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Graduate’s eye fixed firmly on county cricket ball

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Published on 26 January 2022

Luke Smith
Luke Smith

While England may have failed to deliver the results at the Ashes this year - one Sunderland graduate is using video technology to help improve his club’s success on the cricket field.

The role of a performance analyst in county cricket has grown rapidly over the last several years thanks to advancements in technology, and University of Sunderland graduate Luke Smith is now at the forefront of using this data and insight, helping Durham Cricket enjoy a recent successful run in the 50 Over competition both at home and away.

After completing his Sports and Exercise Science degree in 2020, Luke, 23, himself a club cricket player, landed the job at Durham, playing a huge role in helping the club’s coaches and players access and analyse key footage required to provide strategies across the game of cricket.

Using a video camera to log each ball that is bowled, Luke then attaches certain information to that ball, as to where that ball pitched on the wicket, where it was going to hit and what shot was played and what runs were scored. The data is then downloaded to a computer in the dressing room which the players and the coach can then watch back in real time so during the match, while the match is on.

“It’s very much watching every ball and tagging every ball so it’s ready for the players to view back after their spell or after their innings,” explains Luke, from Fulwell, who is now in his second season with the club.

“It’s best use is to go back after you’ve had a good innings or a great spell and you can see what you’ve done well, watch the whole innings through and it can be motivational. We use a lot of the old video to put together highlights and videos of the individual players if they’ve done well so they can look at that before their matches.”

Using software called Play Cricket Scorer, gifted by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the video feed comes directly into a central panel on Luke’s laptop.

He says: “You have to have an understanding of the computer and the software to be able to log the ball correctly and, of course, cricket knowledge is important. You must be able to log the type of shot and where it went for example. You have to be able to concentrate for a full day, you have to watch every ball so there isn’t the opportunity to get up and have a wander around the ground. You definitely need stickability!”

A Durham Cricket spokesperson said: "Luke has been a great addition to the team at Durham Cricket, sports analysis is constantly moving forward and having a well-qualified analyst with cricket knowledge is key to development. With the current technology it is exciting to see the developments with sports analysis in the future.”

It’s hardly surprising Luke has chosen this career path, with generations of cricketers in his family. He has been bowling and batting since he could walk, and played as a junior with Whitburn Cricket Club and Durham County Cricket. He now bowls in the First Team for Whitburn Cricket Club.

Luke joined the University programme after completing a BTEC at college in sports science. During the programme, as well as developing his scientific knowledge, he also selected the Performance Analysis module, and secured an Internship in his final year with Sunderland Football Club. At the club he was able to begin further developing his skills as a Performance Analyst.

Although his final months of university were swept up in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Luke kept his eye on the ball, and achieved a First Class degree before beginning work.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at university and got involved in the various sports clubs, it was a great way to meet friends and get involved in university life. All the modules helped prepare me for the work environment, and the lecturers were incredibly supportive, especially in those final months of the degree when we were in lockdown.”

Ivor Harkin, Lecturer in Physical Education Coaching and Sport Science at the University of Sunderland, said: “Performance analysis and notational analysis are key components in the evolution of sport and the elevation in performance, particularly in elite professional sports. It is a fact that data-driven insights are used for reflection, educating the training for upcoming games and driving the approach of how they are played to execute specific game plans. It is a growth area in the sport industry and thus shall provide opportunities for graduates. 

"I have known Luke since he was a county junior cricketer at Durham CCC, I am delighted he has followed his passion for cricket and developed it into a career.”

Asked how you can get involved in Performance Analysis, Luke says: “You can do Performance Analysis courses at the University now and you can do modules on Performance Analysis as part of Sports Science degrees and in Sports Coaching. I’d advise people to make the most of any voluntary opportunities they can take advantage of with local clubs. There is basic software out there that you can start with and then move on to more detailed analysis when you’re ready.

“It’s important to get involved with a sport you’re really interested in, if you’ve got a love for the sport and the team that you’re working with then you want to put more effort in and give them the best possible information you can.”

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