Why a Dr Dravid is important for cricket

Rohan Chinchwadkar | Updated on March 09, 2018

Rahul Dravid

In the decade 2000-10 it would have been near impossible for any of the youngsters to break into the Indian team.

The cricket legend can make a significant contribution to research in sports analytics and technology

We all know The Wall. No, not the one Mexico is going to pay for. I’m talking about the Mister Dependable of Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid.

Even if you are not an ardent cricket fan, you would know him. Dravid has always been an inspirational figure, commanding love and respect from people in the world of cricket and outside.

He even seems to be in the good books of his fiercest rivals. One of the most aggressive cricketers in the Australian team, Brett Lee, once said, “If you can’t get along with Dravid, you’re struggling in life.”

In spite of always playing in the shadow of the little champion, Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid was able to carve out a special place for himself in the Indian cricket team and the hearts of cricket lovers.

When Dravid was retiring from cricket, commentator Harsha Bhogle said, “When I am done with my profession, I wish I could go with the reputation that Dravid has.” So, what is the secret of Dravid’s success on and off the field?

Core values

The answer lies in certain core values which Dravid has always lived by: pursuit of excellence, hard work and humility.

A quote by his wife, Vijeeta Dravid, gives us a sneak peek into his life: “He doesn’t care for gadgets, and barely registers brands.

But if the weight of his bat is off by a gram, he will notice it in an instant and get the problem fixed.”

Whether on or off the field, these core values drive his philosophy of life and they were on full display during a recent event.

A few weeks ago, the Bangalore University decided to confer on him an honorary doctorate degree during its 52nd convocation ceremony.

Dravid humbly declined and conveyed that he would try to earn a doctorate degree by accomplishing some form of academic research in the field of sports rather than receiving an honorary degree.

This is an exciting development and can spur interest in a relatively under-researched area in India: sports. So, what could Dravid’s PhD thesis look like?

There are two areas in sports research where he can make a significant contribution.

The first is sports analytics. The term “sports analytics” became popular after the release of the movie Moneyball, a story of how Oakland Athletics baseball team’s general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) used analytics to build a successful team on a tight budget.

The area has gained importance in academic research as well. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts a famous annual conference, the MIT Sports Analytics Conference, which features top researchers, managers, players and executives discussing cutting-edge analytics solutions.

Missing cricket

To the disappointment of cricket fans, most of the discussions still revolve around baseball, basketball and American football. Last year’s MIT conference did not feature a single session on cricket, partly due to lack of quality research on cricket analytics.

However, the use of analytics in cricket is gathering steam.

Recently, the Australian cricket team signed a deal with Microsoft to become the first cricketing nation to use its new “team and player performance platform”. The platform will help assess everything from form and fitness to strategy and team selection.

While most cricket teams today use analytics, the sophistication of platforms seems to be increasing.

Dravid’s insights into the use of analytics in cricket would be invaluable for academic research and could help the Indian cricket team forge ahead in the world of big data.

The second area is sports technology. One of the key technologies currently being used in cricket is the Decision Review System (DRS). In 2009, the International Cricket Council (ICC) officially launched the DRS in a test match between New Zealand and Pakistan.

The DRS has three key components to review decisions of the on-field umpires: “hawk-eye” for ball-tracking, “ultra-edge” to detect snicks and “hot spot” for contact detection using infra-red imaging.

While the system has had a significant impact on the game, it is still evolving and has a number of flaws. Former Australian captain Ian Chappell and others have pointed out problems with the system such as not being able to eliminate howlers (which was the main aim) due to finite reviews, being used as a tactic by teams, encouraging players to question umpire’s decisions and involving non-cricket actors such as broadcasters and television companies since they fund the DRS equipment… to name a few.

DRS is far from being perfect and data-based design suggestions from a stalwart like Dravid will go a long way in improving a critical system.

And there are more...

Apart from the DRS, there has been a lot of discussion on the design of cricket bats. On March 7, 2017, the so-called Guardians of Cricket responsible for laws of the game, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), released a new set of laws which puts restrictions on the dimensions of the cricket bat.

The regulations come on the back of a long-running discussion that a steady rise in bat sizes was making cricket easier for batsmen and harder for bowlers.

The decision will affect top players across the world, such as David Warner, who currently use bats which are non-compliant with the new regulations.

A batting legend such as Dravid can definitely add value to the ongoing discussion.

There are of course many more ideas which Dravid can explore. The thought of someone with Dravid’s experience and temperament pursuing a PhD in sports is exciting to many cricket lovers in academia, like me.

I’m sure that many professors in India and abroad would love to guide his PhD thesis. Let me be the first to express my support and excitement.

The writer is an assistant professor at IIM Trichy and a national-level silver medallist in table tennis

Published on April 12, 2017

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