If a batsman can know how a bowler is going to bowl to him the next six deliveries. If a bowler can foresee the shot a batsman is planning to execute to come out of a pressure situation. If a fielding captain can exactly understand the areas to be covered for a particular batsman. Now, with the help of computer analysts most of these questions can be precisely answered.
What follows is an interview Desmond Samith did with Sri Lanka cricket team's thirty-three-year-old computer analyst Thanuja Niroshan.
Tell us how you became the computer analyst of the Sri Lanka team.
A: I played age group cricket for St. John's College Nugegoda. After doing math subjects for my A/L, I started learning computers. In 2003 I joined SLT's IT department. To further my knowledge in the game I followed Level 1 in coaching and got through the umpire's exam. I worked with the 'A' team in 2004 before being selected to assist the national team in 2005.
What exactly is computer analyzing in cricket?
A: Computer analyzing has come into cricket at the dawn of the 21st century. Through it we try to give some idea to a batsman or a bowler about himself or the opposition before he goes to the ground.
In a match we record everything – from the time a bowler runs into ball, batsman plays a shot, and the ball becomes dead.
We prepare all the details on the computer, so that coaches and players can at any time access them and go through them.
If a coach wants to see how a particular batsman performed in a particular over, we can immediately provide him that -- strong areas of a batsman, which balls he prefers, his weak zones, areas he scores most runs, his ability to, say handle the short ball or the moving ball...everything. A coach or a player can even check the performance of opposition players.
When the match is on if we see that the opposition is doing something different we alert the coach. We can always send a message to the players in the middle.
Is there any software you use when preparing the necessary video clips and other information?
A: We first used an Australian software, which was a scoring application with video tagging. Later we hired a computer programmer in Sri Lanka and updated the programme with our input to suit our coaches. We are still using our own software. We first used the application during the New Zealand, Australia tours in 2005. The Australian software was called 'DSC 2000'. The one we developed is called '360 Cricket'.
What about the matches involving other teams where you don't have any accesses to the video footages?
A: We don't have the footages of some matches played abroad. So we get the help of an Indian company ('Sports Mind') to get them. Take a team like the Netherlands, whom we met in the T20 world Cup. We hadn't played against them. Even our main batsmen hadn't seen their bowlers. So it was necessary to get some idea about them – so we got that help from the Indian company. Even for the upcoming Ireland series we have got their help.
Do you work alone?
A: No. There are five members in our department – we work as a team. When I'm overseas with the team, the other members support me from this end, providing me with necessary video footages etc.
Let's talk about the World Cup. How did you help the team?
A: As a team we had a firm belief that we can win this World Cup. So we planned extensively.
My job was to provide necessary data to our coaches: Paul Farbrace, Marvan Atapattu, Chaminda Vaas and Ruwan Kalpage.
We had three team meetings before a match, one about the batsmen, one about the bowlers and the last one with the entire team just before the match.
In the bowlers' meeting we took opposition batsmen one by one and do an analysis. There I drew the coaches' attention to information I'd found. I showed them the batsmen's strong areas through the use of wagon wheels and pitch maps, and how the batsmen had got out in the past.
Some bowlers wanted to see how they had performed against certain batsmen in previous matches, fours scored, dot balls bowled, how many times they had beaten the bat etc.
I also showed them the probable batting lineups of opposition teams. And the time the bowlers would come on to bowl.
If a bowler had not bowled to a particular batsman in the past we tried to get footage of a bowler similar to him.
Was there anything special you guys did to encourage the players?
A: During practice sessions in the World Cup we arranged a place and fixed a projector there so individual players could come there and have a look at their performances in the past against particular bowlers or batsmen.
In the general meeting 30 or 40 minutes before the match I played some videos of our players doing well – it was a highlight package to motivate them.
We also created a competition among players to be the best fielders. We put their performances on a screen after the match. We picked four best fielders – so we pushed them to improve their fielding. The players liked that.
I also had something special before the final. As it was Mahela's and Kumar's last match I played a special video. It had clips of both of them doing well, winning matches, building huge partnerships etc. I think it touched everyone. After that other players came up to them and embraced them.
Lasith Malinga in an interview has said he was always troubling you asking for various footages.
A: I stayed next to Malinga's room, so he just walked into my room whenever he wanted.
He's one of the most experienced guys I have seen. Since he was given the captaincy he was extra motivated to win matches. He was always visiting my room, asking for information and videos. He brought in different players to my room and together we watched videos and talked about strategy.
What exactly was the plan against India in the final?
A: India's batting lineup is very long and strong. So we in our discussion with the bowlers decided to first try and get as many wickets as possible. If the wickets were not coming that easily our next plan was to cut the runs off.
We know the Indian batsmen like to play their shots from the beginning and we didn't have that big chance to swing the ball and get them to edge. We didn't have a plan to get them all out; our plan was to restrict runs.
We know how destructive players like Kohli, Dhoni and Raina can be.
Malinga said if a player like Kohli scored twenty plus runs then there was a big possibility of leaking runs if we targeted his stumps. So our plan was to set an off side field and target outside the off stump. It worked. Bowlers like Malinga and Kulasekara have good control. They executed the plan well.
India we know like to chase as they have batsmen capable of doing so. As a batting unit Sri Lanka like to bat first. But Malinga after winning the toss decided to field. That upset the Indians. I think he took that decision as he's a bowler. But it's a team decision.
Malinga also used his bowlers cleverly. He used Rangana (left arm spinner) before their left-handers came out to bat. He bowled to right-handers and did well.
Who was the Indian batsman you guys focused most?
A: It was Virat Kohli. He had scored many runs against us in the past. He doesn't have a huge weakness... but he tends to poke his bat to deliveries going away from him, especially as soon as he comes out to bat. Our plan was to induce this shot in the first few deliveries. But we didn't have a left arm paceman to exploit this weakness. Our next plan was to get him off the strike.
Have all the players embraced computer analyzing?
A: Cricket is a professional game, so almost everyone is relying on this kind of software.
Now the players have their own laptops or iPads/Tabs. So I can easily copy all the necessary details and videos into their devices.
However, I take care to understand their mentality and moods– some don't like to relive their bad performances while others want to see them.
On the other hand I, as an analyst need to be updated all the time. So outside matches, team meetings and practice sessions I work hard gathering information and doing analysis. Now I'm working on the England batsmen and bowlers.
Who is the Sri Lankan player most hooked onto computer analyzing?
A: Test opener Kaushal Silva is very interested in this. He wants to have a look at his own videos and those of the opposition. He troubles me often asking for video clips of opposition bowlers to see how they had bowled to right-handed opening batsmen with the new ball.