Rohan Chandran is one of the original guys behind Cricinfo. He has been in the Bay Area for 20 years and lives at the intersection of technology, cricket and Silicon valley. He is now an entrepreneur and truly one of the most interesting people I have come across. I recently caught up with him on a beautiful California evening to discuss his time at Stanford, the future of technology in cricket, the legendary Indian cricketer Noel David and the state of cricket in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. The 20 minute conversation is available as podcast and is downloadable via Itunes or any podcast apps you have from the feed here or URL here –
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The conversation is also embedded below and transcribed here in its entirety. Please do listen/read and let me know what you think?
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Conversation with Rohan Chandran
SHYAM: I have with me today, Rohan Chandran. Welcome to the show Rohan.
ROHAN: Pleasure to be with you Shyam.
SHYAM: Thank you. I first heard about you when you wrote the post for Cricinfo’s twentieth anniversary celebration.
SHYAM: It was a – it was a very detailed post and took me back in time before the internet was what it is today. And then I listened to you on the Cricket Couch podcast.
SHYAM: I’m not sure everybody my – in the audience here knows about you, so why don’t you just tell a little bit about yourself.
ROHAN: Sure. And I think the post you’re referring to is, I was one of the group that initially started Cricinfo back in 1992, 93. And you know, I think for all of us it was, it was a labor of love. And to some extent we got to live our dream and you referenced Subash Jayaraman’s cricket couch podcast and he’s another guy who is a great example of living the dream as a fan of cricket just converted into a professional reporting on and writing on the game, and it was a wonderful experience. You know, I’ve been in the Bay Area 20 years – I came out here in 1992 to Stanford and you know my big concern was where am I going to get information on cricket and you know people can listen to that podcast or read the Post for the details but it was out of that desire for myself and a bunch of other people who Cricinfo eventually formed and you know became what it is today.
SHYAM: Awesome. You work in technology and that’s what you’ve been doing for a long time, right?
ROHAN: That’s right. So I was a computer science major undergrad and masters at Stanford and I’ve been in the tech industry in various forms over the last 15-20 years in the Bay Area. And you know, always as part of the Silicon Valley community.
SHYAM: Okay. I should add to the audience that I am speaking with Rohan on a cricket field right by Stanford University. People might be able to even hear the sound of bat on ball. I see more bowlers than batsman today. Is that usual or uncommon?
ROHAN: Well, we have one net so you’re limited to one batsman at a time. You know, this is something we do. We practice every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturdays if we don’t have a game. There’s a very active league in the Bay Area. In fact, when I came out to Stanford in 1992, before I accepted the offer, the first thing I did was call up the university, ask if there was any active cricket around, spoke to the then president of the cricket club, made sure I was going to be able to play cricket regularly, and only then did I say okay yeah I’m going to come to Stanford.
SHYAM: What – what would you have done if he said no? Have you thought about that?
ROHAN: I was always planning to go to the UK.
ROHAN: And –
SHYAM: You wouldn’t have had the problem there.
ROHAN: – further my studies there. So I – I wouldn’t have that, I didn’t have that as a concern. But you know when Stanford came up, it’s one of those opportunities you got to take seriously.
ROHAN: And thankfully there was cricket and I’m very grateful for that.
SHYAM: Good to know. Good to know. So one of the things I wanted to ask you about was, you started – you’re one of the early people behind Cricinfo. But you did that while you were in college, right?
ROHAN: That’s right.
SHYAM: How did you balance that? I used to take like three courses and still flunk.
ROHAN: So –
SHYAM: I mean, how did you do that?
ROHAN: Interestingly, the question should be not how did I balance that but did I balance that? And the answer is, not quite at times to be perfectly candid. So there were definitely struggles. There were courses which I had to, you know, defer doing final exams and papers for until the next quarter and make up the grades and there were times when I struggled through it because in the early days of Cricinfo, and you know we were doing this out of passion with no concept of what we were really doing, but I was spending all night in a mechanical engineering lab listening to commentary, and by the time morning came around I was finished. So paying attention in class is and everything else was the furthest thing from my mind. You know, fortunately, Stanford even back in the day had a lot of classes on tapes. You could go to the library and watch the video later of the lecture and catch yourself up. But I think it’s – there’s no doubt that had Cricinfo not been there, my grades would have definitely been higher than they were.
