Cricket

Michael Kasprowicz interview: 'My dream is to get the Smart Ball into gully cricket in India one day'

With the Smart Ball set to make its debut in CPL 2021, Firstpost.com caught up with former Australia pacer Michael Kasprowicz, the chairman and co-owner of Sportcor, to understand the ball in detail.

Michael Kasprowicz interview: 'My dream is to get the Smart Ball into gully cricket in India one day'

Michael Kasprowicz in his playing days. AFP

In this digital world, technological innovations have been playing an important role in cricket. Right from the television replays to the ball tracking Hawkeye systems to the snicko meters, technological advancement has been rapid and has become an integral part of the sport. It has changed the way the game is played and watched.

Come the 2021 Caribbean Premier League, which starts on 26 August, cricket will feature another advance that's sure to raise a couple of eyebrows – the Smart Ball. It’s a ball with an electronic chip embedded inside and provides data such as speed, spin and power right from the 22 yards. It’s developed by sports technology company Sportcor in collaboration with leading ball manufacturer Kookaburra. It will be the first time such kind of a ball will be used in a professional league. With the ball set to make its debut, Firstpost caught up with former Australia pacer Michael Kasprowicz who is the chairman and co-owner of Sportcor, to understand the smart ball in detail.

Kookaburra Smart Balls

Kookaburra Smart Balls

Why do we need a smart ball?

Because it's giving the player feedback. My attraction to this after the 30 years that I've had in the game at the highest level, almost 20 years as a player and then being in administration, is that it's the first bit of sports tech I've come across that is actually for the player. Every bit of sports tech we see right now is for the fan, in the sense that's it's in the broadcast, in decision reviews, and for the strength and conditioning coach or the trainer. There is not a lot of feedback that gets to the player. So (it's great) to be involved with the product which is able to give the player the data and feedback from the ball. It really gives an insight into their action and helping them with the feel.

What kind of data points does it give you?

We've kept it very simple to start with. In velocity and revolutions. Speed of spin. Speed out of the hand, speed pre bounce and speed post bounce, revolutions on the ball spinning out of hand and the spin post bounce. We've got the approach speed of the bowler up to the delivery. Because we've got that we've actually been able to determine the power algorithm on release in watts. The power of the ball released out of the hand.

Smart Ball data points in detail.

Smart Ball data points in detail.

In cricket, there are lots of terms that people outside cricket have no idea what that means. And for me being a former fast bowler, there is a term that someone might bowl a heavy ball. Or hits the bat hard. This is the benefit of it because from inside the centre of the ball we can pick up the data on release and the power. To me, that's the closest thing we can going to measure the heavy ball.

Why are these parameters, pre and post bounce speed and spin, important and what do they tell?

Today, in limited-overs cricket, especially T20 cricket, it tells us about the deceleration of the ball. There is a term we talk about in cricket, called 'feel'. You can have the coach telling you that it's looking good. Then you can even look at a video of it as well and notice that it looks good. But when it comes down to the bowler, you own your journey, you own the performance. It's all about the feel, it's about what felt good. And if someone's telling you it had looked good but if you can actually get the data in there to match all that information in the feel. That is what we are after as players. Understanding the way you do it. Spin bowling is an excellent example, some bowlers will find that they are at their best when they are ripping it and bowling the leg spinner at 2900 revs but then when they go a bit higher and try to spin it too much then they lose the consistency down the other end. The point is that for an individual, you are using our platform to make yourself better.

How different is the behaviour of the Smart ball from the traditional one?

There is absolutely no difference whatsoever. We had it tested and verified at the University of Queensland where they had the process where Cricket Australia developed the pink ball. They are really rigid about this process. So we went through it and had it third-party verified. The ball's been used in a blind test in Australian cricket in a Marsh Cup 50-over match just to have a look and see if there was any reaction from the players. And there was none. So we've had everything verified, measured. All we've done is replace the cork rubber compound. It's in the center of the cricket ball. And matched it perfectly (with our specially designed core with the chip).

How different is this ball compared to the existing technologies like Hawkeye or Speed gun? What does it give extra?

That's all radar-based. What we've done is that we are capturing it from the centre of the ball. So that's real for a start. But right from the start, I've always seen this as a complement to existing technologies. We are just trying to make it accessible, certainly affordable.

We have radars, Trackman, and these devices that are so expensive to measure at the elite level. For me, it's so important that we are making our technology accessible and affordable for all participants. Not just to see how they are performing but also to compare with their mates, family, colleagues and in many ways, this is an opportunity to identify talent. One of the things I have said before is that the spectator has never ever been closer to the middle of the wicket, what happens on the pitch right now. We've got stumps mics, Spider Cams and all these technologies bringing the fans right into the centre of the ground. I just think with our technology we are going to bring them even closer.

