.html> sam's terrain: cricket news, views and controversies

Sachin and the computer

Sachin Tendulkar will be carrying more with him than just cricketing gear and a host of worries when he lands in the West Indies. Of all things, the Indian captain will be lugging a laptop computer along. The reason? A lad in Bombay apparently believes that the Indian cricket team can better its game by analysing its opponents with the aid of a computer. Shades of Nancy Reagan, though that venerable lady used to turn elsewhere for her inspiration.

The software has been written by this youngster and it has been given gratis to the Indian team. Thus, there was no question that it would not be accepted. The Indian team is desperate enough to accept any way out of the present situation. Hopes are understandably low as the team embarks on this tour; this is to be expected when one has won only two out of 28 Tests in the Caribbean. But to grab at things like this does seem a wee bit silly, if nothing else.

Turning to technology for a solution is not to be laughed at. But the reasoning behind it is laughable -- there are numerous people who believe that the South African team has reached the heights it has under Bob Woolmer because the South African coach uses a computer to analyse things and formulate plans. This is the only reason why so many are thinking of turning to the PC for salvation. And there could not be more faulty reasoning than this.

South Africa have come as far as they have because they have a bunch of cricketers, most of whom are at least moderately talented, and all of whom are willing to put in a lot of hard work and excel at one thing or the other. Some are good at almost every aspect of the game. There is a world of difference between the way they train and the workouts that other teams go through. Nothing of their success has come through the keyboard. Woolmer merely uses it as an aid to analyse things; the thinking is all his own and that of the captain.

No matter what one does with a computer, one cannot turn incompetent cricketers who are unwilling to go back to their basics into a world-beating squad. One cannot turn Ganesh into an Ambrose by analysing his run-up and telling him what his physical statistics should be and how should he should move his arms. Neither can Ganguly be turned into a Lara even by analysing data for the rest of the century. There is something called talent and that cannot be generated even by a mainframe. There is also something called intelligence.

It would be instructive to see what a cricketer like Sir Garfield Sobers would make of such moves. He would, most likely, laugh his guts out. This business of trying to find weak links in the opposition by trusting in the PC is a joke; even a man of average intelligence can see that what one gets out depends on what one puts in. And if the data fed in is full of errors, then the output will be equally so. Computers have no intelligence; they can crunch numbers at an incredible speed but they will show forth the intelligence of the individual sitting in front of the keyboard. If Sachin had keyed in data from the first two Tests against South Africa and sought an answer from any program as to what he should have done on the last day of the third Test, he would have ended up being a thousand times more cautious than he really was.

The patriotism of the individual who designed the program is not in question. His intelligence, however, would determine how good or bad the program is in producing analyses which make sense. And the raw material, it must be remembered, must come from observation by the cricketers themselves. There is no way that raw data can be collected otherwise. Strategy cannot be decided by a computer; that is something will never move out of the human realm.

It is said that Anil Kumble is already in possession of a computer and a similar program. The captain and the vice-captain are thus fully armed to do more than play cricket. One hopes that they realise right away that there is no substitute for cricketing brains and common sense, especially the latter. Else India may well end up in worse trouble than they would otherwise.

previous reportnext report