As you are waiting for S Ramakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer, SportsMechanics India Pvt Ltd, you pick up a thick spiral-bound book from a table and leaf through it. It has some interesting insights on teams that the Indian cricket team will play against in a limited-overs tournament.
Against each cricketer’s name, his statistics over the past few matches is tabulated. Then it goes on to say that X cricketer likes to go after the bowling early on in the innings, Y is weak against well-directed short-pitched bowling, A prefers to rotate the strike till he settles down, B takes a while to settle down...
Crunching the data
Though a bit dated, the book offers a glimpse into what the 11-year-old Chennai-based SportsMechanics does. “We were a performance analytics company. Today, we have become a sports data analytics company,” says Ramakrishnan. In the initial years, when SportsMechanics was an integral part of the Indian cricket team, it would provide video analysis to the players and the team management. Now, it has transformed into an analytics company, crunching enormous amount of data – still mainly related to cricket – that flows through it and working with sporting bodies and various other stakeholders in the ecosystem. “By virtue of being in the industry for so long and understanding the sporting ecosystem,” says Ramakrishnan,”we have gone into automating the work flow of sporting bodies. We have helped automate the cricket operations of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), in terms of completely setting up their player registration system, age verification, scheduling, posting match officials. We have transformed scoring from score books to providing an iPad to all scorers.”
Given that Ramakrishnan had been a cricketer himself and given his ability in coaching, he realised that if cricket was to flourish, the game had to be nourished right from the school level. It started working with the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association to automate its cricket operations. SportsMechanics moved beyond performance analysis because it had the domain expertise. The company started working with the BCCI in 2013 on setting up an online data base management system for its cricket operations.
According to Ramakrishnan, SportsMechanics moved from analysing cricket matches using videos for performance and technical perspective, to driving game strategies for the teams. “It was more about technical and tactical. Then opposition intelligence, competitive intelligence,” he says. With ball-by-ball data available, SportsMechanics is uniquely positioned to provide any kind of analytics that a team wants – such as which player is good at what kind of situation, which block of overs in a limited-overs game results in the maximum runs scored and what a bowling team can do to change the situation. Cricket is about the team’s performance though quite often individual performances stand out. But, says Ramakrishnan, from a team perspective, if a player is not doing enough in a T20 game, the dug-out has all the data to take a decision on what to do – can ask the batsman to take chances and get out so that someone else can do a better job.
“We believe that the dug-out can have a better control over the game. Otherwise, the entire team is watching helplessly and individuals dictate the outcome of the game. You are now playing smarter cricket, you are trying to optimise the outcome. Everybody is clear about their roles, everybody knows what exactly they have to do,” he says.
He gives an instance of analysis done by SportsMechanics at the London Olympics in 2012, when it had gone with the Indian contingent. Germany, says Ramakrishnan, made 480 substitutions across all its hockey games in the Olympics. On an average, a German player played only for four minutes on the field continuously.
“Which means,” says Ramakrishnan, “he never got tired and with their fitness levels, the four-minute burst was high speed.” In comparison, India made 240 substitutions and there were some players who played the entire game without a break. “It shows in the performance finally,” adds Ramakrishnan.
Pact with ICC
Thanks to its work with the International Cricket Council, SportsMechanics got to work with the ICC’s associate members doing performance analysis for countries such as Kenya, Afghanistan and Ireland. In all these 22 countries where it has worked, says Ramakrishnan, SportsMechanics would like to be identified as a sports data analytics company.
SportsMechanics has signed up with a number of State cricket associations in India, works with some IPL teams and helps brands that are into cricket engage better with fans. It can help build up fan anticipation by telling them in advance that a record is going to be broken. “The ability to tell stories with data is there with us. We are driving the next generation’s stories, which can be used for a fan or a sponsor,” he says.
Eyeing more sports
SportsMechanics provides analytics for hockey and squash and would like to add football and basketball. Ramakrishnan believes that every Indian has an inherent strength in data mining and data warehousing and this is something that can be tapped at a global level.
Sachin Tendulkar’s wife and Virender Sehwag’s wife are long-term investors in SportsMechanics.
According to Ramakrishnan, the company is doing about ₹8 crore and hopes to earn about ₹11 crore in 2018-19. It is also looking to raise funds – about ₹30 crore ($5 million) – preferably through a strategic investor that will help in its global growth.
Ultimately, data will help in improving coaching and even team selection. He says the analytics will not replace the gut instinct of a captain or a player, but will validate the decision making.