OUTSIDER INNOVATING CRICKET

An outsider innovating cricket?

When I tell people what I do for a living, the question always comes, “What got you into cricket?” In the world of cricket, I am a nobody. I never watched a game in my life until I was 27. When you are born in the USA, chances are you rose on baseball, football, or hockey. For many of us, it’s not just about a game; it’s the story. Seeing the athlete fight to win, fight to be the best in every second of that match, and to watch them strive to overcome the odds in their domain. When my classmate and later business partner Pratheek Palanethra(a.k.a Pratt) introduced me to cricket, I saw an all too familiar spark in his eye. The spark for the game that many players lose as they get old. It was still alive and well within him. I saw it in every player I met since then.

First time at a T20I in Bengaluru

Identifying Problems

It was quick to see the struggle in Pratt’s eyes when he talked about having to make the tough choice between academics and cricket. He had the potential to go into professional sports. Academics, unfortunately, had to take priority. The things he struggled with the most was seeing others with access to more opportunities to practice. He and many others didn’t have the resources that some other players did. He had to watch as extremely talented players lost out on their dream of playing at the professional level. Less skilled players who had top coaches and high-end equipment like electric bowling machines were rising to the top.

Interviewing Ravi Ashwin during the video shoot in Chennai

Solving Problems

I saw an opportunity to bring the modern age into the sport. I’m not here to change cricket; I’m here to help invigorate a new love of the game for the new generations. I also want the kids who want to have fun a chance to enjoy the game honestly. Pratt and I are both engineers. He has the theory, and I have practical hands-on experience. Pratt had an idea that could give players who cannot afford the new high tech training aids an ability to provide professional-level equipment. He had an idea that could give them a fighting chance. We worked on the Freebowler Superthrower day and night. There were entire weeks I went without sleep trying to build a bowling machine that solved a lot of the problems that bowling machines had, including cost.

Building Early Prototypes At FabLab

Empathy and Design

I began prototyping the concept out of wood, bolts, and off the shelf springs. I took what is virtually 2500-year-old military weapons technology and made it a machine that turns kids into professional cricketers. As an outsider that didn’t know cricket, I had a lot to learn. I studied videos; I watched live games, I learned how to play. There is video footage of me bowling in a match horribly. To make cricketers all over the world jealous, as an outsider, there is also a video of me getting a personal bowling lesson from R. Ashwin :). All this studying was crucial. To help cricketers solve their problems, I had to understand what it felt like to face that problem myself, as much as I could. To get the machine right, I interviewed stakeholders, studied the habits of a bowler, their measurements, ball types, speeds, pitches, and angles all to produce a proper bowl. It was not an easy task. In my research, I found that many players didn’t know the exact release point of their release. They would walk up to the machine, stand tall, hold their arm up next to the device and say, “this machine is shorter than my arm.” Studying the bowling action in slow motion showed the ball releases from a lower height because of how the bowler takes a wide step when throwing.

The very first working model was entirely hand-made

Struggles in Design

Making a hardware product that works and does all the things customers expect at the price they hope it can be difficult. Especially in a two-person team. The machine needed to be foldable but sturdy enough to withstand hundreds of pounds of force to throw a ball at 75mph (~135kph). The way I designed the machine, every little change was done to one part, affect everything else. A slight change in the angle made the machine more stable but made it harder to fold. Making it more accessible to fold made the joints weaker. Making the joints stronger required more parts, increasing manufacturing costs. That leads to another effect that leads to another. We were always chasing our tails. We spoke with engineers in and out of our networks to get ideas that could help. All of the testing, the input, and fine-tuning eventually turned into a game of “trying to make it perfect.”

Building the last set of prototypes in my garage

Onward and upward

It has been quite a journey so far. I never grew up thinking I would be an inventor with a patent making sports equipment for cricket. Our product has been very successful so far, and we are just not done innovating yet. Starting a business is one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I have learned that most companies start with good intentions. The companies that last are the ones who are in it to solve real-world problems; it’s not about trying to make money off people. It’s about solving the problem they need. Our bowling machine continues to sell in 12+ cricket playing nations. We have partnered with top professional cricket talent and top manufacturers to bring this machine to market. With our extended formula for empathetic design serving different needs in the market, we will continue to give cricketers hope for the future of their game.

Exhibiting freebowler Superthrower at Lehigh University’s startup networking event

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Pratheek Palanethra

Founder & Innovator at freebowler . Cricket’s 1st Non-Electric & Portable Cricket Ball Thrower.