SHYAM: Interesting. So you think that your computer science background and your computer science courses helped you a lot with Cricinfo or what percentage would you say?
ROHAN: They did and they didn’t. So I was a tech neophyte when I came here. I had no concept of the internet and very little of consumers. You know, I taught myself basic as everyone else did back in the day but that was about it. I think what had helped with a lot of us involved was to start to think about what was possible and understand that there were no boundaries imposed on us and we could develop stuff that maybe no one had thought about yet. And it was more of that motive thinking and that’s – you know that’s part of the Silicon Valley spirit I guess that I think was more critical. In fact, if you look back at Cricinfo in the early days, we were behind the times technologically in a lot of ways, you know we didn’t even use databases, everything was flat file based and so and so. It took us a long time to catch up in a lot of senses. I think I mentioned in the blog post that when the first browser came about, it was a massive internal debate as to whether this web thing was something worth pursuing or you know Gopher was good enough and IRC. And you know some of us were, some of the group were not in favor of going there but we did it and you know obviously it was a pretty solid decision at the end of the day.
SHYAM: Gotcha. You spoke about how you did not even know how this was gonna turn out and you had a certain vision and you just went with it, had some fun with it, and it almost accidentally has evolved into the interface and the product it is today. Is that accurate? Is that what you –
ROHAN: Yes and no. I mean, it – we didn’t have some great plan that we set out and you know chopped off milestones one off –
SHYAM: You didn’t have a program manager or a project?
ROHAN: Absolutely not. Right? And we were all over the world and just things evolved as they, you know, it was natural evolution in a lot of ways. At the same time, you know, what we were good at was when we saw something working or saw opportunity, we did go after it well and you know Simon deserves a lot of credit for really formalizing the concept, reaching out to the ICC, and putting those deals in place, you know we were official coverage of the 1996 World Cup was one of the most critical milestones in ramping the audience up because it was the internet had taken off at that point and this was the only way to watch what was going on during that World Cup was through Cricinfo.
SHYAM: Awesome. I was gonna ask this later, but it kind of segues nicely from where we are. Looking at Cricinfo today, can you visualize – I think you answered this in Subash’s podcsast but maybe you can add to it or maybe just repeat the answer for those who haven’t had an opportunity to hear that. Can you visualize something that they can add on to grow – they’re already a behemoth, you know, I don’t even know how many page views they get, but it must be in the tens of millions.
ROHAN: Yeah, I mean it’s a phenomenal service today. I think a lot of what’s happened is, and you know rightly so, I don’t wanna suggest this is not a good move, they’ve gone down the journalistic road and it’s become the media source for cricket. I – you know as a cricket tragic myself, the data angle is always exciting to me and I think in this era of big data, there’s probably a lot more that cannot be unleashed there, especially when you start thinking about video and so on. In fact, you know I had a start-up a couple of years ago and it didn’t pan out in the end. And then we were doing basically breaking down video content and so on and cricket became one of the sports we looked at. It wasn’t necessarily focused on cricket and the ability to go in and say okay show me all Sachin cover drives from 1992 onwards and to be able to play that in sequence, or any kind of esoteric combination that you could see where, you know, where we live in an ear of bite size consumption right and YouTube and everything else is great testament to that. And I think Cricinfo needs to, it would be great to see it find its way into that angle because I think right now it’s all about the live scores. Rightly so, but you know, I come home at the end of the day and Cricinfo is part of the ESPN now and what I’d love to do is be able to watch half an hour of condensed highlights but of the stuff that interests me because I’m not necessarily interested in just the four sixes and wickets. But there might be passages of play which were interesting and if I can extract that kind of thing out of Cricinfo I think it would be a great step forward.
SHYAM: I’m pretty sure that international teams probably have that facility right now. I don’t know how public they’ll make it –
ROHAN: Absolutely. It’s a regular thing in the coaching circles and many sports utilize that in a lot of ways and sports mechanics. I think Anil Kumble is involved in a company that does this as well.
