The Indian Premier League virtually becomes the epicentre of world cricket every year, and player auctions are star-spangled affairs in the lead up to it. But the T20 tournament also shines brightly due to the thoroughness of each team’s eagle-eyed scouts.
The manicured grounds from where they shortlist players on the fringes of international selection may lead to interesting buys on auction day, but there are gems unearthed and polished from less modest venues.
Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, who played stellar roles in Mumbai Indians being crowned IPL champions for a record fourth time and will be key to the country’s World Cup prospects, were far from the limelight when ex-India coach John Wright spotted them, convinced they will go a long way.
Wright, who coached MI in 2013 and 2014 before taking up scouting, says the key was to look beyond the conventional.
“With young players, numbers can tell a little bit, but not everything. You got to try and look two-three years ahead, and imagine what he would be like. I had no idea what Bumrah’s and Hardik’s numbers were when I saw them. You look at them and just say ‘wow! That guy can bowl or that guy can hit a cricket ball’,” says Wright.
In 2013, a 19-year-old Bumrah was spotted during the West Zone Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches. He had no first-class experience and his figures weren’t impressive, not to speak of his ‘windmill’ action. But Wright was impressed.
“Bumrah just bowled a lot of fast yorkers, especially at the death, and he had strong recommendation from Gujarat captain Parthiv (Patel). He caught my eye instantly,” says the ex-Kiwi skipper.
Pandya, spotted the next year, stunned Wright by the power he wielded despite his slender limbs, as he waded into a Mumbai attack of Zaheer Khan and Dhawal Kulkarni.
“He hit 80-odd against Mumbai and some of his shots reminded me of Sehwag. The power he generated was unbelievable. One of the shots he played just zipped to the boundary. You notice those little things. And then he could bowl as well. He was very young and athletic and you know he just had talent.”
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Wright though is happy to acknowledge the important roles played by former India stumper Kiran More and Rahul Sanghvi. Abey Kuruvilla and TA Sekar have joined MI this season.
“MI had a good network through Rahul when I arrived in 2013. Kiran was involved (in recruiting Hardik) because he knew those boys (Hardik’s brother Krunal also plays for MI) since they were little,” he says.
“Both took time to develop but it is great when you see the progress. It has only been possible because at MI we are all looked after very well. We all feel part of it. Players have got great facilities to practice, injuries are looked after. They always know they will be cared for and rehabilitated, and it has happened with a number of our players.”
Bumrah took three years until he became a regular for MI in 2016. Pandya too needed a couple of years. The key for Wright was the team’s patience.
“Both these boys have a thing in common; they work hard on their game. They are different people, but are students of the game. Then Bumrah is playing alongside Lasith Malinga. Hardik can talk to Sachin about batting,” says Wright.
Wright will be back in India when the domestic season begins, to resume the lengthy process of spotting fresh talent. With other scouts, he will chart a plan, watch footage of numerous matches and call the players for camps before recommending them to the coaching staff.
“A group of us watch a lot of cricket, not just in India but all over the world. We make the recommendation and it is discussed in detail. Of course, you have got the coaching staff from far and wide – Mahela (Jayawardene) from Sri Lanka, (Shane) Bond from New Zealand. Robin (Singh) coaches in many leagues.”
The latest ‘find’ is Rasikh Salam Dar, an 18-year-old pacer from Jammu and Kashmir.
May 16, 2019 19:51 IST
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