Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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He sneaks in quietly. He prefers to stay invisible. But he is always on the lookout. There is a black book tucked under his right arm. A pen clipped to the book. Club cricketers come and say hello. Monty Desai acknowledges them quietly and shifts his focus immediately to the match he has come to watch at the Wankhede Stadium.
Desai was one of the main talent scouts at Rajasthan Royals, one of the two IPL franchises suspended by the Lodha Committee for two years as a fallout of the probe into the 2013 IPL corruption scandal. Desai's contract expired on December 31, 2015. Even so, over the past week, he has been shuttling between the two grounds in Mumbai hosting the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament. Doing what he likes and cannot stop liking: hunting for talent.
As he watches Monday's Super League match between Mumbai and Baroda, Desai wears a happy expression as he spots various former Royals players: Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan, Deepak Hooda, Dhawal Kulkarni, Abhishek Nayar. He is proud he was able to play a role in the growth of these players, and cannot be content merely with running two cricket academies in the northern suburbs of Mumbai.
Desai's database is a black A4-size diary in which he has noted down names since 2008, when he joined Royals. Although he is on the lookout for all kind of players, Desai confesses he has a soft corner for bowlers. What he is looking at, more than anything else, is how the player reacts to different situations. "Bowling is something which has always been taken as labour class in our game," he says. "But if somebody has the courage, after being hit for a six, to come back and bowl a beautiful yorker and get a dot ball, I don't know how many people are able to watch and store that data. The bowler's figures could read four overs for 40 but out of that there might have been only two or three bad balls. So that is what I am looking for."
A thorough Mumbaikar, Desai graduated as a mechanical engineer, and is a Level 3 certified coach who was involved for three years as an assistant coach with the World Cricket Academy. There, he met the likes of Andy Flower, a "dear friend and mentor", who was then the Essex coach.
"I enjoy the fact that my eyes have seen everything: from grassroots cricket to the pathways of somebody who has represented the country like Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja. Players who were with Royals before ending up with the Indian team."
Obviously Desai is figuring out what to do next. At the moment he is doing the scouting job independently. He believes it is just a "phase" and continues to be in close touch with the Royals top management. He wants to remain part of the franchise in some way. He is waiting to hear from Manoj Badale, one of the owners of the Royals, before he takes a final decision.
Desai knows his experience as a scout with Royals will not go to waste. Already two franchises have expressed their interest in him. But he wants a long-term role that will allow him to "build" teams, which remains his primary goal and desire. The franchises also want to know about the unknown players signed up by Royals and want Desai to help them identify names that can fill gaps in their squads. "Clearly I know the player's strengths and weakness and where exactly he can play a role and the new franchises are asking me that."
The two franchises have asked Desai to attend their trials and help them shortlist players whom they can target at the player auction, scheduled for February 6.
"It is a bits-and-pieces role," Desai says. "Come and do the trials, give us the names after that."
Desai says he is proud to have been part of the scouting team that identified unknown and little-known names such as Pravin Tambe, Dinesh Salunkhe and Sanju Samson and offered them a platform. He considers himself just another cricket fan who is interested in watching the game. The only difference is, he is on the lookout for talent.
"It keeps you in touch," he says. "It keeps you not rusty. And it is a good way to keep on adding to my database. Never know when I can use it."