SHYAM: Yeah. I can’t imagine Andy Flower doesn’t have everything that everyone in the English court has played since like –
SHYAM: – they were born. I’m pretty sure.
ROHAN: And these days software has that kind of power. In fact, you know, there are apps like CricHQ which I use which is out of New Zealand, I think Steven Flemming and others are involved there, and you can score all our local games and you know we had a tournament here, the Northern California Cricket Association had a big T20 tournament over July 4th, everything was scored live on CricHQ, you can track the wagon wheels and you can break it down player versus player – so that analysis and power is available to everyone and it would be great to see Cricinfo –
SHYAM: Embrace that, yeah.
ROHAN: You know, every user is not gonna go into the data junkie and manipulate themselves, but the more they can do to bring that to the forefront in the right way, I think the better.
SHYAM: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think I know of thousands of people who spend any free time they get on stats guru –
SHYAM: – doing you know the most banal stuff imaginable. I can only imagine that the same audience, a large portion of them, will transfer to –
SHYAM: – doing anything with video. I actually feel, you know I missed Ashton Agar innings a couple of weeks ago.
ROHAN: Great example.
SHYAM: That happened when I was asleep. And when I woke up, I think I would have loved to have clicked on his strokes. You know, just the boundaries –
ROHAN: That’s right.
SHYAM: – just the how he got the way he did. That would have been a great thing.
ROHAN: And actually you know Willow TV is doing a little bit of that with their interactive. I think have done a great job of bringing that together. But you know all this needs to be sort of cohesive and coherent in one place and I think Cricinfo has an opportunity –
SHYAM: Yeah. No –
ROHAN: – ESPN to do that.
SHYAM: Yeah, they have the resources to –
ROHAN: That’s right.
SHYAM: – pull something like that off. The next question I had for you was, you work in technology, you work very closely with you know cutting edge products, cutting edge, I saw your profile and you’ve worked on scaling, you’ve worked on you know innovation, so I’m intrigued. But having been in the Silicon Valley for 20 years, what are some of your favorite and least favorite cricket technologies. It can be either products or just broad concepts.
ROHAN: Sure. So I think at a high level I’m really impressed and I love what Hawk Eye have done and the way that’s continuing to evolve, right? So, qualms about the DRS aside which can be a whole other podcast you can do –
ROHAN: – I think it’s mind-blowing to me to think these were debates which we used to have as fans just 10 years ago over every decision and every four. And the fact that I can now go and look at every single delivery of every single game as you’ve said, and understand what pitched where, where it was going, how decisions are working and that influence of technology in the game, you know again there are DRS rules and policy issues that may be there but I think it’s phenomenal for the game to have leveraged that. The other side, you know, I referenced the app CricHQ and the fact that I can score a game on my iPhone or Android device while I’m umpiring the game in our local league and have you know wagon wheels and pitch maps and all that information available as a casual cricketer playing social club cricket. It’s mind-blowing, right? And this is – this is the age we live in as I said –
ROHAN: – right? Who could envision that you and I could be having this conversation with a little phone in your hand –
ROHAN: – at a cricket field at Stanford, right?
ROHAN: No one would have thought – they would have laughed us off the field 10 years ago –
ROHAN: – if we said this would be happening.
SHYAM: Yeah, yeah. Any other technologies that you like? Any other products you like? Anything in gear or when you watch the games, do you watch other sports? Anything you think cricket can pick up from other sports?
ROHAN: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting. Cricket is trying a lot of things with you know the spider cam they have and when I was in Australia last year they had these drones flying around the ground, you know for angle shots, and you have players marked out. I think there’s a lot of gimmickry coming in which may be a bit too far. We have the flashing boundaries and the flashing bails –
SHYAM: Bails, Australia.
ROHAN: – when bails hit. So, you know, I’m always concerned that it’s just going a little too far and –
ROHAN: – you look at Australia’s performance in the Ashes and a lot of people are raising that question, have we gone too far down the road of flash and is there the pure element of the game that still needs to be at the core of it? And you see that in every sport, right? You know, sports like tennis have embraced technology, but in a very limited fashion you watch soccer and they’ve been debating for years, should we have goal line technology –
ROHAN: – and so –
SHYAM: And baseball’s really bad. Like, they are okay with you know even big games being lost on umpire errors without – which makes no sense to me but, yeah.
