Punja relishing UAE captaincy

Denzil Pinto 27/08/2016
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Setting an example: Yodhin Punja will captain the UAE Under-19 for the first time.

Yodhin Punja is relishing the responsibility of captaining the UAE Under-19 team, saying the role will bring out the best of him as a cricketer.

The pacer was overlooked for the job in last year’s ACC Premier League in Malaysia but has been given the armband by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) for next month’s Division Two 2018 World Cup qualifiers in Malaysia.

It’s a position the 17-year-old is all too familiar with having led the ECB Blues and Abu Dhabi Under-19s previously, and while he’s looking forward to stepping up in the international scene for the first time, he is adamant to lead from the front.

“It’s a part of the game that I very much enjoy,” he said. “It keeps you thinking about the game, about what tactics to use, how the bowlers should bowl. It’s something I’m looking forward to it and I think it brings the best of me as a player so it’s definitely something I’m relishing.

“I think it’s very important that I set a good example and I will try my best to be at the top of my game.”

The ex-Zayed Academy cricketer has yet to meet his new team-mates, having left for England in June for a cricket scholarship.

But he will return to the UAE on September 11 in time for three 50-over friendly matches against Hong Kong ahead of their departure for the tournament in Malaysia.

A stern test awaits for them in Kuala Lumpur, needing to top the 10-team tournament to advance to Division One in Sri Lanka for a place in the showpiece event in New Zealand.

Despite only attending a handful of sessions prior to his departure to England, Punja insists his absence from the camp will not be a major disadvantage.

“I’ve been training here in England all the time, doing a lot of gym work and strength training, so fitness isn’t a problem,” he said.

“Yes, I know I haven’t seen many of the boys but they will be at the top of their game and in the best form ever after training for three months continuously.”

Punja and wicketkeeper Sachin Jha are just two of the survivors from last year’s Premier League tournament in Malaysia with a number of new faces in the party.

And Punja, who made his ODI debut for the seniors against Hong Kong last year, is excited by the talent in the squad.

“I’ve crossed paths with them during my time and some of them are my close friends,” he said.

“A lot of these players are around 15 and 16 and there are some extremely talented players like Jonathan Figy and I can’t wait to see how they play and gel as a team.”

Fully aware of the challenge ahead, Punja believes it’s crucial the team spirit is high to have any chance of delivering positive results.

“Although I’m their captain, I will be their friend. I think the way we are more friendlier with each other, the more we are more open off the field and that will reflect on the field,” said Punja, who trained with the senior team on their tour to Scotland last month.

“It’s better to understand them as players. When I see them at their best, I can realise their potential.”

He added: “I’m very confident in the team we have. We have a number of skilled players, experience and a well-balanced squad. It’s about stepping up and taking reponsibility when we go out there.”

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Technology in cricket that revolutionised umpiring

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A look at technological improvements in cricket that greatly aided umpiring

A range of technology has influences cricket over the past twenty-five years, impacting one of sport’s most traditional offerings in an attempt to reduce errors from umpires and to gain extra clarity in their decisions. For a sport that rests so much on split-second, game-changing moments, technology has helped in this respect.

Collectively, many of these devices are assembled under the decision review system (DRS), a tool available to umpires and captains. Previously, it was third umpire’s being called upon for run-outs or catches, but now there are two ‘reviews’ permitted each team per innings in a Test match, and one each per innings in limited-overs games.

In the years since it was officially debuted in 2009, it has become a popular and successful addition to cricket.

However, the BCCI has refused to modernise, claiming the technology is not 100% accurate. The system requires approval of both teams so if India are involved then DRS does not feature.

Nevertheless, cricket has embraced the technological age for good. Here, we look at six devices that revolutionised modern umpiring.

TELEVISION REPLAYS

For a long time, only two gentlemen held the fate of batsmen and bowlers in their hands – one behind the stumps and one at square leg. In the early 1990s, an encounter between India and South Africa at Durban the technological age changed all that.

During the game, Sachin Tendulkar became the first victim of trial by TV, given run out by the third umpire Karl Liebenberg while on 11. A green light flashed, indicating to Tendulkar that he must return to the pavilion, although the reverse system of green for ‘in’ and red for ‘out’ are now in use.

