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Monday, January 07, 2008

Bad umpiring makes IT good for Indian companies

 If Indian cricket's bugbear, Steve Bucknor, were to be ever judged in his umpiring with the help of computer software, don't be surprised if an Indian company happens to be behind it.

With its track record in software much better than in cricket, India now wants to benefit from the business opportunity from bad decisions. A string of software start-ups as well as the biggest outsourcing companies have developed solutions that can capture cricketing motions and analyse them real-time so that better decisions can be made if the umpire is inclined. At least, one software ranks cricket umpire on five grades of quality.

Bangalore-based Swantha Software Solutions, co-founded by former Indian allrounder Vijay Bharadwaj, made a sales pitch two months ago to Ross Turner, Cricket Australia's game development manager for its umpiring applications software 3rdEYE.

An company official said a demo was given and the decision is awaited. The ongoing India-Australia cricket series has erupted into a controversy after India lost the second test match from a strong position, which some attributed to bad umpiring.

"In the wake such poor decision-making, our software can definitely provide a solution to improve the standards in umpiring if given the chance," says Swantha co-founder Sanjay Rao. "Most of the times, the whole match depends upon the decisions of an umpire, like it happened in the recent India-Australia Test match. We can monitor these decisions using the 3rdEYE on a real time basis."

This software can aggregate all the data analysis at the end of a match and qualify the umpire's performance as excellent, good, satisfactory, poor or bad, the judgement being made without human intervention. "Using this software, we can judge how good the umpire is giving at decisions, especially during the crucial stages of the match," Rao said.

The software was used in the recent Karnataka-Mumbai Ranji Trophy encounter, where the local umpiring coach monitored the umpires' performance. The International Cricket Council (ICC) created a buzz five years ago, when it gave an order to Phoenix Global Solutions for its e-Cricket Pro software.

The plan was to use this piece of coding for umpire training. Phoenix was later acquired by India's largest outsourcing company Tata Consultancy Services. However, the plan seems to be simmering on the backburner now.

TCS's rival, Satyam Computer Services, is also getting into cricket software, estimated currently to be a tiny Rs 100 crore but set to grow exponentially. Satyam has incorporated a sports solution division and is researching for a software product.

"We are in the pilot mode for most of the software and should be ready to make a pitch to various cricket boards in another 3 months," says Satyam head of sports practice Dilbag Gill. Satyam is developing three different solutions for tests, one-day internationals and twenty20 matches.

"Cricket is a ball-to-ball game and therefore it makes it easier for technology to step in due to the gap (between balls) in the game, which in turn can allow for technology for repairing umpire mistakes in real-time," Mr Gill says. Chennai-based Meru Consultants and Technologies sees the umpiring community as a market.

Its software is already used to analyse player performance in Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, apart from India. Now, the company plans to include an umpiring add-on. "The weekend row over controversial umpiring decisions have definitely spawned an opportunity for companies like us to take to this sector. It will definitely trigger a market for this product," says Meru CEO P Sankaran.


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