ROHAN: That’s right. And it’s, I think this progress has to happen in all sport –
ROHAN: – and you know the technological power we have and the ability to compute things in real time. I mean I think you will see eventually right with the DRS real-time corrections of decisions being issued. That may be another five years away but I think that’s where it’s gonna get because I think one of the big criticisms is you know you have to then go and check for the camera angles and there’s a five-minute delay last ball of the game –
ROHAN: – as we saw in the Lord’s test and it takes away the tension and excitement of the sport, so.
SHYAM: Hm-hmm. One of the big buzz words in the Silicon Valley right now is wearable technology. You know, I hear that everywhere. I still don’t know what all that means but I – the more I’m hearing it, I feel like it’s coming down the pike in the next 12 months.
ROHAN: So, I mean soccer for example has been using that usually, right? If you look at English premier league clubs –
SHYAM: I’m not familiar with soccer that well.
ROHAN: – so they’re wearing GPS trackers all the time.
SHYAM: Oh really?
ROHAN: And even after the game you know exactly who has walked, run, how much and how much they went backwards, sideways, every position they were in is mapped on the field at the end of the day. So it’s definitely starting to happen in sport. I know in cricket I think it may have been in the big bash in Australia in each game I think they had one player you know wired up with heart rate monitors and –
ROHAN: – stuff like that. And the umpires have been wired up. So I think there’s experiments in that direction. If any of your listeners have ever heard the Twelfth man series by Billy Birmingham, if you’re a cricket fan, I strongly recommend this, he does a satire and all the Channel Nine commentators and it’s one guy. He does all the voices and everything and it’s a wonderful parody. And he, you know, some of the concepts he parodies there are, you know, batsman wearing helmet cameras and something called the protector cam which is worn on the box, you get a view if the batsman gets hit in the nether regions and so on. So he parodies that, but I think the amazing thing is we’re starting to see that come in. And as I said, it’s there in other sport so I would expect to see this wearable technology come in to cricket. Again, I think to your point earlier which some of the, you know, data technology, it may be more a coaching and sports science thing to begin with but I think Channel Nine and guys like Sky are absolutely gonna bring that to the consumer as well, right? And you know, you’ll start to know how much people are perspiring and therefore how much, how is that affecting the shine of the ball and you know who’s feeling tense at this moment you know when they’re on 99 and so on. And I think it will be fascinating for consumers to really understand. Commentators will always talk about, okay he’s in the nervous 90’s, is he nervous? ‘Cuz sometimes you watch a guy and you’re like he doesn’t look nervous at all, right? This guy’s cool. And then you see the next guy and you know he’s just really worried where the next run will come. So I think there will be a lot of fabulous insights that will come from that.
SHYAM: Yeah, I’m old enough to remember that in the first game of the 99 World Cup, Hansie Cronje when playing versus India actually had an earpiece and the –
ROHAN: That’s right. A lot of controversy over that.
SHYAM: There was so much controversy. I think he had to remove it by the eight over or something.
ROHAN: That’s right.
SHYAM: Now it looks like if someone did that now, I think people would look at him more like, that’s cool, that’s innovative, rather than something scandalous.
ROHAN: Absolutely. And you know we’ve seen in the big bash –
ROHAN: – they were having conversations in the –
ROHAN: – middle of the game and the guy is standing crouched down at first slip and the commentators, you know, intelligent people that they are, while the bowler is running up to bowl, they’re asking a question.
SHYAM: Yeah, yeah.
ROHAN: And I think there was one where it might have been *** and he actually told them, no it was Angelo Matthew I think and he told them to please wait until after the bowl is delivered. But yes, so we’re absolutely heading in that direction.
SHYAM: Yeah, I think we’re going in that direction. I have two more quick questions Rohan.
ROHAN: All right.
SHYAM: So, a large portion of my blog’s audience is either trying to come to the Bay Area or is based out of the Bay Area. So having been a veteran of this, what should a cricket fan who wants to play cricket, watch cricket, stay in touch with the game but moves to the Bay Area for good, what should he or she do?
