While the Australian cricket team collapsed in another embarrassing test defeat in Hobart today, head office has been busy working with Microsoft to turn things around.
On the eve of Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella’s Australian visit, the AFR has revealed that the tech giant has deployed a new performance analytics system that will be trialled this summer by Cricket Australia.
Coaching and performance staff on state and test teams will take advantage of “the latest in machine learning and predictive analytics technology” to crunch a huge amount of player data.
“What we’re finding is, for a lot of our frontline coaching staff, there’s almost too much data, and to get in and understand what the data is saying is a daunting task,” Cricket Australia technology head Michael Osborne told the AFR.
Nadella is expected to officially unveil the Cricket Australia platform at the Melbourne Cricket Ground today. The Microsoft chief is a huge cricket fan, having played the sport while growing up in India.
In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Nadella recalled a valuable life lesson he’d learnt from those days, which he took into business.
“I grew up in India, and this was pre-India becoming a cricketing power and winning even its first World Cup. We were playing a cricket match, and that was the first time we were playing a club that had some overseas players,” he told Bloomberg.
“These were Australians. We were in such awe of these overseas players, and we sort of were watching rather than competing. A business manager of the team saw that I was fielding very far away from the action and just watching. He put me right next to the action, and it was a great lesson to say, ‘Look, when you’re on the field, you compete. You can have a lot of respect for your competition, but you should not be in awe of them’.”
The new Microsoft system brings all the data together to produce practical analysis such as probability of injury. Osborne said this is a level of sophistication way above what had been on dressing room computers until now.
“The new platform takes this vast amount of data, provides an environment for our sports science folks to explore that data and find insights in it, and then provides a very elegant dashboard that will surface the trends and the information that will be impactful to the coaches.”
Cricket Australia demonstrated the technology to Fairfax Media with an example for preventing injuries for fast bowlers — a problem that has plagued the national team in recent years.
By bringing together data observed from the player, tracking from Catapult Sports and match data collected by Okta, a dashboard can advise when a player is reaching workload capacity and needs to be rested for a upcoming game.
But cricket fans shouldn’t worry – they’ll still be able to blame the selectors for the team’s failure.
“I think we will always need human selectors, we’ll always need people to make those judgment calls,” Osborne said. “I don’t think the artificial intelligence will get to the point, or I don’t think we’d want it to get to the point, where it’s selecting our national team for us.”
Microsoft’s system for Cricket Australia, based on the Azure cloud platform, is reminiscent of its dashboard system for the Australian Institute of Sport revealed in June. That system, developed in conjunction with Microsoft analytics partner BizData, also assisted coaches predict athletes’ risk of injury and is due for a full rollout for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team.
* EDITOR’S NOTE: Australia lost 8-32 this morning, to be all out for 161. South Africa won by an innings and 80 runs to take an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the 3-test series.
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