The availability of another umpire closely watching TV replays, able to slow down, rewind and zoom in to analyse doubtful decisions – mainly run outs, stumpings and catches – was invaluable. Whenever an on-field umpire was in doubt, they could signal aid from the man upstairs.

More recently, innovations such as Spidercam – a motorised camera in the sky attached to a series of cables and capable of travelling all over the ground – have found application in several sports including cricket. These moving cameras provide a 360-degree view of the entire stadium and not just the centre of the action.

HOT SPOT

A concept initially developed for military purposes, Hot Spot found revolutionary application in cricket. The setup consists of a pair of infrared cameras placed horizontally opposite each other at either end of the ground and out of view.

It aims to use to heat signatures to determine the exact point of contact of the ball – which appear as a bright white spot on a negative-image video feed – in a bid to detect edges and to clear up any confusion regarding appeals for catches or LBW decisions.

The technology was first used during the 2006-07 Ashes’ first Test in Brisbane. Although it is largely accurate, inventor Warren Brennan has himself claimed that it is not completely reliable. Hot Spot is also highly expensive to use but has become an integral part of the decision review system. Like other technologies, the process is shown to the viewers during television coverage.

SNICK-O-METER

It developed in the 1990s as almost a forerunner of Hot Spot, but the Snick-O-Meter’s similarity with the heat detection system begins and ends with the purpose – to detect edges. Popularly called Snicko for short, the technology makes use of a tiny microphone in one of the stumps.

This device is meant to detect the presence of bat with ball by means of sound. Again, this helps while examining appeals for catches or LBWs. An audio recording of the delivery is in the form of a line or wave, and an edge, or snick, produces a spike in this wave that indicates a sound has been produced.

With the accompaniment of video footage, umpires can match up the picture with the spike in the Snick-O-Meter to determine where the ball made contact. This device has faced some issues of reliability and accuracy, and Hot Spot was initially imagined as an alternative to detect edges. The Snick-O-Meter has, nevertheless, been in use even as part of television coverage.

HAWK-EYE

Once again, Hawk-Eye is a technology that has found application in not just cricket but also sports such as tennis and football. The underlying mechanism, however, remains the same: a series of cameras are placed around the ground that are intended, from multiple angles, to establish the path and movement of the ball.

The technology has also proved useful in television analysis. Bowlers’ deliveries can be slowed down and their patterns of attack can be examined. Entire spells can be mapped out for viewers, and the line, length and variation of deliveries against certain types of batsmen can be scrutinised.

Its primary use, however, is in the analysis of LBW decisions. Hawk-Eye tracks the path of the ball until impact and then predicts where it would have ended up by the time it reached the stumps had it not hit the batsman’s pad or bat. Its aim is to show whether a delivery would have gone on to hit the stumps or not, accounting for the movement and direction of the ball.

Hawk-Eye was first used in a Test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s in 2001. Now, the technology is under immense scrutiny for the manner in which it is used thanks to a rather complicated umpire’s call determining the decision.

LIGHT METER

The visibility at a cricket ground, and the subsequent ascertaining of ‘bad light’, is determined by a device called a light meter. It is an instrument with a light sensor that an umpire points towards the sight screen to generate a reading.

This reading is displayed on a screen, helping umpires determine if it is feasible to continue play at a particular stage in the game. In the past, when conditions deteriorated to the point where they had to be reviewed, the batting side was offered light – and allowed to decide whether they wish to continue playing or not.

In 2010, however, Laws 3.8 and 3.9 of the game were amended, and the ‘offer of light’ was scrapped. Now, it is the umpires who have complete authority to stop play if they feel visibility is low and it is dangerous to carry on.

There remain some problems. Light meters are used only to determine if visibility has improved or worsened, and the final call is still the umpire’s discretion. Light laws in cricket are still rather inflexible and the umpires remain bound by them, meaning uniformity in decisions made on bad light remains difficult to achieve.

CRICKET UMPIRE COUNTER

The cricket umpire counter (or CUC) is a device intended to help the umpires keep track of numerical details in a match. It is a small instrument designed to fit in the palm of one’s hand and helps umpires keep count of the number of deliveries, overs and wickets.

There are separate counters for each of these metrics and umpires must rotate the wheels in the device to keep count of all of them. They are helpful in demarcating overs, and can be especially useful in amateur or domestic games, where it is easier to lose count of such important details if one relies on memory.

