Tax-tech is a game changer

For several years now, the Indian cricket team’s blue jersey has held fascination for many fans who do not mind spending a fair amount to buy replica jerseys in support of the team that they so love. However, the replica shirts are hardly likely to pack as many features of the jersey that the cricketers wear when they play for the country.

The design may well be similar but then it not just about fashion but also about technology. And the technology is where the team jersey would score very high. Besides the proprietary fabric, it offers the players zero distraction, multi-directional and multi-dimensional stretch for quickness along with tuned breathability that helps with temperature regulation to keep the cricketers cool.

“Over the years, the game has evolved and the need to have kits that are designed to suit the modern game has always been the priority for the team management and Nike,” says India’s most successful skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni about the team’s latest jersey. “Features like the 4D-quickness and Zero distractions will definitely help the team on the field.”

This is a far cry from the time cricketers played their sport in flannels; Or Olympic athletes turned up for competition in loose-fitting shorts, knickers – and, in some cyclists cases, simply in pants with legs rolled up – and in cotton shirts or sweat-shirts. When the Olympic Games resumed in 1948 after the hostilities of World War II, stretch fabrics made their appearance. And it was not long before synthetic fabrics – nylon, elastane/spandex/lycra etc – came to occupy centrestage.

Now, fabrics are subject to wind-tunnel tests which find that smooth, shiny material offers least resistance while stretchy, tight-fitting fabric offers an additional advantage. Some of them are made from recycled plastic bottles

To be sure, sports textile has evolved as one of the more important branches of technical textile. And now, the world is getting to see man-made fibre in fabric that is sensitive to skin wetness and to high-impact stress on joints. Come to think of it, fabric design is now such that it can sense heart rate, temperature, lactic acid, hydration, muscle coordination and other physiological data.

The material it is light weight, strong, durable, comfortable, easy to wear and low on maintenance since these are fast drying and do no need ironing.  It has a heat conductivity that assists the wearer. What’s more the textile for the modern sports outfit keeps away ultra-violet rays that can be dangerous to the skin. Besides, anti-microbial material is out in commercial space.

We also hear of smart clothing that can tracks activity like heartbeat and other vital signs. Paired up with apps, sportswear shows effort level, calories burned, steps taken, sweat level. And, we gather that there are wonderful, if expensive, socks that provide runners information about the weight distribution on their feet!

There is one sports gear maker which has embedded biological sensors in its fabric to measure electrical activity generated by muscles when they are doing anything that needs force or energy. And here’s the piece de resistance, another brand has designed clothing to help athletes maximise their recovery while sleeping. The garments have a pattern printed on the inside to reflect the far infrared waves back into the body, thus improving blood circulation.

Indeed, a world in which textiles have played an inherent role in many sport from the ancient times – the sails of ships and the ropes that held them in place to the masts are good examples – is now transforming textiles into wearable computers! It has designed performance fabric that combines biomaterials with textile design. The importance of material cannot ever be understated. Sportswear made from such material will have to survive impact, force, sweat, washing machines and dryers.

What of India? A little over four years ago, the Ministry of Textiles approved the Wool Research Centre in Thane near Mumbai, as a Centre of Excellence. It is focussing on building a high-quality research and product development of sports textiles in the country. Until we catch up with the world in research and production, our athletes will continue to sport less than optimal sportswear or buy international products.

India’s dependence on cotton and, perhaps, a misplaced belief that cotton is best for the athletes had stopped the textile hub of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu from diversifying until last year. Finally, good sense has prevailed and Tirupur firms have started evaluating the process of manufacturing sportswear and swimwear.

Talking of swimwear brings us to the revolution of 2008-09 when 140 world records were rewritten by athletes wearing swim suits that were made of extremely thin layer of polyurethane (foam-like) material, enclosing pockets of gas that made the wearer far more buoyant and helped push water away from the swimmer’s body.  These were designed with some help from NASA!

Germany’s Paul Biedermann had achieved the seemingly impossible – he had just won the 200m freestyle crown at the world swimming championship, inflicting a rare defeat on the 2008 Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps. But inevitably the attention was the ‘rubber’ body suit he was wearing in the pool rather than on the German world record holder’s ability itself.

The suit itself may have been banned by the World Swimming Federation but sportswear makers are constantly looking to innovate with the textiles so that the athletes’ performances are optimised. And unknown to most sports fans, textile technology will have been at work deeper than the colour and design of the apparel worn by their favourite sportspersons.

 This piece was first published in Orbit, a magzine for school children.
About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.