MS Dhoni is on strike and everyone is glued to their TV sets. He smashes the ball to the mid-wicket for four. The crowd cheers, Virat Kohli has his arms up in the air, celebrating. India has achieved a historic win against Australia. A graphic is displayed on the TV screen with the legend: "India has won the match against Australia by 5 wickets".
Stats are now being thrown on the screen with Kohli's smiling head shot in the centre, hawk-eye images explaining how he played all across the ground. A split screen view has analysts in the studio talking to experts such as Harsha Bhogle or Wasim Akram at the stadium.
Neat stuff, right?
While all of this is happening, a team is working behind the screen to enhance your cricket viewing experience. Commands are being fired as fast as Shoaib Akhtar's deliveries and there is no margin for error -- a comment I believe is popular among cricket analysts.
On a tour of the Star Sports studio in Mumbai, I ask Sanjog Gupta, head of the cricket broadcast for the channel in India, the fascinating technology that keeps the show running.
"In earlier days we used to have simple scorecards with minimal information. But with the advancement of technology people like to see more stats and graphics on the screen. 3D figures of the players and the power ratings are getting popular amongst the viewers", he says.
On walking into the studio, I see people running around to make all sorts of arrangements. A show is about to begin. Cameras throw up a close up of an anchor and a moving one shows the stats. There are nine cameras pointing at me. Seven of them have robotic controls. Which means they can be remotely controlled from any control room within the facilities. Star Sports have three big studios and five small ones to record the shows.
Camera movements can be memorized by the system and recalled whenever required. Imagine an assistant like Siri who has a set of commands which she would follow. This studio is used for the Hindi broadcast of the world cup, where the likes of Aakash Chopra, Virender Sehwag, Shoaib Akhtar and Kapil Dev debate the gentleman's game and rib each other.
Convertible HD cameras from Panasonic are being used along with a Shotoku robotic system. This configuration provides an efficient usage of the camera resources. One camera on the segway -- which is the rail at the side of the studio is steady with wireless connection and a GoPro camera (an action camera used for movement) on the strategic table is placed to give an up-close shot of the figurines while doing tactical analysis by our pundits.
As we stand in the studio, Gupta asks one of his teammates to show us how things work. An image of Virat Kohli is produced in 3D with stats flashing beside him. This is the magic of augmented reality.
Augmented reality has helped us capture the imagination of the virtual world projected in the real world. From Star Wars characters talking with each other to Narendra Modi's hologram in his election campaign, AR has been a key component. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world. So all the graphics which were 2D few years ago can be now projected in a real world, so the presenter can interact with him.
We walk by another studio being used for an English broadcast. Australian legend Shane Warne is busy with an analysis. This studio has six projectors used to create a graphical backdrop while the anchor and the analysts speak. It also has five cameras out of which four have robotic movements. One camera is on a still platform to produce real-time 3D graphics using augmented reality. The screen is showing a power rating picture of Michelle Santner.
"Power rating is something we came up for this world cup. ICC has its own rankings but it is very limited as it only considers the T20 internationals. And some of the teams play very few of those games every year. So we decided to include domestic competitions as well in the rating of a player", says Sankar Rajgopal, who is part of the analytics team at Star Sports.
"Rather than focusing on averages and strike rates we wanted to build something around natural aspects of a player so we have consistency, hitting power, playing under pressure, win contribution, and adaptability. Based on these we determine the rating of a player," he adds.
"We want our viewers not just to see the stats but experience it as well. One wouldn't know how a bowler's bowling angle is affecting the match just by listening to the analysts. They have to see it as well. So have we have collaborated with a company called Deltatre. They are responsible for collating sports data seamlessly into immersive virtual graphics that create a thrilling viewing experience through Vizrt’s Augmented Reality (AR) Graphic System.
"This studio is first of its kind in the world with a total of 24 augmented reality cameras installed.This studio we use is the first of its kind in the world with a total of 24 augmented reality cameras installed," Mahesh Srikanta who is in-house director of Production Control Rooms (PCRs), says.
One of the coolest technology Star Sports has used in this world cup is gesture control. Imagine Tony Stark waving and jabbing at 3D objects in front of him. Here the presenter can bring up a video, play, pause, rewind and fast forward it with just hand gestures.
Gesture control in studio graphics is based on the gesture control armband hardware. This cutting edge technology works on recognizing the muscle movement of the presenter’s arm. The muscle movement gets translated into different gestures (e.g. wave, move left, right, up, down, movement, of the palm and fingers). Along with the muscle movement, this technology can be used to track the arm movement itself.
LBW is one of the most controversial aspects of the cricket match. But in recent years, we always see that a projection called Hawkeye is displayed on the screen letting us know that was the player really out or not. In cricket, hawk eye was used first in 2001 and then later it was the part of the umpire referral system since 2008. Apart from this, the technology has been very helpful in showing different stats such as bowling release points, pitch map, and the batting strokes played around the ground.
"We place a total of 6 hawk-eye cameras in the stadium. Two cameras on the each side of the wicket (or the pitch) and two-run out cameras each on the left and right of the pitch.Every ball is tracked & the information is passed on to make Pitch Map of the bowlers, their line & length, ball trajectory, Spin/Swing or deviation. For a batsman every run scored can be mapped into his scoring zones of that particular innings," says Jamie Hunter who is working on the Hawk-Eye technology.
"Later on, when we have graphics with us we send them to the control room. We pick the interesting ones from the team or the player's stats and throw them up on your screen. For example, if death overs are going on we would display how Jaspreet Bumrah has bowled his end overs. Or if Martin Guptil is batting, what are his major scoring areas in this world cup," he adds.
Near the production rooms there is a small studio which can be used as a commentary box. In the box, the commentators get three different feeds. One is the normal TV feed, second is a wide angle feed which shows the field settings and the ground movement, the third one is the reverse angle camera which always shows what is going on the pitch. Besides the commentators sits Dillip Mohanty who hands them bits and pieces of stats. While Dhruv Khaitan goes to the venue and handles the stats there.
When I walk into the sports cafe for commentators, I immediately spot crciket legends enjoying the game. I had a chance to speak to a couple of them.
"There are two parts of technology analysts and broadcast. for analytics earlier we had very few things in terms of numbers. At most averages of the batsman. Now we have all kind of stats like how batsman are playing in powerplays to the stats of the bowlers in the death overs. So the word of the commentator's mouth is not enough. Everyone can dig out these numbers," says Harsha Bhogle.
"What broadcast has done for us is that every detail is now visible. From the white patch on your shoes to food stuck in your teeth so you always have to pay attention. It is not impossible that in a few years you might have an analytical commentator in the box as well who would just deal with the numbers", he adds.
"It is great for the game overall. Players can also just watch the show and know where were their mistakes," says Pakistani cricket legend Wasim Akram. Former Indian Batsman VVS Laxman, who is a commentator now, joins in: "As a player, I didn't pay much attention to the numbers. But now as I am in the profession of commentary, I feel numbers are important. And for the viewers analytics are important as they confirm their way of thinking."
With the pre-show, drama begins in one of the three production control rooms the channel has. Everyone is at peak concentration. The producer is orchestrating the show. On one side there is graphics team, on the mic he has the studio team. Throughout the show he is cautious, taking every measure he can to deliver a great experience. He is asking for a highlight reel on preview screen of the previous match when the pre-show. He says go, the music plays and everyone across the world is about to see the live action. Everyone is excited to see the match.
Bhogle has the last word and no better word has ever been spoken about the game: "No matter how much technology there is in the game, it should not replace the emotion in the game. Sports is the greatest unscripted drama the humans will ever see."
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