The sport of cricket is one of the oldest team sports in history, dating back to the 16th Century. The traditions and subtle etiquettes, which are appreciated by those inside the cricketing world, are the same traits which make the gentleman's game appear boring and slow to many in the outside world. You could forgive the untrained for perceiving a lack of athleticism in the sport, especially when you see local 4th grade stalwart Big Gaz standing in the slips, cigarette dangling precariously out of his mouth. This however is far from the truth.
Modern day batsmen need to be powerful, bowlers explosive and fielders agile. Not to mention the fact that players have to sustain their efforts for hours, sometimes days on end. There is also the ongoing issue of fast bowlers picking up regular injuries as a result of the extreme force going through their bodies as they deliver the ball. Studies show that fast bowlers experience forces of up to 7 times their body weight going through their front leg at point of impact with the pitch. What part could wearable technology play in improving human performance and reducing injuries on the cricket field?
What are wearables?
Firstly, let me define wearables so we can understand what impact they can have on cricketing world. Wearables are electronic devices which are worn discretely on the body of the user. They can be integrated in clothing, worn as accessories (think FitBit) or fastened to the body by adhesive. Wearables are able to capture millions of points of data on the user as they perform activities such as sleeping, walking and exercising. Utilising the power of ‘big data’, we can gain incredible insights individualized for each user. Wearables in sport is a growing industry, with a 26% increase in representation at CES 2016, the world's premier consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas.
Wearables in other sports
Wearables are already popular in other sports with a number of companies jumping on the bandwagon. A company called Zepp produces sensors which can be integrated into tennis bats, golf clubs and baseball bats which track the speed, power and path of the swing as the person hits the ball. It delivers visual analysis to the users smart phone instantaneously. There are also a host of companies which provide heart rate monitoring via devices and even smart apparel which have the sensors built in. Closer to home, New Zealand company VX Sports offers activity trackers to professional sports teams such as the Hurricanes Super Rugby team and the Blackcaps.
Providing insights into performance and load
Wearables can help tell us more about the kind of stresses cricket players are putting on their bodies. For example, Australian fast bowler Peter Siddle was found to have covered 36.2km in one test match innings holding a heart rate of 120 beats per minute over that time. The Bupa Tracker monitored the heart rate of Brett Lee during an over and it was found that his heart rate was consistently above 170 beats per minute. These kind of conditions require specific training so that the athlete can perform optimally. Blackcap Grant Elliott says in reference to cricket, “the information is powerful because it improves the way we look at the nutritional and fitness requirements specific to the game. It’s a huge jump forward in understanding the sport”.
Improve biomechanics and technique
We often see spin bowlers with suspect actions such as Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan subjected to rigorous testing of their bowling action however this kind of testing can be done to improve performance. Placing sensors on the body of a cricket player can provide detailed biometric data which is useful for identifying weaknesses and inefficiencies in technique. One example of this technology is the Motus Sleeve, which has been developed to track the stress places on the elbow from throwing. It provides granular data to a personalised dashboard so you can track your workload. Specifically in cricket, wearables can optimise technique to help bowlers gain an extra couple of yards of pace, or extra revolutions on the ball. They can help to close the gap between bat and pad for batters, as well as increasing the numbers of balls pinging off the sweet spot of the willow.
Not just for the elite athlete
Wearables are not just beneficial for the elite athlete, they are also useful for any grassroots-level player. These players are more likely to be involved across multiple sporting codes, which introduces a whole other field of variables to monitor. Take your standard 3rd-grade cricket player, who also plays rugby for the local Senior B rugby team. The overlap of seasons means that the athlete is likely to be juggling preseason cricket trainings while still finishing of the final rounds of footy. These two sports require very different skillsets, different physical characteristics, and even different nutrition. Being able to map the performances and associated strains on the body across multiple codes would provide very insightful data, allowing the athlete to monitor their training, refine their bodies for both sports and preempt potential injuries on the cricket field, which root causes may have been seeded in the previous rugby season.
How does this lead to better performance?
The more you can complete quality trainings without the risk of injury the more you will progress as an athlete. Wearables reveal the true extent of the physical exertion of players which allows sport scientists and coaches to tailor the training specifically targeting the areas key to performance. Wearables can also identify strengths and weaknesses in players, meaning athletes can practice harder, smarter, and get real-time feedback on their progress. The feedback loop created is what ultimately drives performance.
The biggest obstacle for wearables is creating an unintrusive and unrestricted way of wearing the sensors. The technology needs to be seamlessly integrated into the clothing, equipment, or devices a user is inclined to use. Luckily for the consumer, technology is improving and brands are getting smarter in creating more desirable products, which translates to a bright future wearables in cricket.
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