The way we enjoy and engage with modern sport is often enhanced by numbers. In football, we can definitively say one player is better than another by looking at ‘pass completion’ rates, ‘distance run’ and ‘chances created’. In tennis, we can track stats that range from ‘unforced errors’ to the percentage of ‘good first serves’.
In cricket, Hawk-Eye technology can already track metrics such as ball trajectory, bowling speed, pitch and bounce. While thanks to a new Intel Curie-powered Speculur BatSense sensor, used for the first time at the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, you can add measurements for bat speed, back-lift and bat angle to the list.
The availability of all this data only adds to the viewer experience, enriching it. The statistics and historical information gives us greater knowledge and insight into our favourite players or teams, showing us why they won or where games were lost.
“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,” says former England captain Nasser Hussein.
“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?”
As Hussein points out, when statistics are used as a broadcasting tool, they give greater “context for the viewer.” For the first game in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, the BatSense data was an intriguing novelty. It didn’t mean much on its own. By the second week, however, you could start to see patterns emerging, like who had the quickest bat speed or what the difference in backlift angle was.
For example, in the opening game between England and Bangladesh, opener Tamim Iqbal smashed a superb 128 for the visitors. The BatSense sensor was able to illustrate the differences between how he held the bat to face seam deliveries (a Max Backlift Angle of 166 degrees) and how he faced a spin attack (a Max Backlift Angle of 132 degrees).
The stats we see during sporting broadcasts are at their most powerful when there is a treasure trove of historical information to compare them to. IBM’s SlamTracker, for example, has eight years of Grand Slam tennis data to draw from. While Opta’s historical World Cup data (including stats such as possession, crosses and assists) goes back to 1966.
Of course, the data we see popping up during football and cricket broadcasts is only scratching the surface. Professional sport is increasingly data driven.
Data modelling meets cognitive AI
Football clubs don’t just track match performances, but how much their players sleep, what they eat, how hard they train and how quickly they tire. Mix this data modelling with cognitive AI and the best clubs can develop personalised training regimes, even predict when players might get injured or lose form due to fatigue.
Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France thanks to a rigorous, data-driven training system, which used an SRM power meter mounted on his bike to gather real-time data. While at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Great Britain’s rowers reaped the benefits of sports analytics that had honed the performance of individuals, the team and the boat they used.
Big Data has already found success in cricket. As Bill Gerrard, professor of business and sports analytics at Leeds University, told The Guardian: “data analysis played a crucial role in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian team” during the 2010-11 Ashes tour. England won the five-Test series 3-1.
Good for fans, good for players
Big Data is now seen as vital to the development of the next generation of sporting stars, giving players and coaches unprecedented insight into performance and technique. Here’s Nasser Hussein again, talking about the future of the Intel-powered BatSense sensor.
“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.”
Find out more about the Speculur BatSense sensor and see how it works here.