They will amplify the cricket experience, while also helping players and coaches understand action better, says former England captain
Former England captain Nasser Hussain has welcomed the introduction of a series of technological innovations to be showcased throughout the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
Speaking at The Oval on the eve of the opener between England and Bangladesh on June 1, Hussain applauded the ambitious plans laid out by the ICC and its innovation partner Intel to enhance the tournament experience for fans, players, media and broadcasters via the deployment of sophisticated data, analytics and visualisation.
The threefold technology being introduced at the ICC Champions Trophy includes an Intel drone that will provide advanced pitch analysis; a VR (virtual reality) experience for fans at the stadium; and a bat sensor powered by an Intel Curie module that when placed on the top of a bat handle will allow for profiling of the bat swing – offering groundbreaking analysis of a player's back-lift, bat speed and follow-through.
Hussain, who moved from the Test game to the commentary box in 2004, signing off with a valedictory century at Lord’s against New Zealand, recognises that these new technologies may fundamentally change the way cricket lovers watch, discuss and relate to their game. The intention, says ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson, is to “amplify the cricket experience”, and Hussain insists that while these technologies "will take time" to be fully understood and absorbed, they will ultimately prove "hugely beneficial across the board”.
“As broadcasters, how often have we spoken about 'fast hands' or ‘great bat speed’ – but what do they actually mean? We’ve never quantified it. Take ‘bat speed’ – where does it come from and what does it mean? We’ve just done a wonderful series against South Africa. Just look at the comparisons in back-lifts and bat angles with the South African openers – there’s Hashim Amla, one of the greatest batsmen there’s ever been, who has a bat twirl that goes up by his head. How does he do it? Why does he do it? And then you’ve got Quinton de Kock, whose bat goes round behind him with a closed bat face. All in all, as a broadcasting tool, it will give context for the viewer.”
Hussain, who is now a part-time coach himself, asserts that the bat sensor technology will also benefit coaches: “As a coaching tool for the coach I think it’s absolutely vital. Kids think they play like Ben Stokes or bat like Joe Root – it's not until you actually look and see that you realise what’s really happening! When I first saw myself play on TV for Essex I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I thought, 'Is that how I bat? Is that where my bat goes? Do I have an open bat face?' If you tell a kid that they’ve got a bit of a closed bat face and they ask you what that means, now you can actually show them where it is, and perhaps try and change their grip a little bit.
“Also, try things. If a kid says they want to hit the ball like AB de Villiers – ‘How do I get faster hands?’ – then we can give them this little device to put on the top of their bat, and it can help them by showing them what their bat speed is now. And then, with the help of the sensor, they can see if they can get to play with quicker hands. And their coaches, through a smartphone app, can also take a look.”
Hussain understands that these innovations may take time to be fully absorbed into cricket’s storytelling narratives, and, he adds, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. “But for one kid something might click, and then they go on to become a better cricketer. Which makes it worth it right there.”
Hussain, who will be commentating throughout the tournament, also picked out two emerging stars to shine over the next few weeks: “I’ll give you one with the ball: Jasprit Bumrah from India. I think death bowling is going to be incredibly important in this tournament, and his death bowling has come on in leaps and bounds, in an area where India historically haven’t been great. I think with his awkward action and the way he gets those yorkers and slower balls in, he’ll be a massive plus and a bonus if he gets it right.”
And with the bat? “Quinton de Kock. There’s a list of players that we always mention. The fab four – Smith, Williamson, Root, Kohli. Well, Quinton de Kock’s stats of late have been fantastic. In all forms, and in a very exciting and attacking way. He’s not a new kid on the block – he won all the awards at the recent South African awards night – but in a world event, if he has a really good tournament we could be talking not just about the famous four, but the famous five.”