket with the DRS in particular. High resolution images and replay videos can present the player with all the information he needs at the touch of a button. With the advent and immense popularity of the limited overs version, there is so much more data, so many more new statistics that you can get to analyze a player’s potential and performance. Most of these changes seem to have worked in favor of the game.
The great Anil Kumble is now seeking to introduce what they call the Power Bat. From what I understand, a small sticker will be stuck to the bat just below the handle that will enable the gathering and delivery of different kinds of data about the way the player is using the bat. This data can be studied and analyzed by experts who will help the coach and player iron out wrinkles in technique and optimize the batsman’s batting skills. The technology will be extended to other sports like tennis, football etc.
Let me clarify something before I go on. I am not averse to the use of technology for human endeavors. Having been associated with the IT industry for a very long time now, I have had hands on experience with automation and data and a ringside view of their benefits. The magic and miracle of technology has changed the face of countless industries, of that there is no doubt. Still, I am a bit hesitant to accept the kind of technology that Kumble is proposing.
Cricket used to be such a simple game of the player’s skill, knowledge and experience. It was like watching a chef at one of those Japanese restaurants where they cook up one superb dish after another at your table with all the art, showmanship and flourish of a performer. People go there as much for the food as for the performance. That was the way cricket was played. It was a joy to watch players like Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Kallicharan, David Gower and later Dravid and Tendulkar and so many more batsmen weave their magic with efficiency and elegance. They were not flawless, but they were natural and instinctive, relying on inherent talent, hard work and lessons from their coach.
Batting has become much more clinical now, and while you will easily find many talented and effective players, you would be hard pressed to find the same grace and beauty in stroke play. You have to score runs, take wickets and win. It is as simple as that. It doesn’t matter so much how you score those runs. The game is now a feast for the statisticians and the sponsors, not so much for the aesthetic minded and the artists. But that is okay, that is the way it is now with most things. But really, how far should we go?
Imagine a batsman hearing something like this from the Power Bat analyst – your bat should come down from about 4 degrees to the right, your grip of your bat should be about 14% looser when the ball meets it when playing the square drive, but 17.3% tighter when it is a cover drive, and your bat should travel about 23 kms faster downwards when playing the flick, but the follow through should be 19 kms slower after playing the hook! Very soon, they will embed a chip in the batsman and marry the data from the bat to that chip and tell the batsman that his torso should lean 18 degrees to the north when driving, but 42 degrees to the east when sweeping!
How much data do we want?!
Sure, batsmen who are able to absorb all that into their game will probably become superlative performers, but so do players who take performance enhancing drugs. Both are unnatural. I am sure very soon cricket balls and bowler’s arms will be embedded with similar chips that can read the grip of the bowler and the release of the ball and the pound per inch pressure with which his front foot is hitting the ground and tell him how to optimize all three! It is like disassembling a machine and putting it all together again after finely tuning each and every nerve. Your ulnar nerve is bisecting your cutaneous nerve at 43 degrees when your arm is rolling over but it is placed over the brachial plexus at 63 degrees when bowling an off cutter! Whatever!
The teaching of coaches and the input of colleagues, experienced seniors – all human – and advanced video technology should be enough for any talented player. We are playing a game, not targeting Saddam Hussain’s bedroom in a high-tech shock and awe bombing or saving lives in a hospital. We don’t need so much precision. A chip like that on a surgeon’s wrist and scalpel may be more appropriate and useful.
Maybe I am old fashioned, but I want to see humans play their natural game, not robots programmed and coded to perform at their optimal best!