ROHAN: So the great news is they are in or coming to one of the best regions in this country for cricket. First of all, the weather is such that we have cricket year round. We have a full league in the summer, it’s the Northern California Cricket Association of which I am one of the directors, and we have about 35 teams playing 50 over cricket, you know, color clothes and white ball we just switched to this season and that’s from pretty much April through October.
ROHAN: And you know the Stanford team practicing here; we’re actually currently you know topping the top division here and hoping for our first championship this year.
SHYAM: Best of luck.
ROHAN: In the winter league we have a T20 competition. There’s actually parallel T20 competition in the summer as well and there’s another 30 teams involved in that. So there’s a lot of active cricket. There’s also a lot of youth cricket. So, I mean right behind you here there’s a couple of guys who have played for the U.S. under 19 or on the fringes of the U.S. National Senior Squad.
ROHAN: So there’s some serious good cricket going on here. Our facilities are not what you would call world class. You know, grounds are not purpose built for cricket so we’re making do with school grounds and city parks and we put a pitch in the middle. But yeah, if anyone goes to ncalcricket.org it’s the Northern California Cricket Association site. You know, if you’re in the South Bay, Stanford Cricket Club is, you know, we’ve got our practice facility on campus and nice grounds that we play on. And we’re always looking for new people. And whether it’s for your children, I think from the age of seven or eight we have great programs. Guys like Ajit Tendulkar, Sachin’s brother, actually come in every summer and coach in the Bay Area. And we have a lot of first class cricketers from India and elsewhere coming in and coaching and there’s, you know, tours around the country, tours to England and India that happen. So it’s, it’s shockingly active actually.
SHYAM: Yeah. I was not aware of half the things you said. That’s –
ROHAN: And that’s exactly it. And you know we’re trying now to get the word out a lot better. We’re getting more active in social media. We had a big tournament on July 4th and we’ve been having a tournament the last couple of years, the T20 tournament. The last couple of years we had, it was modeled on the IPL and we actually had a player auction from across the U.S. –
SHYAM: Ooh, nice.
ROHAN: – and you know a whole, the auction the was webcast live and know teams were bidding on players and all of that. This year it was an open entry tournament. $20,000 prize and we had two grounds and 6 teams and guys like Ricardo Powell, former West Indies player, and a few other West Indian and Indian players from the IPL coming and participating as well.
ROHAN: So it’s a great turnout, great event that the Northern California Cricket Association put on and there’ll be one or two of those such events every year. So as spectators and so on, there are opportunities for people to also come and get involved. We have a great ground in Morgan Hill which is a little south of San Jose for those who don’t know. And there’s a whole set of wineries down in Morgan Hill and a gentleman named Rufkan, he was a founder of Kovad, a DSL company back in the day, and with what he made from Kovad he actually bought a winery there, excavated half the vines, and put in two cricket grounds, you know, the most beautiful outfields you’ll find is one of *** the wine tasting going on, it’s a wonderful place to go and spend a day to play or to watch and, you know, as you’re wine tasting, you can take in some cricket. And to your point, but who would have thought that in the Bay Area –
ROHAN: – that all this is going on. And it’s testament to the immigrant population that has come in. Especially over the last 20 years –
ROHAN: – the Indians in particular have dominated. When I first came to Stanford it was really fascinating, I joined the team here and we literally had 11 different nationalities in an 11 man team. So I think cricket has become more Indian dominated now which is – it’s a reality of the Bay Area. It’s a little unfortunate. It was great when we had a lot of Australians and New Zealanders, English men, West Indians and so on involved. There’s still a smattering of other countries, but you know, India dominates the valley now along with China and there’s not a lot of cricket coming out of China so it’s –
SHYAM: In that team you said which had 11 players from 11 nationalities, was the best baller still a Pakistani or –
ROHAN: We had, the one Pakistani we had was a solid outswing baller but not quick.
ROHAN: To nail the stereotype.
SHYAM: Yeah. So Northern California Cricket Association.
SHYAM: Is that what someone would have to Google –
ROHAN: Yeah. If you look that up you’ll find it.
SHYAM: All the details.
ROHAN: Find us on Facebook as well.
SHYAM: And the Morgan Hill ground is detailed there?
