Smart wearables could be key to shining the ball in post COVID-19 cricket world - SportsGuru

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Smart wearables could be key to shining the ball in post COVID-19 cricket world

There’s more than one way to skin the cat; or pertinently to shine the red cricket ball.

The sordid era of ‘spit and polish’ is near its end even as development of ‘smart-material’ clothing is evolving and being increasingly woven into the fabric of sports for a variety of game-enhancing reasons. Indeed there is little doubt that ‘smart-clothing’ is the inevitable way to go in order to rid cricket of its unsafe, unhygienic practise of shining the cricket ball.

Smart wearables could be key to shining the ball in post COVID-19 cricket world
File image of Virat Kohli shining the ball. AP
Strangely, despite an abject lack of data to prove that usage of saliva increased shine on the ball and thereby encouraged swing bowling, spitting on one side of the ball by the fielding team and vigorously rubbing that side on trousers became standard operating procedure in the game. That is until the advent of COVID-19 put a stop to the filthy practise.

Since then, there has been an assortment of observations on how to survive in a world without spitting on the ball to one’s heart’s content. Many bowlers believed their very skill depended on this pernicious practise and how owing to the ban the balance in the game had now shifted in favour of batsmen!

Former Pakistani pace bowler Sarfraz Nawaz who is notorious for misleading unsuspecting journalists said reverse swing was lost to the game for the next two years while Anil Kumble claimed the time was ripe to concentrate on the condition of the cricket pitch rather than ball-shine and therefore opt to field two spinners in each international team.

Ball manufacturers too were not sitting on their haunches, waiting for new rules to be formulated. Australia’s Kookaburra worked out a tiny sponge applicator (much like a travel-kit quick shine easy-to-use shoe polish) to provide a thin layer of wax coating on one side of the ball. This could be applied every 25 overs or so, they suggest.

The protocol for its usage is still being worked out but it is almost certain that the applicator will be left with umpires and they could use it twice or thrice on the ball during an innings. (New ball becomes due after 80 overs in a Test. That could be moved to 90 if wax is applied very 25 overs).

But the most exciting things are happening with sportsmen’s clothing.

Here, it must be pointed out that smart-material clothing will evolve into computing devices of the future. However, in the present context, a few sports have already embraced its virtues for a variety of applications, particularly in understanding the working of athletes’ body and helping them to adapt to challenging weather conditions.

For instance, Hexoskin is used to understand skin temperature, blood pressure, and accelerometer (to measure acceleration forces) of the sportsman. Smart yoga pants help determine posture monitoring and vibrational reaction. Catapult Sport uses GPS to ascertain and improve training; Smart Sleeve tracks heart rate, intensity of training, etc.

Adidas a world renowned apparel company used titanium and aluminium into the fabric of garments in order to give the wearer a cold sensation while working out with their ‘Climachill’ collection. The mesh-woven material ensured breathable integrity of the clothing and enhanced its moisture sucking capabilities. Dry time thus became much quicker and it took less than five minutes to completely dry a sweat-soaked shirt.

A US firm, Under Armour, makes base layers for clothing which regulates thermal emissions and implements radiation control.

Adidas says it had clothing technology for Body Mapping, Clima365, ClimaCool, ClimaChill, ClimaHeat, among others, and each had a different function to perform.

For instance Body Mapping identified the different zones where heat and moisture are released based on gender, body type, and weather conditions. These helped in designing performance apparel which met specific environmental demands for tennis, golf, football, etc.

In their Ultimate365 polos used in golf, the design provides for a golfer’s requirement for arms doing most of the work in the upper body of the golf swing. These cooling zones of mesh performance smart fabric created a capillary effect of sucking moisture while helping the golfer feel cooler and not overheated, even with a full-length sleeve.

Of course smart-material wearables are so advanced that they are used in health care (medical), fitness and sports and of course security (military, personal protection, like in Kevlar clothing, among others).

In sports, golf, tennis and football quickly embraced smart-material clothing for their obvious advantages. Cricket has not been far behind, thanks to IPL franchises using it to provide better comfort to their players to tackle India’s hot and blazing summer.

True, cricket as a whole might be slow in adapting to technology and changes. But with the onus being on shining the ball, smart-material cricket clothing is headed in another path-breaking direction.

Most of the changes are being directed at trousers. They could be an amalgamation of material, some with quick dry functions, others with wicking features directing sweat towards areas where the cricket ball would most likely be rubbed for shining.

Whether these patches of clothing that go into making the trouser would be interwoven to make them seem seamless or obvious, remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that researchers have hit on more than one way to skin the ‘ball-shining’ cat. Watch this space.

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