Sports Intelligence

Sports Intelligence

Ramky’s day job is what dreams are made of. Millions of armchair cricket fans in the nation would do anything to trade places with him. After all, he gets to advice Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar on his batting stance when he plays the paddle sweep. Okay, not really. But as the CEO of Sports Mechanics, Ramky gets to work with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, helping them with everything from fine-tuning their technique to analysing a player from the opposition, all through the use of technology.

The mechanics

In September 2006, Ramky founded Sports Mechanics with the single-minded vision of using technology as a medium to enable better performance in cricket and other sports in India. His clients include the national cricket team, six IPL franchises, international cricket council’s high performance program, sports authority of India and the MRF pace foundation, among others. Sports Mechanic’s two primary products are Twenty20 Pro and Silicon Coach. Twenty20 pro is a performance analysis software, developed in-house, that helps coaches and players analyse technique, player performance and cricket matches. Silicon coach, a video-based motion analysis software, was developed by a biomechanics expert from New Zealand. Sports Mechanics is the exclusive reseller of this product in India. Explains Ramky, “Our focus is more on delivering useful information on technique and performance improvement that have been mined from a huge database of cricket match videos. This information, we believe, is very useful when the player gets out on the field.”

Our focus is more on delivering useful information on technique and performance improvement that have been mined from a huge database of cricket match videos. This information, we believe, is very useful when the player gets out on the field

The passionate cricketer

Ramky’s life and career always revolved around cricket. He spent most of his childhood on the cricket field, secured university admission on a cricketing quota and then went on to work for Indian Bank, primarily captaining the bank’s cricket team. He hardly worried about the fact that he couldn’t make it to the Indian cricket team. “I just loved playing the game, and there was no looking back,” he says.

In early 2000, after a 13-year stint at Indian Bank, Ramky had to rethink his career options. He decided to pursue his other passion – technology, and with his banking experience joined a payment-gateway startup based out of Chennai. On the side, he stayed in touch with the game as a cricket coach. That’s when Ramky had his eureka moment. He strongly believed that technology could be used a medium to enhance the performance of sportspersons. He started scouting around for a cricket coaching software when he heard about Silicon Coach. In late 2000, Ramky kick started his business career as the Indian distributor of Silicon Coach.

The next three years were a struggle. Most coaches in India were not tech-savvy and didn’t believe in the concept. Ramky figured the primary problem was coaches didn’t want to spend time using the software. After he convinced his first two clients, the MRF Pace Foundation and the National Cricket Academy, he decided to move into a services model. In addition to selling the software, he would hire a performance analyst to operate the software for the coaches. Says Ramky, “The shift to the services model was extremely important.” Ramky’s contribution to the NCA didn’t go unnoticed. John Wright, then the coach of the national team invited him to travel with the Indian team. This was in March 2003. Around the same time, he started implementing the player analysis software, now Twenty20 Pro, to generate player reports.

The combination of Silicon Coach (which primarily helped with technique improvement) and Twenty20 Pro (which focuses on player performance analysis) proved to be a great hit. Ramky also had the support of the Indian cricket team members. After Virendra Sehwag slammed the fastest triple hundred by an Indian in March 2004, he dedicated the innings to Ramky. At the presentation ceremony, he said, “Ramky made a minor modification to my stance, and that certainly made a huge difference.”

Expansion

Around this time, cricket started becoming an industry in India. The money being pumped into the sport skyrocketed and Ramky knew the industry was ready for more technology. He decided to transform the one-man company into an organisation and officially launched Sports Mechanics in September 2006. Though the core focus remains cricket, Ramky has expanded into other sports as well. Their video analysis software is sports-independent, and the same analysis concept could be extended to other sports. Today, they work with the squash federation of India, the volleyball association, several individual athletes and even boxing professionals. Rajiv Raju, business development manager at Sports Mechanics says, “We believe that we’re creating a whole new industry here. Our focus is to deliver actionable information for sports professionals.” Recently, they started working at the grassroots level, helping cricketers at the school and club level analyse their technique using Silicon Coach. Ramky says, “It’s a top down approach we’re adopting. We start off with the national level, but the aim is to expand into the whole ecosystem.”

Over the last four years, Sports Mechanics has built a team of 30 people comprising of performance analysts, software programmers, business development professionals and a back-end operations team. The performance analyst works on-site and travels with the team. The back-end team helps him run the algorithms and analyse large chunks of data. The performance analyst also plays a critical role during the team meetings. Videos are carefully chosen to play during these meetings. Raju says, “More often that not, the videos are self-explanatory. We just stop short of making recommendations. The players register what they see in their sub-conscious mind and this really helps them.”

Interesting future ahead

Ramky has big plans for Sports Mechanics. Revenues from existing long-term clients primarily fund expansion. Recently, he has launched two new products, SportsMentor and Howzat. The first one is an online mentoring platform to enable video-based communication between a player and his coach. He wants to use this platform to spread the use of virtual coaching, where reputed coaches can provide long distance video-based coaching for players in non-metros. Howzat helps analyse the performance of umpires in domestic matches and this information is used by the BCCI while selecting umpires. “Some of these products are ahead of their time. But we want to stay at the cutting edge of technology and continuously enhance our products. I am especially excited about virtual coaching in some of the remotest locations in India.”

The current version of Twenty20 Pro is also getting revamped to include more comprehensive reports, and better analysis of data. Everything from three-dimensional flash-based reports on the line and length of a bowler to the stance of the batsmen is analysed and easily reported.

So the next time we see some brilliant field placement from Dhoni, or even a tight forward defense from Virendra Sehwag, do give some credit to these behind-the-scenes analysts who play a critical role in shaping up the success stories of our heroes.