The CUC itself is an upgrade from the previous method to keep track of overs. Earlier, umpires would keep a handful of small objects such as marbles or coins – one for each ball of an over – in one hand at the beginning of an over.

After one ball was bowled, an umpire would transfer one of the marbles to the other hand. In this manner, once all marbles had been transferred from one hand to another, the over was deemed completed.

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Cricket Xtra: BCCI’s American gambit

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Growing the game: All-Stars T20

As the final nuts and bolts for a two-match T20 series in the United States of America between the West Indies and India are put into place, it’s perhaps the perfect time to marvel at the possibilities that an international series – albeit a short one – involving the Indian side, may hold.

Traditionally, bar the odd series or two, the US has never been a favoured market for cricket; and a lot of it has had to do with the bloated nature of cricket’s Test and one-day format.

But with the advent of T20s, and a growing subcontinental diaspora, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) bosses have been forced to take a look at the American audience as a possible target market to make money out of.

The earliest indications of the Indian board’s keenness to host matches in the US were seen earlier this year when the Champions League T20 had been scrapped and talks of a mini-IPL were doing rounds.

The Reliance-owned IPL team Mumbai Indians had even worked out the modalities of playing a few friendly games in America, a plan that eventually failed to see light of day.

However, the biggest precedence that the BCCI can take a lot of confidence from, is in the form of two successful seasons of the Sahara Cup in the late 1990s.

Involving arch rivals India and Pakistan, played in the expatriate-dense city of Toronto, the bilateral contest was a runaway success and proved that cricket could indeed be consumed in North America.

This precedence juxtaposed with the fact that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is currently trying to globalise the sport and boards like the BCCI are trying to tap into once thriving but now dormant neutral markets such as the UAE, shows that the proposed T20 series between the West Indies and India might just be an idea filled with promise.

Over three million people of Indian origin currently reside in the US, which is around 1% of the American population; add the numbers of the West Indian community and it translates to attractive potential gate revenue and broadcast deals.

The state of Florida, where the proposed game will be held – in the city of Lauderhill – has more than 130,000 Indians living in it.

Additionally, the game is most likely going to be played on a weekend, starting at 10:00 local time – thereby achieving the dual objectives of making it easy for fans to fly in from other cities, and ensuring that the product is lucrative for advertisers back home, who can in turn make best use of a prime-time telecast slot.

A huge advantage that the organisers enjoy is in the fact that cricket isn’t completely an alien sport in Lauderhill. The city, which houses the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium, has been the venue of four T20 international matches involving sides like West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand that were played between May 2010 and July 2012.

The Central Broward Regional Park Stadium has hosted T20 cricket in the past

The Central Broward Regional Park Stadium has hosted T20 cricket in the past

Some matches of the ongoing Caribbean Premier League are also slated to be staged at the same venue. While the opportunities are in abundance, the BCCI and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) will not want to run too far ahead of themselves.

They’d do well to learn from the mistakes of the Sachin Tendulkar-Shane Warne led initiative, Cricket All-Stars T20 Series. Played at baseball stadiums in different US cities, the series saw stars of yesteryears battle it out in three T20 contests that pitted Warne’s XI against Tendulkar’s XI.

The novelty of the concept notwithstanding, the series received flak from some corners for not providing anything more than nostalgia value. The lack of competitiveness and sky-high ticket prices ensured that the games weren’t outright sell-outs like many had expected.

Competition shouldn’t be that big a concern this time around as the T20 matches between India and the Windies will involve currently playing top cricketers like Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Rohit Sharma.

But a close watch on the price of tickets being offered is a prerequisite. The intended outcome of popularising the sport and cashing in on an untapped market might become extra difficult if apart showing up at an odd start time, fans also have to buy tickets that are priced very high.

It’s easy to guess how the series would be promoted though. On the back of India’s World T20 2016 semi-final defeat at home at the hands of the West Indies, marketers will jump at the prospect of positioning it as a score-settling grudge contest.

With some of the finest names set to take the field, the rest of the marketing should take place on its own. If all goes well, the cricket boards will not only emerge richer but also wiser about entering unchartered territory and making cricket hugely sellable as a global commodity.

With the currently vacant window for the defunct Champions League T20 yet to be filled, who knows, a mini-IPL in the US might just become a reality starting 2017. And one can definitely never say never to more international cricket on American shores.

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