Post Date
Dec 15 2020

SBASSE LUMS houses the first ICC-Accredited biomechanics testing center of the region

The information is extracted from a recent interview with Dr Mian Muhammad Awais who is a professor at SBASSE and is the lead in actualizing this project.  

Without a doubt, cricket is considered as the favorite sport of our nation, so much so that we’d like to call it our national sport. Our emotions always run high when we see our players fighting the cricketing battle fiercely with worthy opponents. Each Sixer and each Out sends euphoria though our bodies and makes us leap our hands up in the air. Any cricket match pertaining to the Pakistani cricket team becomes a passionate matter for our nation and our players evidentially become our heroes in the field.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) on 2th July 2019 announced that the Cricket Lab at the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SBASSE) at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) has been accredited as a testing center for suspected illegal bowling actions. This is indeed a great honor not only for our university but for the entire nation, as SBASSE LUMS becomes one of the five exclusive international cricket testing biomechanical lab in the world. The accreditation of SBASSE LUMS Lab as an ICC testing centre means bowlers reported in international cricket and Pakistan’s domestic matches can be referred to this facility, where they will be tested according to international protocols and methods.

So, it started in 2006 when one of the Pakistani cricket team bowlers – Shabbir Ahmed’s bowling action came under scrutiny and was reported for an illegal bowling action. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had to ensure the International Cricket Council (ICC) that Shabbir’s bowling action was satisfactory and was also required to send ICC data as proof on the basis of which they analysed his performance and decided if there is an improvement in his bowling action. At that time, he was banned from playing international cricket by ICC, among a few other international players. At that moment PCB contacted LUMS and requested LUMS Lab to have a sort of video analysis done for the player. Hence, Dr Awais and his team along with Pakistan’s former Test bowler Sarfaraz Nawaz who was supervising Shabbir at the time, evaluated the player’s recorded bowling action, conducted some live tests and helped the player correct his delivery. Eventually the ban was lifted from the player and he returned to his international cricket, which was his passion.  

This was the first time that ICC had identified a player for illegal bowling action and PCB had decided after the ban that they needed a permanent solution for any such issue which may arise in the future. In such cases, the usual method was to contact the international cricket testing centres and have the cricket players fly to the international examination center and get the tested. This was not only costly but tedious due to many reasons, hence, a solution on domestic level was sought after for this problem and PCB conducted an analysis which would become the basis for the new local lab. Back in 2008, PCB bought some equipment which included cameras and other technical paraphernalia along with an indoor space to conduct these tests. This was a small in-house system by design, which could not cater-to many of the complicated technicalities of the Test. This project, unfortunately, was shelved for a few years due to the lack of technical expertise and some other internal differences. Several years later, in 2016, the lab was finally constructed by the PCB and LUMS and the material was planted to be tested on the athletes.

The main aim of setting up this lab was to analyse the actual performance and technique of the domestic players so that before they play an international match, all of the highlighted deficiencies are identified and corrected. Consequently, our players will get the facility of early detection of errors in their bowling actions and hence, get early remedy, before their delivery style is permanently conditioned. Similar testing service which the bio-mechanics lab provides, comes with a fee of approx. $8000 to $10,000 per player, which is primarily borne by the player whenever they work with the exclusive international testing labs. Through the local lab, the cost per player would significantly be reduced, while the athletes practice in a docile environment with technical experts and their trusted coaches. This lab is believed to be easily accessible to the various private cricket clubs which are operating in the heart of Lahore and other cities of the nation. To support this cause further, PCB acts as the official organization which would support cricket players to connect with the lab and avail the facilities.

Whenever a player is on the field and playing a match, early detection in errors in bowling action are typically done by the match referees and the umpires. If they feel that the player is not bowling correctly then they report their respective boards about the bowler’s performance. Generally all international players are eventually reported to the ICC, after the local cricket boards are notified. Once a player is reported, then they are required to get tested within two weeks of the notification of the umpire/referee in order to ascertain if there’s a real technical issue with the bowling action. Subsequently, the player and the PCB (in Pakistan’s case) contacts the international testing lab and makes an appointment with them to test the player’s technical presentation. This is done as the bowler is required to repeatedly make the same delivery on which he had been reported earlier, while this action is recorded via multiple cameras at the testing facility. Sometimes the actual bowling action from the video recordings of the real matches are also scrutinized to substantiate the claim. Once the data is collected and the bowler is tested, the report compiled by the experts is sent to the ICC panel of expertise, who evaluate the report and then announce their decision on the player’s future. In case of PCB, the board has created an internal ‘illegal action committee’ which is similar to what all the international boards have formed. These experts then decide if the player needs further remedial support or their sentence needs to be disregarded. If the player is found to have a questionable bowling action, then he/she is restricted from playing domestic and international cricket for a year and is recommended to take remedial trainings to improve his/her action. Once the player completes a yearlong remedial training, he/she is supposed to take the test again as a proof of corrected and acceptable bowling action to play any future domestic or international cricket matches. Throughout this process, the lab and the coach play a vital role in assessing and fixing the player’s performing styles and techniques. As the coach physically demonstrates modifications in an acceptable bowling action, the lab tests confirm that the action can be maintained. This assessment of the modifications in the bowling action is done through biomechanical findings.  

