On a sizzling hot Monday evening, thousands of Cricket fans gathered in Grand Prairie, TX, decked in bright Yellow, the color of the Texas Super Kings, to witness the first ever Major League Cricket (MLC) game to be played on US soil. It certainly was a sight to behold for it was always thought that cricket was a tough sell in the States where American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey and most recently, soccer, were the main draw for the crowds and their dollars.
I had the good fortune of witnessing this historic game not far from the DFW airport since our company Sage IT is now an Official Innovation partner of the Texas Super Kings, an American cricket franchise playing in the Major League Cricket Tournament, much like it’s Indian counterparts in Chennai (India) and Jo’burg (South Africa).
Now, if your company is the official innovation partner it is by default that you will wonder how best to bring the recent advances in the world of technology, analytics, and generative AI to this great game. And wonder, I did, and this blog was born.
Sports and analytics are nothing new. Anyone who is a fan of any sport knows that it is with stats and facts and analysis that you impress your fellow fans from the fanatical to the casual.
If you believe Wikipedia, then Cricket is not new to America at all. The first ever international game of cricket was played right in here in NY in 1844 between US and Canada. Now with Cricket coming back to America after all these years in a new Avatar it is time to “Moneyball” it à la Baseball!
Moneyball is analytics applied to baseball effectively using Sabermetrics, which is the empirical analysis of baseball. The Moneyball movie based on the book written by Michael Lewis narrates the story of Oakland Athletics and their General Manager who built a competitive team on a limited budget using innovative methods borrowed from sabermetrics rather than the traditional methods of scouting talent based on gut.
Cricket is perfectly poised to benefit from such ideas and more given that technology already plays a major role in the modern version of the game today.
Technology is already quite pervasive in cricket. Every Cricket fan glued to the TV gets to play “Umpire” watching the Decision Review System (DRS). We closely follow the trajectory of the ball with “Hawkeye”, a ball tracking aid to determine if the batsman did indeed fine edge that outswinger and watch Real Time Snicko (RTS) – this one listening to audio spikes that occur when bat and ball make contact even if only, barely!
And there is the onscreen analytics which, truth be told, are still rudimentary like the projected winnable target, or run rate required, etc. Then there is the data visualization like the “Manhattan,” a bar chart of runs scored, and wickets taken each over and the “Worm”, a line graph that plots the runs of both teams so you can snapshot to any point and look at how each team is faring at that very point in the game.
Who hasn’t heard the hype surrounding the word Data – “Data is the new Oil”, Data-Fabric, Data-driven decision-making, and so on? Where all this is going is the fact that any mass phenomenon imbibes and emits an insane amount of data. And that is the fertile ground to drown or glean great insights based on the tools and the approach to the deluge. Cricket clearly fits that data-generating behemoth now. The very genesis of this blog is from the fact that now there is another big country like the USA that is set to host and revel in cricket through MLC. Now with the 2024 ICC T20 Cricket World Cup scheduled to be hosted by the West Indies and USA, it begs more attention. And of course, more data points on players, trading, ground and weather conditions, spectator preference, broadcasting, commercials and on and on it goes. Begs the question, when do we say generative AI in the same breath as cricket?
At Sage IT, we figured we’d be the first to answer that question as a company whose success formula is 2I Squared, which has innovation built into its ethos (Innovation and Integration amplified by Intelligent Insights) and now an official partner of the Texas Super Kings who are winning hearts of Fans at the MLC.
For starters I figured I’d ask the two big AI gigs in town, Bard and ChatGPT, how each of them would assist the game. I must say the response was tepid and predictable to say the least! Yes, it touched upon facets like improving training for bowlers and tailoring it to individual bowler and conditions and some strategic stuff about bowling changes, switching ends, field position based on batters’ analytics and so on. Truth be told many of this is already happening and doesn’t quite require extended analytics, let alone AI!
ChatGPT has a slight edge in that it included player scouting and Fan engagement areas which I thought was smart as they had immediate bearing on the popularity, experience and revenue associated with these areas.
What do we envisage at Sage IT? We would undoubtedly leverage the existing areas like DRS and the data visualization capabilities and blend them with the true power of generative AI, AR/VR and digital twins even.
What I see in the crystal ball for cricket is actually the demise (not literal) of the human umpire and the DRS itself!
While the technical elements of the DRS such as Hawk-eye, UltraEdge and Snickometer will continue to get better and provide greater volume and velocity of far more accurate data it is conceivable that the output is collected and analyzed, as it streams and decisions become instantaneous – bye, bye Umpires, and you too third umpire – See ya!
As for the players, they can don a mixed reality device and go to bat, bowl, coach, field on any given wicket across the globe and tweak the weather, pitch, noise levels and other conditions and of course the opposing player etc. As an example, if you are a batsman naturally strong on the offside, you can train with an Avatar and stroke selection that gradually improves your onside strokes and glances using your natural movements.
Strategic time outs should be machine driven. Using the power of analytics on the vast trove of historical data and pattern matching and interfacing it with the live situation on the ground, it will beat every coach and experienced cricket aficionado every time in calling timeouts. If you follow American football, you probably already see this when the coach goes to the analyst in the booth to decide whether to go for it on the forth or not. Calls in cricket too can go the same way for batting line up to mixing up spin and pace in power play – all that from the bot up in the booth.
As for advertising, displays, personalized merch and Game Day experience – We can let AI go to town and create adverts and adventures that replace the monotony we see at the matches today.
Fan experience perhaps would be the biggest beneficiary of the innovations we are discussing here. Who knows someday we will be watching the game like we are in it -we may be able to switch from the bowler to the batsman in real time as the play is developing and deliver that swinging yorker, fend it off somehow and feel the blockhole as we do it, all from the comfort of our seats in the stadium or even the couch in our living room.
Fantasy Cricket is another area where technical innovations can become a super fun experience for the everyday accountant and storekeeper who picks his or her fantasy 11. Everything from picking the line up to trades to VR skills of your player brought to your headset the possibilities are endless.
Returning to the very topic of the topic of this Blog – Time to Moneyball Cricket. Cricket has amassed statistics just like baseball except that it has a far bigger global reach and hence a way larger data sample of every kind. The relationship between AI and Statistics is one of symbiosis. Combine Cricket, Statistics and AI – From creating synthetic data to realistic simulations the benefits for clubs, players, spectators and media is limitless. As with any advance, it is vitally important to check the adverse use of all this power for cricket too, lest it aid match fixing or generate deep fakes or just simply “hallucinate” and lead you to wrong decisions.
But in conclusion I must admit it is not the perfection or the predictability that is the joy of cricket- It is that simple catch being dropped, the unfortunate run out, the ball that kept suddenly low and rattled your stumps and that misfield in the deep that make this game truly interesting. But change is inevitable, and it will continue to transform T-20 too. But I fervently hope we will never miss the thrill of the unknown that no AI can ever predict.
Go TSK- Lets keep on innovating, Lets keep on Winning!!!!
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