Swinging for success: Richard Welch’s cricket odyssey in India

By Indira Laisram
Richard Welch // Pic supplied

Entrepreneur-turned-politician Richard Welch initially believed he could excel at cricket due to his passion for the sport. But by his own telling, “I was bad”. So, he decided to do something about it. He founded a company instead.

It was 2001 and a young Welch was in England, wanting to play cricket in the home of cricket, when he came across Hawk-Eye on television – a technology used in broadcasts to analyse and display the trajectory of the cricket ball and is also used in other sports.

“I wanted my personal Hawk-Eye to enhance my skills, and I realised that many others shared this desire. If you’re involved in cricket, whether as a player or spectator, you understand the value of this information. The challenge lies in accessing it,” says Welch.

Welch had India on his mind to start his venture. “The western world then was very narrow-minded about the economic potential and value of India in cricket. Even then, it was economically the No. 2 sport in the world. Simply having a good perspective on India made you understand this was a very valuable market opportunity,” he reflects.

Before that, he began preliminary work at a disused army base in England, where he developed a prototype. He then presented this prototype to several investors. Eventually, one family provided sufficient capital, enabling him to establish an research and development (R&D) centre and a factory in India.

Pic supplied

Welch travelled to India in 2004, with a clear focus on specific skills needed for his venture. He sought individuals to write software, develop a website, and oversee engineering tasks, eventually persuading them to join through sweat equity.

This journey led him to north India, specifically to Dehradun, where he acquired land in a special economic zone. Here, he meticulously built a factory to exact specifications and recruited talent from across the country to fulfill his vision.

Interestingly, he notes that the main component of the system consisted of electronic fabrics, requiring highly specialised textile skills. Remarkably, one of the few places in the entire world where these skills could be found was India. So, it made business sense for Welch and his team to locate their operations in India.

After five years of R&D, PitchVision was established in 2012. It quickly became a leading cricket training platform, offering innovative motion tracking and video analysis technology. Recognised by renowned cricket organisations like Lords Cricket Ground, it has boasted ambassadors such as Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, among others.

Like any entrepreneurial journey, Welch says his has been a learning curve. But one thing that assured him he was on the right track was that no one left the company. “They joined this vision we had. It wasn’t certain that this was going to be successful, but they all stayed. Against the attrition rate of 15 percent in the country at the time, we had one percent.”

And because it was a cricket-related project, it was perhaps very attractive. “One of the stories I love sharing is when you are developing technology for cricket, the only way you can genuinely test it is to actually play cricket. We hired around 30 boys from the local village whose only job was to bat and bowl. So, we were the most popular company,” he says with a laugh.

The first time Welch went to meet cricketer Sourav Ganguly at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, he was stunned by the scale of the grounds and the passion, as well as by Ganguly’s astuteness. “He saw the potential. He had a problem; if he went and tried to find new cricket talent, he would have 40,000 applications, so he needed a way to assess these applications quickly. We were a solution for him because we could search for talent with technology, which made it quick and clear, reducing it down to data. In some ways, it democratised the talent pathway.”

Pic supplied

Many applications emerged from PitchVision. “We had many mechanisms. For instance, a cricketer playing in the countryside could upload his practice for his coach to assess his performance or training. Another innovation was when Pepsi approached us to make the product fun,” says Welch.

Welch recalls a couple of enjoyable moments with Sachin Tendulkar, like attending a game in Hyderabad, Tendulkar’s last Ranji Trophy match. “There were 30,000 people there, and they were silent the whole time except when Sachin made a move,” he says.

Also, the time when Tendulkar’s son Arjun was transitioning out of his teenage years and secretly came to the UK for training. “We coached him discreetly, often at Lords or occasionally at a cricket club, which was great fun.”

After founding PitchVision and guiding it for 15 years, Welch stepped down in 2018. The decision stemmed from his desire to relocate his family back to Australia after spending 15 years in India, coinciding with his children reaching high school age.

Before PitchVision, he worked in financial services for Bankers Trust, Mercury and Merrill Lynch before obtaining an MBA from Imperial College, University of London, and a Certificate of International Trade and the Political Economy from The London School of Economics.

Returning in 2019, Welch delved into politics the following year. What motivated him most was the stark comparison between Australia and India upon his return. He noticed how ambitious people were there, even in small shops where they offered vocational training. This made him want to bring that same ambition to Australia, with a sense of urgency.

Today, as a Liberal Party Member for North Eastern Metropolitan Region, Welch aims to demystify India for Australian businesses, empowering them to explore new opportunities.

“Very few Australians understand the potential of India or have experienced working there and succeeding. It’s a real pity because the potential for our two countries is immense. We have so much in common, but we lack deep understanding in many areas. I believe I have a role to play in helping Indian businesses and individuals settling in Australia from India to succeed in Australia as well,” he sums up.

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