Will this wearable tech by Pak engineers sweep the cricket world?

Crackdown on chucking

By Atonu Choudhurri | Mar 16, 2017, 05.02 PM IST
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How to check dodgy bowling actions in cricket early? Is there any technology to help budding cricketers take a reality check before they jump into the elite league? The International Cricket Council seems to have no satisfactory answer. Just ask a group of young Pakistani engineers who will tell how to fix the problem.

CricFlex is the first patented wearable technology for cricketers which can detect kinks in bowling actions and rectify errors. This device employs an arm sleeve, which is embedded with sensors, and automatically detects an illegal bowling action displaying the results on a smartphone. This tracks arm force, action time and amount of spin to determine the player performance, consistency and effort, ultimately helping the bowler train and improve his performance.

After more than 200 years of the evolution of the game, chucking has become from being cricket's eyesore to being a chronic disease that threatens to take the sheen of the gentleman’s game.

There has been no headway since 2004 when a research conducted by the ICC has revealed that 99% of bowlers in the history of cricket have been chuckers. The study was undertaken in the wake of the controversy surrounding Muttiah Muralitharan, whose doosra was banned in 2004 after Chris Broad, the match referee for the Tests against Australia, reported it to the ICC.

Throwing the ball instead of bowling it is a cricketing crime. And cricket’s ‘infamous chuckers’ list is long. The likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shoaib Akhtar, Marlon Samuels and Saeed Ajmal—all bore the brunt of being called ‘throwers’. Chucking is rife throughout the game, from Test cricket to Indian Premier League to Sheffield Shield, and officials are clueless about stopping what is a form of cheating.

The ICC had to crack the whip though the highest cricketing body has failed to effectively deal with the menace that has dogged the game. Much of its advances were limited to running several youth development programs across the globe to popularize the game, but a precious little was probably done to prevent youngsters from adopting wrong bowling action.

Probably, here Abdullah Ahmed and his team could score a point. CricFlex, as it is called, might help experts detect suspect bowling actions early. And experts can take a cue from these young Pakistani engineers, who are innovators of an arm sleeve, which a bowler has to wear to check if he is chucking.

During the trial run, the CricFlex team asked each bowler to wear the sleeve and hold their arm in three positions. Each reading was delivered before the second the ball was bowled by the bowler.

Due to the 15-degree rule, which was not understood by most of the bowlers at the early stages, stigmatization was realized. Suspension and stories of overzealous officials targeting some bowlers went forth. Such incidents spurred the development and testing of the sleeve. The real-time testing aimed to happen at cricket’s final frontier.

Necessity spurs the move
This feat was achieved at a life semester project at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), a top engineering university in Islamabad.

Abdullah Ahmed, CricFlex's team leader, said at an interaction with media, “Saeed Ajmal's ban was what spurred him and two others - Muhammad Jazib Khan and Muhammad Asawal - to develop the sleeve.” The team - all software or electrical engineers - has now grown to five with a common goal of implementing the technology within live matches.

Technological advancement is meant to ensure fair play and deny any chance of foul, he said.

A prime advantage is that the coaches and analyst are provided with in-depth data.

How does it work?
The Arm Sleeve works by simply notifying the bowlers the degree at which they are flexing their arms in real time. It has some small motion sensors attached to a sleeve.

The bowler wears the sleeve which has been made with some calibrations. This means that when they bowl, the four data points show up instantaneously on a simple mobile interface application or to a computer.

In the introduction of the technology, some significant impacts are expected on the testing to the bowlers at the highest levels. In this case, many of them now are extremely cautious with any suspect actions. Analysts and coaches are hence left to begin on fine-tune strategies and skills. That is, learning best utilization of the uniqueness of each bowler.

The estimated cost of one of their sleeves is around US$300, which is far more affordable and less cumbersome than sending a club player to a biomechanics lab for testing his action. CricFlex's ambitions, however, are not limited to just this level. "The ultimate goal is to implement this technology within live matches,” reiterated Ahmed.

During its latest drive on illegal actions, the ICC worked with Griffith University in Brisbane to develop a sensor that bowlers could wear on the field. It was meant to deliver instant readings. Experts trialled it on bowlers in nets at the Under-19 World Cup in the UAE in 2014. That experiment overcame early problems with the calibration of the devices. But finally, burgeoning costs meant the project was not continued.

Is the tech ready to find takers globally?
Real-time testing, within a match, is a big challenge. A technology like CricFlex, however, might allow club and academy officials to arrive at right decision at the earliest.

Though the device was already patented in the US and needs final testing before the nod. The patent offered it a degree of validity and the work has been acknowledged by a leading biomechanist. The innovators are now seeking formal validation testing from a biomechanics lab.

The chorus is growing for the acceptance of this wearable technology. Former South African bowling great Shaun Pollock also voiced support for this wearable technology. Ahmed and his team have reasons to cheer. Buck up, boys!

( About the Author: Atonu writes on technology, lifestyle, politics, and sports. He worked for Hindustan Times, The Telegraph and Sahara Time. As a media person of over a decade, he is passionate about digital journalism and keenly follows social media trends.)

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