His first step as an entrepreneur was when he signed up as an exclusive distributor in India for a New Zealand company to market its Silicon Coach Motion Analysis Software. His biggest challenge then was to sell the concept — that coaching can be done scientifically with the use of video cameras and computers

Mr S. Ramakrishnan, 45, distinctly remembers or, should it be, treasures two special moments in his career as a video analyst and an entrepreneur.

The first was when batting legend Sachin Tendulkar asked him if he had noticed any changes in his technique. Sure enough, replied Mr Ramakrishnan, who was the eyes of the team for a good four years. Sachin wanted to know more.

Mr Ramakrishnan told him that his scoring areas had changed, something that could easily be authenticated by the wagon wheel — the areas on the ground where a batsman has played his shots and scored runs, as is often shown on television channels.

This conversation with Sachin was shortly after Mr Ramakrishnan had joined the Indian cricket team as a video analyst and when the team was in Sri Lanka. Sachin was recovering from an elbow injury.

Mr Ramakrishnan played some videos of Sachin's innings to the batting maestro to prove his point — Sachin was not playing in his favourite areas and the shots had changed. When did he notice it, was Sachin's query. When the team was in Australia, replied the video analyst. Why did he not tell him about it, asked Sachin. “You are the god of cricket and how can I tell you whether you doing something right or wrong,” was Mr Ramakrishnan's reply.

Sachin dismissed this and told Mr Ramakrishnan, or Ramky as he was referred to by everyone in the team, that he was the only one watching every ball being played and if he noticed something different in the way any batsman was playing, he should feel free to talk to the batsman concerned about it.

“That kind of statement coming from one of the best batsmen in the world gave me a lot of confidence,” recalls Mr Ramakrishnan now.

The other moment that is still fresh in his memory was when he pointed out a change in the dashing opener Virender Sehwag's stance. That at a time when Sehwag was finding it difficult to score runs.

With the flaw pointed out, Sehwag went out and blasted a triple century in a test match in Multan, Pakistan. And, he dedicated this triple century to Mr Ramakrishnan, at the inauguration of Mr Ramakrishnan's venture — Sports Mechanics India (P) Ltd — a sports technology company that analyses performance and technique, among other things, of a sportsman. “He (Sehwag) had the heart to dedicate it to me during my company's launch in 2006,” says Mr Ramakrishnan.

A left-hand batsman who opened the batting for Indian Bank, his employer, in the First Division League in Chennai, Mr Ramakrishnan was among the probables short-listed to play for the State team. He was the cricket coach for a school in Chennai and recalls that even at that time he was fascinated by technology and always wanted to use it while coaching his wards.

His first step as an entrepreneur was when he signed up as an exclusive distributor in India for a New Zealand company to market its Silicon Coach Motion Analysis Software. His biggest challenge then was to sell the concept — that coaching can be done scientifically with the use of video cameras and computers. At that time, he recalls, he did not have the money to buy a laptop and so would often lug his desktop computer to cricket grounds along with the video cameras to demonstrate the product to the teams.

Big break

His big break came when in 2003 John Wright, the then coach of the Indian cricket team, invited him to make a presentation at a seminar. A half an hour talk extended into a whole session. Little did Mr Ramakrishnan know that even as he was making his presentation he was being evaluated by those present.

At the end of his talk, John Wright made him an offer that he simply could not refuse — to join the Indian cricket team as a video analyst. The pay is not good, Wright told him. So what, but who could refuse this honour, was Mr Ramakrishnan's response.

He has used his video analysis and worked with various national and international coaches with the MRF Pace Foundation, Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, Board of Control for Cricket in India, the National Cricket Academy and many other such cricket bodies.

For four years, he was an integral part of the Indian cricket team analysing each player's game, studying their performance and pointing out their mistakes. The team meetings too changed with videos being used to analyse the game, not just of the Indian players but of their opponents too.

Performance analytics is the core business of SportsMechanics. It recently launched an online cricket coaching service and has got 600 registrations in less than a month of going live. Mr Ramakrishnan hopes to start similar online coaching services for other sports and games. He firmly believes that technology will help in spotting talent, nurturing it, mentoring and managing the athlete. So, anyone investing in an athlete would do well to make good use of technology.

SportsMechanics, says Mr Ramakrishnan, started off with five people. “We used to sit on the floor in my bedroom and work on the project,” he recollects. Then the team shifted to a garage, simply to keep “overhead costs down.” It now is a 30-member strong team that includes software developers and marketing professionals and occupies a two-storey house in a quiet residential area of Chennai.

Own funds

With obvious pride Mr Ramakrishnan points out that the company has not borrowed any money at all. He started the venture with his own funds of Rs 5 lakh and expects to gross Rs 3 crore in turnover this year.

Even now, SportsMechanics works with cricket associations in different countries and it plans to extend its reach to other sports and games elsewhere. In India, it has been working with various sports federations — squash, volleyball, golf, tennis, badminton and table tennis, to name a few.

Any plans to rope in an investor? Yes, definitely, says Mr Ramakrishnan. “We are looking for an investor and we definitely want to scale up much faster. There are lot of opportunities and the market is hotting up.” But what would he need the money for? “I need the capital to popularise the use of video analysis as a learning tool. I need the funds to rope in celebrity mentors. Any online mentoring needs a lot of visibility to be created,” he replies.

Mr Ramakrishnan admits that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but this initiative was not something that he planned. He got the breaks at the right time and grabbed the opportunities when they came by. “We are chasing our passion. We have evolved over the years,” he says.

(This article was published on March 13, 2011)
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