Abhinav Manohar Sadarangani is still coming to terms with the fact that he is now a crorepati at the IPL 2022 auction, having been picked up by one of the two new teams, Gujarat Titans, for ₹2.60 crore.
“I was nervous till it happened. I am still processing the fact that I have been picked for that amount. It still has not hit me,” Abhinav, the 27-year-old right-handed middle-order batsman from Karnataka, told news18.com on Tuesday.
It was only for the second time that Abhinav attended the IPL selection trials, and the first after a gap of at least four years. This year, Abhinav attended trials conducted by five franchises, and eventually was picked by one that did not conduct the trials.
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“I went to Mumbai Indians trials four years ago. After that, I did not go to any. This year, I was called by eight teams and I attended five of them. I could not make it to the other three. All five of them went very well. Some had open nets, some others had match simulations while in another I got a few overs to bat. They were based on my role,” said Abhinav.
Abhinav debuted for Karnataka in this year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 and had scores of 70 not out, 19, 27 and 46. His T20 debut score of 70 not out helped Karnataka win against Saurashtra by two wickets with one delivery to spare, the No. 5 batsman hitting two fours and six sixes.
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Like Abhinav, there have been quite a few who have impressed the talent scouts of various franchises, which are largely made up of retired international cricketers with an eye for talent. Some of the high-profile talent scouts of various franchises over the years include TA Sekar, Kiran More and Pravin Amre while among the international legends, John Wright is a name that figures on top of the list. Recently retired cricketers, Parthiv Patel and R Vinay Kumar, have been roped in as Mumbai Indians talent scouts.
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SELECTION TRIALS LIKE PRACTICAL EXAMS
The franchises contact the various state cricket associations to ask about promising youngsters before inviting them for trials. The trials, keenly observed by the talent scouts, are like practical exams, testing the players in various match situations and how they approach the challenges, how they handle pressure and the like, how they play in Power Play overs, how they handle the middle overs, where they hit against fast bowlers or how they approach a target of 45 runs in four overs or 52 runs in four overs; whether it is blind hitting or calculated hitting, how one rotates strike, etc..
Some of the players who don’t make it, especially the bowlers, are also included as an extended squad of the franchises to bowl in the nets. Earlier, in the pre-Covid times, the respective state associations provided local cricketers as net bowlers. Now, with bio-bubble being a part of every sporting life, teams carry their own net bowlers and make them part of the travelling squad.
One of the players who attended a trial conducted by a successful IPL team said it was a good experience to have taken part in. The first-class cricketer and who has represented India junior team attended the trials for the first time to try his hand at IPL.
Though disappointed at not being picked up in the auction, the player said: “Having been invited for the trials, I attended it. It was a nice experience. I performed my roles according to the match situations, scoring at almost two runs a ball and was also asked questions by a talent scout about how I’d approach a situation. I’m richer for the experience, now I know where I stand in terms of what is expected of an IPL franchise. Initially, when I went in to bat in the trials, I did not know how to approach. Whatever I have done in my career has taken me till here. Then, I went to play my natural game.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN TRIALS
So, what do the franchises do in the trials and what do they expect of the players who attend them from across the country?
The players are given match situations. Openers are sent to play the first six overs but not the last five. And if he has settled down, to check how they play middle overs and how they handle the spinners, if he has the power to clear the boundary. It is all a process that the franchises usually practice. And, they are not actual matches but match simulations where even if a batsman is out, he bats again by rotation policy.
Satish Menon, CEO of Punjab Kings, explained how his team goes about at the selection trials and selecting domestic players. “One is the conventional method, which is that we keep in touch with the cricket associations, who send a list of budding players. The other is that we have our own field scouts that go around checking out games. Thirdly, our analytics team gives numbers of each of the players in terms of what their performances are.”
Menon said that his analytics team is on the payrolls for the full year. Sankar Rajgopal is the man behind the team analytics for Punjab Kings. “Yes, closer to the game, the boys turn up at the trials. But yearlong, our analytics team continuously gives us information that we process internally. Our analytics guy processes the data on a daily basis and provides information to the coaching team via the manager, Avinash Vaidya, and it goes to Anil Kumble and Co. Closer to the game, we have trials. This time, unfortunately, we could conduct only two trials because of the Covid situation.”
While some franchises look at the skills aspect of it, Punjab Kings also have their mental strengthening coach conduct a session with the boys who assemble for trials. Menon said: “Our mental strengthening coach, an ex-India Olympics mental strengthening coach, goes through a session with the boys shortlisted for the trials to determine how strong they are mentally.”
It is a common practice for some of the teams to enquire the umpires and referees about any special talent that they have seen in the matches they have officiated in. Such players are invited for the trials. The success stories of Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Varun Chakravarthy, to name just a few, speak volumes of the important roles that the talent scouts play in IPL.
Kasi Viswanathan, CEO of defending IPL champions, Chennai Super Kings, said: “We have a lot of cricketers who are match referees and are available for spotting the talent. Some of them are umpires in our Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. We use our former TNCA players to do that. They come and give periodical reports about the kind of players they have looked at and who they feel are good enough for the CSK culture. Sometimes, we conduct camps while at other times, we go with the opinion of the talent scouts and show the videos to the coaching staff, who take the final decision as to who is a good choice. For each speciality, we have at least two or three people lined up so that if we are able to get one, we are happy.”