ROHAN: It’s part of that and there’s a whole bunch of grounds in Santa Clara. We use Ortega back in Sunnyvale, we have on in San Jose, we have a beautiful ground in Marin in the North Bay north of the Golden Gate Bridge and a bunch in the East Bay, so it’s scattered all over the Bay Area.
SHYAM: Something for everyone right over there?
ROHAN: So wherever you are, there is a team or a club around you that’s playing cricket.
ROHAN: And a whole lot of them are heavily involved in youth cricket development for your kids as well, so.
SHYAM: Nice. Last question. Thanks for your time.
SHYAM: You’ve done a lot. You’ve done a lot in the world of technology and in the world of cricket. When are you gonna bring an international game to the Bay Area? I would love to watch, even if it’s a BBL game –
ROHAN: Some, it’s likely to happen, and it’s happened in the past so India has played on the Stanford campus.
SHYAM: When was this?
ROHAN: In, it was a year before I came. And you heard *** and all those guys playing on the Stanford campus. You know we have guys like *** who’s heavily involved in our league. We have a few ex-rungie cricketers who have played from time to time.
SHYAM: Is Noel David involved in cricket here?
ROHAN: Noel David played in L.A.
SHYAM: I feel like – oh okay not here.
ROHAN: So we have a lot of guys like that that play in L.A. and we have an annual series between Northern California and Southern California. L.A. has, by the way, fantastic facilities for cricket. So their story, to tell it quickly, is when L.A. had the Olympics in 1984, there was a club called The Hollywood Cricket Club which was founded by I think Aubrey Smith who was a great actor and a cricket fan from England. And the city wanted to I believe take over their grounds for the equestrian event. So in return the city provided them a cricket facility at Woodley Park. There are four adjacent grounds, natural turf crickets, maintained by the city for a nominal fee. It’s about 10 years ago and you’ll find these videos on YouTube. India A and Australia A played –
SHYAM: I remember that series, yeah, and they started the games in sanely early so that they could accommodate the Indian viewers on AXN or something like that.
ROHAN: That’s right. And you had VVS Laxman and Brett Lee and guys like that –
SHYAM: Yeah. I remember the pictures were pretty substandard though.
ROHAN: That was, that is the problem because we don’t have that expertise for natural turf cricket so the, the only international cricket we’ve had recently in the U.S. is in Florida where they have a purpose built stadium and they’ve had New Zealand, West India, and Sri Lanka I think play there. There is hope that the Bay Area will be a venue. I think you may have read that there’s a lot of talk about bringing a T20, national T20 tournament that’s ICC sanctioned –
ROHAN: – you know, I don’t want to dive into this, there’s a lot of politics –
SHYAM: Got it.
ROHAN: – in U.S. cricket and there’ a lot of history of murkiness –
ROHAN: – shall we say?
SHYAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ROHAN: And that effort has started but I’m hopeful we’ve got a new CEO at the U.S.A. Cricket Association and I’m hopeful maybe this time things will be different.
ROHAN: And that will happen.
SHYAM: Yeah, I cannot believe that there is not a market for any two teams that play either, you know, domestic T20 level competition or international competition, or even a warm-up game, you know. Have whichever team’s touring West India, have them play a four-day game or a three-day game against, you know, whoever. I feel like there is –
SHYAM: – gonna be an audience for that.
ROHAN: I think the opportunity –
SHYAM: I will take off work for that.
ROHAN: That’s right. There’s opportunity. I grew up in Hong Kong and we used to have teams either on the way to Australia or on the way to England from Australia. They would always stop off in Hong Kong, play a couple of games, and you know, phenomenal opportunity for the locals right? You get to play cricket with these guys and/or watch them play and, you know. I think there are a lot of people who have that desire to bring that to the Bay Area and, you know, I’m hopeful that with a lot of the folks who have started tech companies and so on, there’s a lot of potential for support for that sort of initiative.
SHYAM: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you very much. You’re a very interesting person in the cross section of Silicon Valley and cricket and your life story. And I really appreciate you making time for doing this. Thank you very much.
ROHAN: Well, thanks Shyam. Pleasure talking to you.
SHYAM: Thank you.
ROHAN: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]