Hi-tech and even higher on ambition

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If the ability of England and the West Indies could be judged by the number of lap- top computers which lay open on their respective balconies during the first two Tests Michael Vaughan's side would be twice as good as Brian Lara's. During the games in Jamaica and Trinidad six or seven were in use by England, three of four by the West Indies.

If the ability of England and the West Indies could be judged by the number of lap- top computers which lay open on their respective balconies during the first two Tests Michael Vaughan's side would be twice as good as Brian Lara's. During the games in Jamaica and Trinidad six or seven were in use by England, three of four by the West Indies.

This is all relatively new to cricket. In the past a player's knowledge of a computer stretched no further than the odd game of Minesweeper and the tables in a dressing room were were fast bowlers put their feet while reclining in the nearest chair.

Sir Clive Woodward put England's success in the Rugby World Cup down to his side's attention to detail - "we do 100 things one per cent better than anyone else" was his mantra - and it is a culture which is becoming ever more prevalent in cricket, especially England cricket.

Technology has enabled teams to gain more information, both about themselves and their opponents, and it is this, and the desire of coaches to use every little advantage they can get, which is changing the culture.

Take one example: the way Ridley Jacobs was run out in the Trinidad Test. In the past Chris Read would have waited for the ball to reach him at the stumps before catching it and taking the bails off, but here the wicket-keeper took the ball in front of the stumps and was able to beat Jacobs' dive by a couple of inches.

The vital difference, which brought a crucial wicket, was in where exactly Read's gloves were, as Duncan Fletcher explained. "We are now talking about frames of film and these days you have got to beat the camera as well as the batsman. Because of this we look at the way the wicket-keeper takes the ball.

"When you catch the ball your hands move back to absorb the impact. This means that if the keeper catches the ball with his hands next to the stumps his hands move back before he breaks the wicket. By taking the ball in front of the stumps he can save time by breaking the wicket as he absorbs the ball. This can save you two or three frames of film."

The computer analysis system sounds complicated but in fact it is quite simple - it has to be for fast-bowlers to be able to use it. But it is precise and and it is developing rapidly. When David Lloyd was England coach during the late Nineties, someone would log the line and length of every ball you bowled and give you a printout of your work at the end of the day.

Since Fletcher took charge there has been dramatic change and a player - all of them have computers - can now analyse his entire spell or innings two minutes after he walks off the field.

Of course, success depends on the skill of the man inputting the data, in England's case Malcolm Ashton, who receives the live television feed directly into his computer. For every ball he logs the type of batsman, the type of bowler, the line and length of the ball, whether it swings or seams and where it goes. Fletcher can then show Stephen Harmison where to bowl and where not to at each batsman.

"We have been analysing ourselves this closely for two years," Fletcher said. "It is important that you can recall footage and have a look at how someone is playing, but mostly it is to reassess the good things. But it does give them a chance to see where they haven't hit the ball very well.

"It also gives us the chance to investigate the opposition and come up with plans to combat them. We look and talk about every little detail because something small can make a significant difference. We just keep trying to get the guys to improve and to show more discipline. We tell them that if they work harder at their fitness they will be able to concentrate for longer periods of time.

"I don't think attention to detail will rid players of their flair. We aren't trying to change their style, just trying to create awareness and make them think on their feet."

Troy Cooley, England's bowling coach is also attempting to use every bit of help he can to make England's fast bowlers world beaters. Cooley specialises in biomechanics and the way that a bowler's body moves in his action. To help him with this, and the game-plans England's bowlers have for their opponents, he needs the database that Ashton provides.

"I am big on self-improvement," said Cooley. "Each of the bowlers needs to be looking at their game every time they go into a practice session. I want them to get better, better and better. To help with this we are setting up a fast bowling programme.

"It will allow me to build a library of all the bowlers since I came on board. It will give them a history of all their games, some of their practice stuff and all the testings that I have started with them. It will enable us to have a good progressional look at how they are improving. I want to build the sort of culture in our players where they are at the top of their games when they choose to retire."

Cooley is not alone in his quest and Fletcher believes there are still many of ways in which his players can improve. "I am constantly looking to change the game and move things forward," he said. "There are other things that we are talking about putting into place in one-day cricket but I don't want them putting in print because other sides will be using them against us when we play them next."

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