Trends & Features

Greg Chappell talks about his career and new venture Str8 bat

Greg Chappell retires as an Australian national cricket selector at the end of the Ashes. It was his fourth go at the job, the first when he was still captain on England’s Ashes tour down under in 1982-3.

The middle of the three Chappell brothers has just turned 71 (Ian is 75, Trevor, the younger brother who bowled the infamous underarm delivery, is 66). Greg doesn’t want another full-time job, but has a few projects to keep him occupied, some coaching in his old school and a few commercial ventures. “I don’t want to just sit around doing nothing,” he told Sports Insight.

Chappell was of that generation of 1970s cricketers who started to realise their commercial potential, but who also could not earn enough from the game, to go fulltime professional. While captain, in the early eighties, he famously stopped going on overseas tours, including the Ashes tour to England in 1981, to concentrate on his business interests in Australia.

In Chappell’s absence, Australia struggled. But had he not had one eye on business back then, we may never have witnessed the marvel that became known as Botham’s Ashes. With their best batsman in the side, Australia would have less likely capitulated for those low scores at Headingley and Edgbaston, and cricketing history might never have been made.

The other Australian batters struggled to come to terms with English conditions, where the ball swung and seamed more than they were used to, and in particular, the bowling of Botham and Bob Willis. By the end of the tour, all of them, except Allan Border, were out of form.

These days, Chappell is promoting a new technology, a smart cricket bat, that he thinks will help batters recover their form, when they’re going through a bad run of scores. He also says that it will help improve players’ performance, when they’re in good form.

Str8bat is a mobile phone sized sensor that affixes to the back of a cricket bat with a Velcro strip. It’s aptly named because when the bat starts to move, it starts recording data, about the angle of the backlift and the path of the bat. Orthodox batting technique suggests that the bat should swing back and forth in a straight line, in line with trajectory of the ball, giving the batter the best possible chance to hit the ball, how and where they want to hit it.

“When the bat starts coming down at an angle, or is only in line for a split second, the batsman is more likely to miss the ball, or edge it to the wicket keeper and slips,”

Chappell says. He adds that it is notoriously difficult to get players to admit when they’re doing something wrong technically. “If you tell a player that you’ve seen something wrong, they won’t believe you, or they’ll deny it.

Even if you show them a video, they’ll still likely say that they see things in a different way. “Both views are subjective. But with this tech, you get a 3D picture of the bat’s trajectory which can’t be ignored. From that you can start a conversation with the batsman about how to put things right.”

The Str8 bat sensor also records the speed of the bat’s downswing and the speed of the bat as it connects with the ball. All, crucial performance metrics which give both the batter and the coach an indication of what they need to do to improve the player’s efficiency.

The sensor is light enough that it doesn’t affect the weight or swing of the bat, can record up to 300 hits in one go and transfer the data, remotely, to a computer, tablet, or smart phone where coach and player can view the visuals and analyse the player’s performance.

Even if the coach and player or on opposite sides of the world. Str8Bat is due to go on sale later this year. Co-founder, Rahul Nagar, a former endurance athlete who has worked at IBM explains that although the product was built in a lab, it has also been tested by hundreds of coaches and players.

Former West Indies batsman and recent Afghanistan coach, Phil Simmons, has used it, as has India Women’s T20 captain, Harmanpreet Kaur and, soon to be former, Lancashire batsman Haseeb Hameed. All were impressed and thought it helped with skill development.

Greg Chappell adds that the technology has also been trialled in academies in India, and was presented to interested parties during this year’s World Cup in England. “In the not too distant future, players will demand this sort of tech, either of their coaches or they’ll have their own sensor,” he says.

Chappell also thinks it won’t be long before sensors are embedded into bats so players can use them in matches and that soon after the sensors will be connected to broadcast technology to give TV commentators another aid to analyse what happens on the field. Gagan Daga, str8Bat’s other co-founder, also wants to be able to transfer information to umpires to help them with their decision making and is looking into how the technology might be used in other sports.

If you’re selling to cricketers, it helps having a former all-time great promoting your product, of course, although Chappell did say that he has a stake in str8bat, so it’s not just an endorsement from him. However, Chappell knows first-hand that it takes more than a famous name and a gimmick to sell products to the cricket playing public.

In December 1979, Chappell was playing a Test match against England in Perth. It was the second morning and he was sitting in the pavilion hoping that the last three Australian batters could put on a few and improve on Australia’s overnight score of 232 for eight. One of those batters was the great fast bowler, Dennis Lillee, and after a few balls, the noise from the crowd signalled to Chappell and the other players indoors, that something strange was going on, out on the pitch.

Back then, Lillee was the one who was promoting a new bat. He had taken it out to use, hoping to get a bit of exposure on TV. There was one problem, however: Lillee’s bat was made of aluminium. England captain, Mike Brearley complained that it was denting the ball, the umpires asked Lillee to use a wooden bat, Lillee hurled the bat, theatrically, into the outfield, just missing his captain, Greg Chappell, who was walking on to the field to give his big fast bowler, Lillee’s usual bat.

“Dennis just wanted to get his bat on TV to help improve sales,” Chappell says. “But after all the fuss died down, when England batted, Dennis bowled better and faster, than ever. When Brearley came out to bat, I said to Dennis: ‘This is the bloke who told you that you couldn’t use your aluminium bat.’ Dennis glared back. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Brearley’s shoes after that.”

Sales of Lillee’s aluminium bat rocketed for a few months, but soon after the laws of cricket were changed to stipulate that the bat must be made of wood. Lillee later said that the whole episode cost him A$50,000.

With a sport as conservative as cricket, it takes more than just a novel idea and a publicity stunt to get a new product into the market, and have it stay there. Like str8bat, it also has to add value to the game, benefit those who play it, and sit comfortably not just within the sport’s rules, but also, within the spirit of the game.

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