A sport steeped in tradition gets a tech infusion, as real-time data helps analyze the action.
Lore has it that English shepherds in the 16th century swung their staffs, called criccs, like bats and the game of cricket was born. It has grown into a sport of intense strategy, technique and athletic skill, and today cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports, attracting billions of fans. Its ability to evolve and innovate while maintaining timeworn traditions set the stage for what is being called “the first smart cricket tournament”: the 2017 International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy, played in the U.K. June 1-18.
Eight top cricketing countries – Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka – compete over 18 days across three venues. Popular throughout the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly called the British Commonwealth), cricket inspires religious devotion among fans.
The ICC is turning to new technologies in an effort to spread that passion for the sport to other parts of the world, and move cricket deeper into the digital age.
“The innovations we’re working with Intel on for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 are like nothing we’ve seen in the sport before,” said ICC Chief Executive David Richardson.
Fans watching live broadcasts will see new data about bat swings and field conditions, while tournament attendees get to experience the thrill and science of cricket simulated in virtual reality (VR).
Cricket, like baseball, is a very quantitative sport, said Anuj Dua, who grew up playing “gully cricket” on the streets of Bombay and now is director of business development and marketing for Intel’s New Technology Group.
“You win or lose a game of cricket by scoring score runs than the opposition,” he said. “But measuring and analyzing those runs have been largely under explored. That’s about to change.”
For the first time, cricket fans will see bat swing data live during matches and dive deeper into details about a successful hit.
Wireless smart sensors the size of a bottle cap, fitted at the bottom of bat handles, will analyze eight different aspects of a batter’s swing in real time.
Dua said this new data will spark colorful conversations during live broadcasts and give fans a deeper appreciation for the game.
Digitization of Sports
The ICC named Intel an “Innovation Partner” in April.
“We are deploying a range of technology at the event as part of our ongoing effort to bring a new level of data analytics to sports and to revolutionize how athletes train, coaches teach, scouts evaluate talent and fans enjoy sports,” said James Carwana, general manager of the Intel Sports Group.
Digital technologies are playing an increasingly important role engaging sports fans with 360-degree replays and new athlete performance data. This year, the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball League (NBA), the National Collegiate Athlete Association (NCAA) and Professional Golf Association (PGA) turned to new viewing experiences from Intel freeD camera technology or Intel True VR to immerse fans with new visual perspectives.
The ICC Champions Trophy tournament will also feature Intel’s drone-assisted mapping system that captures field condition data and in-stadium VR technologies that let fans bat in a life-like cricket match.
Cricket Bat Sensor
Intel engineers used a coin-sized Intel Curie compute module – a wireless data processing hub with motion sensors and built in algorithms – to create a tiny puck that fits into a sleeve covering the bat handle. It weighs less than 25 grams or less than an ounce.
The sensor measures eight classifications of a batter’s swing, including back lift angle, follow-through angle, impact angle, maximum bat speed, bat speed at impact, time to impact, and 3D swing and plane path. These measurements can be televised, so fans see more precisely a batter’s performance.
The technology can help players, coaches and fans distinguish how batsmen adjusts to different bowlers, said Dua.
The cricket bat sensor was born out of Intel’s New Technology Group and developed with Speculur, a smart wearables and consumer “Internet of Things” company that plans to bring the “BatSense” puck and companion smartphone app to market later this year.
Intel principal engineer and amateur cricket player Narayan Sundararajan built an R&D lab in a discrete warehouse east of Silicon Valley, and filled it with a cricketing pitching machine and batting cage, wrapped in safety nets.
“Initially we needed to understand how a bat moves in 3D space,” said Sundararajan. “We studied swings using vision cameras, radar and other types of motion capture systems.”
Sundararajan and his team met with coaches to understand what they look for in a cricket player, and how they teach fundamentals and nuances of the game. Then they invited players from the Bay Area Cricket Association, NCCA and Northern California Cricket Association to visit the lab to use the test gear.
“It was very important to have a breadth of players with different styles to really make sure that the algorithms produce accurate measures,” he said.
Ready for the Tournament
For the ICC Champions Trophy tournament, the bat sensor pucks were modified with ultra-wide band wireless technology, which will help the data reach longer distances more reliably than the Bluetooth technology natively built into the Intel Curie module. It also avoids radio wave interference caused by fans and others using their smartphones during matches.
Ahead of the tournament, Dua, Sundararajan and the rest of the Intel team were frenetically finalizing things, anxious to see how cricket fans will react to the new technologies.
“Commentators commonly talk about bat speed or a perfectly timed shot, but there’s no data to define those observations,” said Sundararajan. “Now fans can actually see real data and compare.”
This technology is opening up new possibilities, said Dua.
“I think it’ll become the new normal, where people will expect more meaningful stats and analytics,” Dua said.