Does this ball give an indication of the pitch because we are getting the post bounce data as well?

It will do. As far as the pace of the wicket, absolutely. Because on certain surfaces, the ball will slow down when it comes off and even regarding the spin, certainly with the revolutions, on certain surfaces, you will find there will be more variations. There will be more turn. I think it's only after a period of time when we've seen lots of this data we can determine and maybe get a bit of a scale of certain types of speeds of pitches. The WACA in Perth is different from Chinnaswamy in Bangalore of course, So I think we will see all these differences.

Michael Kasprowicz in his playing days. AFP

Michael Kasprowicz in his playing days. AFP

In your playing days, if you had this kind of ball, how different a bowler would you have been?

At a senior level, just seeing the variations but seeing it through the data followings, I mentioned that feel...It would have had a huge impact about what do we do. And even talking to coaches about it because we are always learning as cricketers. I think the biggest impact would have been for me as a young cricketer. Because I would've been able to see how fast I can bowl. We never had that resource, we had expensive radars, so couldn't compare it. I just tried to run in and bowl as fast as I could. That's where it would have made the biggest difference. Because we would have been able to compare ourselves, find a way to bowl faster. That's the question I've always been asked in every junior academy or when I am speaking - how do you bowl fast? How can I bowl faster?

I've always said, the trick to bowling fast is not trying to bowl fast. The irony there is the faster you try to bowl, the more tense you get and the slower it comes out. The more relaxed you are, the faster you bowl, when you take it slightly easier, that speed will come out.

This ball will be used in the CPL and we know that there are some powerful hitters. How is the durability of the ball? How much brute force can it survive?

That's always been the challenge. In producing this ball, in getting it to the point where it survives, and is durable. There were some electronic moving parts in the centre. So the structure we've actually created around the centre of the ball is in itself very durable with the product around that. But even with our testing, we've got our own air cannon at our offices. We've tested it even further than Cricket Australia tests its balls currently. So they test balls up to 200km/hr where balls are repetitively just smacked hundreds of times just to have a look at the difference and check the durability. I think our record is nearly 300kmph/hr because you are not just matching force out of the hand but force in the connection when the bat hits it.

That's what we pride ourselves on, the fact that we've actually developed this product to be super durable. As far as the ball going out of shape, none of the balls we've used, certainly not in the last six months, there hasn't been anything said about the shape of the ball or anything like that. Even today we used the ball in Queensland internal T20 match. Marnus Labuschagne was smacking it everywhere, Matthew Renshaw was hitting some big shots, Joe Burns also, there were some massive massive shots and hits in the grandstands and the ball kept working the whole time. So we've tested it out, we've had a good run with it and we are really happy with where it is as a product and confident certainly with the durability.

How different will the cost be from the traditional ball, considering that there is technology involved this might be costlier?

We haven't finalised the cost through Kookaburra because they sell the ball. We sell the data. But we've been really conscious about making it affordable and also accessible to the people. So, currently, I think the Kookaburra turf ball is about 120-130 Australian dollars. We would love to be able to sell this for roughly around 200 dollars. It's not for sale just yet, we are still working on the process but that's what we would love to do and that's at the top end of the product. We would love to get the ball into a consumer range of products.

File image of Michael Kasprowicz

"I would love to make this into a gully cricket ball and get everybody using it."

To be honest, one day I've got high hopes and the dream on mine is to get this into gully cricket. I say this to a lot of people, I've got a 23-year love affair with India. The first time I went to India was in 1998 on the Australian cricket tour. It was easily the most challenging thing I've ever done. But I just loved it, I loved it so much, the energy, the people, to a point where I came back to Australia I kept talking about loving India, I learnt some great skills on that trip which meant that the media in Australia referred to me as subcontinent specialist. So every time Australia went to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Sri Lanka, the media were going like you've got to get Kaspa, Kaspa..the subcontinent specialist.

So India does hold a very special place in my heart. It gives me great joy to be able to bring something like the smart ball and the technology to India, where I would love to make this into a gully cricket ball and get everybody using it.

What are the other data points you are looking to add in the future?

Down the line and it will take a little bit of time, but we would like to measure force. This could be off the bat or into a glove. We also see the uses in fielding in capturing the time to contain the ball and throw. Essentially, we see ourselves as developing a platform for players and coaches to measure all parts of the game with data from the centre of the ball.

Updated Date: August 26, 2021 07:48:14 IST

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