Generally, the cricket players go through a rigorous training with coaches in cricket camps, and the coaches, who usually are veteran cricket players helping the rookie players in achieving their desired performance levels. However, with modern times and variations in new styles and types of bowling actions, having technical facilities with technologically advanced evaluation methods have given the players an edge in understanding their deficiencies and finding perfect cures for a successful playing career. Our players are naturally talented and most of them have played cricket not through formal channels but learnt it from street-cricket. Having these cutting-edge facilities provides them with a phenomenal chance to improve their performance at every stage of the game.

From ‘how to angle the hand with the bowl’, to ‘how to rotate the arm’, the coach leads the activity by demonstration to the bowlers so he/she can imitate the trainer’s instructions. Hence, modifications in actions are scientifically assessed via biomechanical aspects which are then tested in the Lab through motion-detection and computer models. After spending hours at the Cricket Lab, repeating the same action continuously, the seasoned coaches concoct the right action style for the player which the player can easily adopt. In the recent times, the players are required to get tested even for domestic cricketing season, this helps them to stay on their A-game while they prepare for international spells. The hours of painstaking practice helps the player in optimizing his/her bowling action for ideal performance while ensuring that the style is acceptable to the ICC. The player is supposed to test the second time after the recommended remedial time period is over and then a decision is made on the fate of the bowler’s future.

The SBASSE LUMS Cricket Lab was constructed after critical assessment by ICC and provision of an obligatory technical support by ICC, including having an indoor area large enough to allow a player to bowl off his or her full run-up; a motion analysis system with a minimum of twelve high-speed cameras capable of producing three-dimensional data, and suitably qualified technicians experienced in using such systems and capable of implementing the ICC testing protocol.

To assess all of this, the ICC requires two high-speed cameras of 20fps to be placed at either ends of the bowling pitch which record the bowler’s action from front and behind as the bowler performs his delivery. A side-camera is also allotted to video record the action. Two supplementary Infra-Red (IR) cameras which are placed around the pitch are made to capture the reflective-material-made-markers which are placed on the body of the player before the test starts. The actions through these mark-tags can only be captured by the IR cameras, which give the technician a holistic and accurate view of the bowler’s delivery. These marks are administered according to the ICC protocols which are placed on the body and especially the arms of the players to make correct calculations of the movements. The player then performs at least one bowling over (which are a total of 6 bowling deliveries to the batsman), to have their action recorded and to have accurate data collected. In most cases, the bowler performs two or three overs of different bowling styles and types (e.g. off-spinner, bouncer over, Yorker, reverse swing etc.) to cover the variety of bowling types which the player can perform. This gives the technicians a lot of real-time data points to tabulate and evaluate for a player. Inevitably, this critical data is measured through the full set of software which is provided by the ICC to SBASSE LUMS testing centre, which guarantees a consistent assessment of bowlers as it does for all the other testing centers worldwide.

The report is the fruit of labor which entails placing the markers on the players, letting them perform the bowling overs multiple times meanwhile the coach helps the player with modified actions and techniques. Although the actual recording of the bowling actions is of about 2 hours, the entire process from end-to-end takes from eight to ten days of engagement of the bowler, coach and the Lab designated officials. Once the report is processed and generated in a three-dimensional motion capturing aspect, it is then shared with the cricket board. To work on and to support this very technically savvy process, Dr Awais has been the lead of the entire project. From solving internal issues and connecting with the relevant outside community, Dr Awais had been at the behest of it all. Currently the Lab has hired research associates who help with the functioning of the Lab and make sure that the data is correctly recorded and the reports are efficiently created in an error-free manner. In fact for the initial period of 1.5 years, the LUMS Lab worked on its own with an in-house technical staff, as PCB did not have designated specialists to support the Lab. In order to create strong foundations of the Lab, plenty of research collaborations took place by the SBASSE faculty along with a few international academics, researchers and cricket coaches and players.

