Innovations that changed the face of sport

By Dylan Cleaver

Improvements in broadcasting and camera technology have provided the greatest boost to the armchair spectator and profoundly changed the way some professional sport is officiated.

It is equipment technology, however, that has made the greatest difference to the way the game is played.

Makers of sporting equipment have successfully tapped into everyman's dream of being a sporting superstar, offering expensive replicas so they can play just like the pros. Want to dunk like Michael Jordan? Buy a pair of Nikes. Want to crush the ball like Phil Mickelson? Get a Callaway driver.

This search for an edge has, for some sports, fundamentally changed the way they are played - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Three of the most far-reaching changes in sporting technology are worth noting.

1. Batting helmets: By the 1970s batting was a fraught occupation. Fast bowlers capable of tilting the speedometer towards 145km/h and wickets were nowhere near as flat as they are now.

Batting became more about survival. Averages dropped, over rates dropped and strike rates plummeted.

In March, 1978, Graham Yallop wandered to the crease in Bridgetown, Barbados, wearing something resembling a motorcycle helmet. England's Dennis Amiss followed, and suddenly cricket was changed forever.

And for better.

2. Graphite: The use of graphite has had far-reaching (quite literally) consequences, particularly for golf and racquet sports. The carbon compound is strong, resistant to torque and super-light, meaning greater club-head or racquet-head speed through the ball.

It allows you to hit the ball harder, longer and straighter.

Club and racquet heads are much larger than in pre-graphite days and the "sweet spots" are bigger.

As a result, golf and tennis have become more power games and touch-and-feel players are a rarity.

Some golf courses found their hazards made redundant and underwent radical reconfigurations.

Grasscourt tennis is now completely service dominated.

The sports have changed, but they're no better.

3. Synthetic leather: The irony about winter ball sports was that they were played with leather balls that swelled and became waterlogged in the rain, making nifty footwork and handling nearly impossible.

There's not a soccer player over 35 who would not recall the dread of having to head a ball weighing as much as a pumpkin, or a rugby player who was not reduced to embarrassment while trying to field a grubber kick under pressure.

As long as you don't take things too far, as adidas has with the hated Jabulani, the change is for the better.

- NZ Herald

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