Mobile phone applications have changed the way matches are played in neighbourhood playgrounds

When 29-year-old Nithin R. bowls a fast-paced delivery, the batsman, Shankar, is nonplussed. He steps out of his crease in a bid to make the ball soar high in the skies. He misses it, and the wicketkeeper stumps him before he can make a dash back to the crease.

Shankar throws a fit immediately and claims that he isn’t out. But he can’t have his way — for the entire proceedings have been recorded by a teammate on his fancy iPhone. The entire team huddles around the person wielding the phone. Soon enough, Shankar is given out.    

This scene is playing out in picturesque Krishnapuri, a silent colony near Mandaveli that houses what locals like to call the ‘KCG’ (Krishnapuri Cricket Ground). Even as technology alters the way sport is being played throughout the world, it has also made inroads into the dusty bylanes of namma Chennai, where street-sport is almost a way of life this time of the year.

Gone are the days when teams were formed on the basis of ‘the number one gets’. Or the times when a little stone was clutched and shown to the opposition to determine who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ at the toss. With several mobile applications doing the same job, with perhaps much more precision and skill, an increasing number of young Chennaiites are resorting to technology to indulge in some quarrel-free games on the street. “It makes life easier,” says Nithin, a project manager at a software firm who loves outdoor sport, “When we can pay our electricity bill and shop using our mobile phones, why can’t we decide who plays who, based on a mobile phone application?”

It’s not just cricket — youngsters playing other popular sports, including volleyball, badminton and basketball, also make good use of technology to determine parameters.

Take Midnight Badminton Marathon (MBM), for instance. Played at a bungalow at Nungambakkam’s Rutland Gate, this all-night sporting action, held during summers, uses technology quite liberally. Even before setting up court, the players log on to a mobile app to find out which way the wind is blowing, so that it doesn’t interrupt a game mid-way.

That’s not all… enthusiasts waiting for their turn to play are always phone-in-hand, ever ready to log in to solve issues amicably. “When we are playing with a group of friends, fights always crop up,” explains K.P. Chidambaram, one of MBM’s organisers, “Things like what happens if the shuttle cork falls on the boundary line, or if it brushes the net and falls on the other side. When such arguments ensue, a player, who is the ‘make-do referee’ of that particular game, immediately consults the official shuttle rules used in international matches on a mobile app or the Internet.”

When that happens, arguments cease. “While we are playing just for fun and fitness, consulting an app to find out official rules about the game gives us a high. Not only does it ensure a peaceful sporting atmosphere, it also educates us a lot on-the-spot about the game we’re playing,” he adds.

The advantages of using technology in street-level sport are many — apart from checking rules, there are also applications to track scores, form teams, rate players and graphically depict fixtures. And, the most exciting part is that with a little bit of technical knowledge, even you can design an app. Sriram Seshadri, a techie who designed an application that’s used among his friends, explains, “I used a simple shuffle algorithm to create an app that splits the group of players into teams of two. Basically, it aims to simplify the age-old method of making a player bend and determine who forms a team.”

However, not everybody is a fan of such technology creeping into sport. Former cricketer and TV personality Bosskey says, “It is overdone these days, especially with the advent of IPL. Playing cricket on the street is all about sweating it out, literally, and staying away from electronic gadgets. What’s the fun in using a cell phone even there? Such apps only make you ‘immobile’!”