To achieve the accreditation for this lab, several ‘Standards’ were set forth by the ICC which had to be met by the Cricket Lab at SBASSE LUMS. Initially the SBASSE Cricket Lab was running on the information and protocols which were set internally with the help of players, coaches and a few research specialists, as ICC had not yet shared appropriate protocols to run the lab. This was pretty much the same way, which the PCB was conducting the tests locally, based on findings of a few noted international research groups. In the earlier days, Dr Awais and his team replicated a few of the successful international models, while inventing a few of their own technical assessment models through literature and started testing the bowlers locally. An opportune moment arrived when a Kenyan bowler arrived in Pakistan for training and PCB requested the SBASSE Cricket Lab to test the player. This sparked great interest of the international media and the likes of ESPN broadcasted this news all across the world, that a facility in Pakistan is testing cricket players for their techniques. This news generated a lot of interest of the ICC and created a possibility of having a facility in Pakistan, and hence approached the team at LUMS Lab and PCB for further dialogue. So, along with Mudassar Nazar who was the Director National Cricket Academy of Pakistan and Ehsan-ur Rahman from the Pakistan Cricket Board, Dr Awais embarked on a journey to the international cricket lab in Pretoria, South Africa. From this journey, the team learnt about the necessary aspects of setting up a lab of an international standard and as they returned, the team started doing more tests to collect data for a possible accredited official facility in Pakistan. The Pakistani convoy’s second visit to South Africa took place some while after the initial one, where the team of experts from LUMS and PCB were required to run the same tests on foreign soil. This was a crucial moment for the team, because this would determine ICC’s agreement in formally giving a go-ahead to PCB and the team of experts. Luckily and with the hard work of the team at LUMS Lab and PCB, the LUMS Cricket Lab was conferred with Accreditation for the facility. Throughout this process, ICC gave full support to SBASSE LUMS Cricket Lab and PCB, to ensure proper execution of the plan. Right from the first day, Dr Awais had been in touch with some of the best biomechanics experts and cricket coaches from around the world, who helped him understand the dynamics of the lab and ignited dialogue for the cricket game at large. This center joins the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, Loughborough University, Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai and the University of Pretoria as testing centres for players reported in international cricket under the ICC Suspect Illegal Bowling Action Regulation.

The latest case of unacceptable bowling action came up recently while playing the domestic season in an English county, Muhammad Hafeez was instructed to get tested at the SBASSE LUMS Cricket Lab by the English Cricket Board. Muhammad Hafeez was consequently tested at the LUMS facility and was cleared of objections in 2019. This and similar cases usually take place under the MOU which has been signed with the PCB to ensure cricket players get the help which they need locally. This is done in collaboration with the High Performance Center which is created in the National Cricket Academy at PCB. This is definitely a future-forward initiative on part of PCB and LUMS, in making sure that the athletes perform to their utmost potential while keeping the game fair and square. The most interesting aspect of the Lab is that it is open to men’s cricket teams, the women’s cricket teams and the special persons’ cricket team.

Apart from testing bowling actions, Dr Awais and his team have conducted research and development in a few other major fields. One of the exciting avenues is creating 3D animation movies, where the team has created some remarkable animated movies for educational purposes. These include localized action-replication and movement-replication generated videos. Dr Awais has also been engaged with an international organization which works on simulations relating to cricket and created a few 3D animated movies for them through 3D motion-capturing. The other direction in which the Lab is actively involved in is ‘Gait analyses’ where they work with orthopedics and physicians. Injury preventive solutions and prosthetic designs are created through capturing motion in the Lab and then further work is done to refine them. Gait analysis and spine alignment tests are also conducted here which highlight any displacement and alignment issues of bones and joints. The Lab helps the physicians and orthopedic surgeons in providing accurate data and diagrams which help them perform better surgeries with precision. The Lab is in the process of reaching to an agreement with Shalimar Hospital Lahore where they will work with physiotherapists and doctors to heal various physical difficulties of patients. So far a few of the students from the Shalimar Teaching Hospital have done studies on their thesis at the Lab and in the future Dr Awais sees more engagement with the students as well as the doctors of the hospital. The Lab is also helping different students and beneficiaries from the Punjab University Sports Department and a few PhD candidates from University of Lahore have approached to collect data for their thesis.

Dr Nadeem Khan from SBASSE Electrical Engineering department is working on biomedical area and is heavily involved in the Lab where he and Dr Awais have conducted overlapping projects through a few EMG devices. Dr Imdad is also quite actively involved with the Cricket Lab pertaining to the area of Sports Analytics, as he works in the Computer Science department at SBASSE LUMS.

A course was introduced last year on ‘Introduction to Biomechanics and use of Lab for Sports Performance Enhancement’ which was very well received and many students enrolled in the program. This session couldn’t be run this year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic which halted university operations. The Lab is also in the process of designing short summer school courses with the LUMS Continuing Education Center which will help bring students to the lab and learn about ‘sports analytics’ and ‘3D motion animations’. The Lab aims to have these two options as a regular feature for young tween students who are in their formative years of education and have the knack of experimenting and learning new things; while some options will be open to college students who can work on their research via the Lab.