Matching ‘skill to skill’ - behind IPL’s talent hunt

Former IPL scout Monty Desai recounts his experience of unearthing stars from obscurity.

Senior players like Shane Warne (right) were ready to take ‘risks’ in inducting an unheralded player like Kamran Khan (left) ahead of an experienced bowler.   -  AFP

Afghanistan batting coach Monty Desai has, for a long time, shuttled between Indian grounds, hunting for exciting names from the sidelines of domestic matches.

Desai, who was one of the main talent scouts for Rajasthan Royals till 2015, is 'proud' to be part of the team that identified the then little-known names Pravin Tambe, Dinesh Salunkhe and Sanju Samson.

Revisiting his scouting experience, Desai told Sportstar, "We (Royals) began with the catchment areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. After 2008, we conducted trial camps in October - December because back in the day, the domestic players weren't part of the auction."

Asked how the team prepared a rough-and-ready list of players, he explained, "In these camps, we tried to match skill to skill. So for example, if a batter was able to play big shots against one particular bowler in one particular situation, then we pit him against a different set (bowlers) to try and see if he could replicate his performance. If we found anyone interesting, he was then sent to the development camp."

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Sharing an anecdote on a then unheralded Indian talent, he noted, "We came across one Maharashtra all-rounder who was a brilliant fielder; the thought process was he could save 10 runs on the field. Then we wanted to see if he could clear the ground with the bat, which he did. So, the team started banking on him as a finisher but over a period of time, it didn't reap dividends. But these things happen."

'Willing to take the risk'

And to what extent did Warne and later Dravid - when he became the Royals' captain (2012) - engage in this process?

"They had the final say on which players to pick," Desai said before adding, "The fact that an unknown commodity like Kamran Khan was picked ahead of an experienced bowler goes to show that they were willing to take the risk in terms of team composition."

Pravin Tambe was picked up by Rajasthan Royals after he impressed during a local T20 match. Photo: PTI


Left-arm seamer Khan, son of a woodcutter from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh (UP), was picked out of obscurity in the second season of the IPL. "It was at a talent scouting camp that some locals forced us to take a look at him. The manner in which he was able to flummox some established guys impressed me and former Director of Coaching - Darren Berry (former Australian 'keeper) and incumbent director Zubin (Bharucha) instantly," Desai said.

He added, "That was the case with leg-spinner Pravin Tambe, too. We wanted to sign an established player who was snapped up by another team at the last minute, leaving us gasping for options.

"In those days, we used to follow tournaments like J. P. Atrey, Buchi Babu etc. And it was in one such league - a D. Y. Patil T20 match - that I watched Pravin bowl - he gave the ball a lot of drift in the air and produced a probing line and length.

"I sent a quick message to Dravid, who saw him in match scenarios by standing behind the 'keeper.  We signed him immediately after that for a very reasonable cost."

A hungry crowd

Desai, who also served as batting consultant to Nepal U-19 team last year, sang praises of the South Asian nation after it beat Canada by one wicket to sail into the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.

"It's a very hungry crowd," he said before recounting, "Actually, Shakti Gauchan was the first guy to be invited to the Royals in 2012. The whole Nepal team was [very] excited about it. His bowling numbers in the Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai that year were exceptional."

Desai likened 16-year-old Sandeep Lamichhane, who became the first Nepal player to be signed by an IPL team (Delhi), to Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan. "He's very close to what Rashid provides - maybe not as complete a bowler as him - but he can surprise you.

"He was noticed when Pubudu Dassanayake (current head-coach of the U. S. A. cricket team) made an effort to visit a lot of these domestic leagues. He was recommended by one of the local coaches."

Between 2011 and 2016, under Dassanayake's watch, Nepal moved from Division Four of the World Cricket League into Division One, the WCL Championship, and to its first major ICC tournament, the 2014 World T20.

Desai further added, "What happens in these nations is that the mentor or the head-coach will travel, pick players and bring them together. Also, a professional set-up requires money, so it all boils down to the finances of the board."

Hailing from the hilly terrains of Nepal, Desai feels, adds to the inbuilt endurance of the players. "There's that raw strength in them," he said.

"The U-19 squad produced a couple of names who're now part of the senior team. A guy like Rohith Paudel is making a lot of difference by scoring runs in crunch situations. They've also come up with their own domestic league - The Everest Premier League - just to unearth more talent."

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