SCOUTS WATCH A LOT OF DOMESTIC MATCHES
The talent scouts not only watch the players at trials but also watch as many domestic matches as possible including the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament, Vijay Hazare Trophy, Ranji Trophy and the junior tournaments. The local leagues also are keenly watched.
Viswanathan said: “We call players from across the country whomsoever our talent scouts have spotted. We also watch a lot of domestic cricket. Some of them play in our TNCA leagues, where three guest players are allowed. We have a good team that looks into the team’s prospects.”
Like Abhinav, some of the players who attended CSK trials but were picked by other teams at the auction include Tilak Verma (Mumbai Indians) and Mayank Yadav (Lucknow Super Giants). “That means, the radar is good,” said Viswanathan.
Chennai Super Kings conducted two trials this year, one in Chennai and another in Coimbatore. One of CSK’s talent scouts, former Tamil Nadu batsman, KB Arun Karthik, said about the role: “As far as talent scouting is concerned, we need to get all the data of the players. If a player is playing in Mumbai, it is some sort of a wicket to play on. In Guwahati, it is different. You can’t judge a player just by the number of runs or wickets taken. How he handles challenging situations, what kind of shots he plays, what kind of a temperament he has, etc. are all looked into. What all they bring to the table matters. We see some special talent in them. If one is a senior player, what kind of a form he is in, if he is fit, if he is carrying a niggle, collecting all kinds of data is what we scouts do.”
Karthik himself went to several IPL selection trials in the past but in vain, and preferred the present system where the franchises gave ample opportunities to players to showcase their talent.
“Almost all the franchises are investing in scouts. Earlier, players got selected by mere numbers. A player may not play spin well but may be a good player of medium-pace. For Chennai conditions, you need to play spin well. We need to judge based on various factors. As a player, I have gone to many IPL selection trials, got to face 10 balls or 12 balls maximum. I wondered how they judged a player on those 10-12 balls. Now, we make sure we call fewer players and give them equal opportunities, 40-45 balls each, we made sure everyone got equal opportunities, we ensured bowlers were given good, even overs.”
While the IPL talent scouts can only suggest names, they also participate in mock auctions that individual franchises conduct among themselves before the main auctions.
“Mock auctions certainly help going into the main auction. We also know what to expect in accelerator auctions and be prepared for the second evening session when the bigger (unsold) names come up again for auction. You have to save enough money for that also and not spend money initially,” said Karthik.
Pravin Amre, assistant coach of Delhi Capitals and one who spots talent during the off-season and enjoys doing that, said: “The management and the owners want the ‘X’ factor in a player. At the same time, they want the best players at the best price. Sometimes, they have retained the top players, but know they don’t have enough budget, so the priority is to get the best players at the best price, and then build on them. The talent hunt role is so important here. You should know the auction, plan for it and yet you end up losing a player. In such cases, you should have a back-up, otherwise you panic. For last week’s auction, we worked very hard for the last 3-4 months. There were so many mock auctions for us to understand which team would go for whom and at the same time focus on our priorities. IPL auction is like life, very unpredictable. You have to expect the unexpected.”
Amre has, over the years, unearthed such talents as Prithvi Shaw, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed that they have not only become established players for their franchises, fetching huge sums of money, but also in the national team.
“In trials, we shortlist what a head coach requires, whether he is a back-up Indian openers, Indian middle-order batsmen or finishers for the No. 6-7 positions. It is important to identify if he can handle T20 pressure in the IPL. You make sure whether he is ready for the IPL. It is always the individual judgement of the coaches, some coaches disagree with the choice of players but we come to a fair conclusion,” Amre said.
FROM NET BOWLERS TO MAIN TEAM
Not all is lost for those that do not make it to the IPL squads at the auction. The talent scouts identify good bowlers from the trials and groom them to be a part of the travelling squad to bowl at the nets. And in the subsequent years, make it to the main squad.
Menon said: “Baltej Singh, was one of our net bowlers. We take the net bowlers in a manner in which we see potential in them and if they qualify, we pick them up. This boy was one of them who was with us for two seasons and we picked him this season at the auction.”
The same case with Sri Lanka’s Maheesh Theekshana, off-break bowler who debuted for Sri Lanka in ODIs and T20Is last year and picked by CSK. Karthik said: “Theekshana was with us last year as net bowler. We found the talent in him and not many franchises were interested in him.”
The talent scouts not only look at the Indian domestic players. It is a known fact that Sekar, the pace bowling guru famous for his long association at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai along with the legendary Australian Dennis Lillee, was among the firsts to travel overseas to spot talent. He watched the Australian domestic tournament way back in 2008 to identify such talents as David Warner and later Glenn Maxwell and recommend them to the IPL franchises he was involved with then.
Menon added: “We have 2-3 international coaches and they identify foreign talents throughout the year. We have Darren Sammy keeping a close watch in the West Indies and coming up with names. Andy Flower used to be there earlier for us. Of course, we have Jonty Rhodes in South Africa; Australia is covered by Damien (Wright, bowling coach). This is all pre-planned and we cover the whole universe. They spot talent and give us a heads up. We were on the watch out for Dewald Brevis (the Under-19 batsman from South Africa who is labelled as the ‘Baby AB’ (de Villiers) and who top-scored in the recent ICC Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup with 506 runs), unfortunately we lost him to Mumbai Indians.”
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