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Meet the scout who picks T20 players round the world

AR Srikkanth works in the IPL, CPL, PSL, BPL and smaller leagues, picking young talent and building teams

AR Srikkanth, Kolkata Knight Riders' analyst

"If I'm convinced of a player, I just send a message to Simon Katich and Jacques Kallis and tell them, 'This guy looks good.' Once you produce results, it becomes easier to put forward your case"  •  Kolkata Knight Riders

AR Srikkanth leads a busy life. He's the analyst for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the IPL and Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in CPL, and has worked in a host of other competitions besides, including the PSL and the BPL. In the off seasons, he scouts for talent - much like a fisherman, waiting patiently to reel in a big one. Like all good fishermen, he has a story about "the one that got away". And in Srikkanth's case it was a massive one.
What are the domestic tournaments you follow, and how do you go about it?
Mostly I look at white-ball cricket, because conditions and match situations are different in red-ball cricket. A player who plays aggressively in white-ball tournaments may not play the same way in red-ball cricket, so you can't really [assess] calibre or potential on how he performs in red-ball cricket. I watch a lot of local leagues, like the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) and the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL). I was involved in both tournaments. I also follow the DY Patil tournament and Syed Mushtaq Ali.
We like to see how these players have performed in different conditions, match situations, how they handle pressure. If we're looking at a bowler, has he taken more top-order or middle-order wickets? Has he broken partnerships? Is he someone who bowls under pressure? If he goes for runs in his first over, does he have the temperament to come back strong? If we find there is potential to invest, then we call him and see how he can be part of the squad.
What if a player you have been tracking for a while doesn't show the same form in trials?
Firstly, I call a player only if I am convinced, irrespective of what anyone else tells me. Yes, someone can have an off day and may not be in good rhythm while batting or bowling, but that is taken into consideration. Once we spot talent and see potential, even if they have a day or two off, it doesn't matter.
The story behind how Prasidh Krishna was picked [for KKR] was that Kamlesh Nagarkoti had a niggle just before the tournament started, and I had called Prasidh and S Arvind from Bangalore to come and bowl in the nets. Arvind was bowling really well; Prasidh went for a lot of runs. In one match, he bowled nine or 12 no-balls. But that may have been his off day, or something may have been not quite right with the ground or run-up. We also played at a different venue. If we had to base him on that, he wouldn't have been playing in the IPL or anywhere near where he is now.
We saw that he had the potential: he could bowl a heavy ball, hit the good length, and hit the wicket hard. We thought we could nurture him, groom him, and if he was good, he would play the tournament this year. That's how we picked him.
"When Bravo was playing for one of the Bangladesh teams, I yelled out to Tamim Iqbal, our captain, to bring on a left-arm seamer. Bravo got out first ball. Then he came up to me and said, 'I knew it was you who did it'"
Is it fair to say you don't have much of an off season?
Actually, there's no off season at all, because until last year I was doing IPL, TNPL, KPL, then the Caribbean Premier League. Then the BPL, PSL, and then the IPL starts again. It is quite different to what other people in the same job description do with other teams.
In the off season we look for new talent; it can be of any discipline. If they fit the bill and if we think they are required for our team, we have a closer look at the player in whatever matches he plays and then see if his style of play suits our conditions and the team composition that we have in mind. Once we see there is potential, we call them for camps, trials, match simulations, practice situations against good-quality bowlers, and see how they go about it.
Because I work around other leagues in the world, I get to see a lot of other cricket matches and talent. That is how we picked players like Colin de Grandhomme and Colin Munro [for Kolkata Knight Riders]. We have picked many others from other leagues, so that works to our advantage.
How does the talent-scouting process work at KKR?
We have an internal standard that we have set and we understand it very well among our support staff. So if I'm convinced of a player, I just send a message to Katto [Simon Katich] and JK [Jacques Kallis] and tell them, "Yes, this guy looks good. I've seen him", and they're okay with it. I don't think they had seen Shubman Gill before we picked him (on my recommendation). Once you produce results, it becomes easier to put forward your case and have them agree to it.
When does your scouting happen?
If I'm covering all these leagues, I'm watching all the international players. At KKR, we had a set bunch of Indian players who were sure 1st XI starters - we just needed back-ups, which we could find in Syed Mushtaq Ali, TNPL and KPL.
You said there is trust since you have produced results. Can you give us examples?
Sunil Narine, Kuldeep [Yadav], Suryakumar Yadav, Colin Munro, Ryan ten Doeschate, de Grandhomme. We pick players for TKR as well. Shadab Khan and Munro were my picks, Anderson Phillip, who plays for TKR.
For KKR, Kuldeep was one of our biggest picks. I saw him in a game at the Buchi Babu tournament in Chennai. I immediately called Trevor Bayliss [KKR's coach in 2014] and told him, "I saw this guy, we need to pick him." We picked him. And then he got a hat-trick at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup.
Have you been very impressed with a player in some other league and then tried to get him into your IPL franchise?
Evin Lewis, two years ago. When he played against TKR in one of the games in Florida - this was before he got the hundreds against India in T20Is [in 2016 and 2017] - I saw him bat against us and I thought, "This guy is really good." And I did mention it over here, but because of our dynamics and because we had a different captain at that time as well [Gautam Gambhir], we were not really able to put our money behind him.
But more than Evin Lewis, Rashid Khan. I gave Rashid his first break in T20 cricket when I signed him up for the Bangladesh Premier League, before anyone knew who he was, in 2016. This was after the U-19 World Cup. When I signed him up, I must have called Gautam 15 times a day and told him, "We have to pick this guy, we need this guy." But he wasn't entirely convinced because he didn't know who Rashid was.
What struck you about Rashid Khan when you first saw him?
He was different. When you've been doing a certain job for a period of time, your instincts tell you whether he is going to be a good player or not. When I saw Rashid I said, "This guy is a match-winner."
I mentioned Jofra Archer two years ago to Katto. But sometimes due to team dynamics and auction dynamics, you don't really get what you want. There are a few other guys - I don't want to mention names - that I had zeroed in on. Hopefully in the future we'll be able to sign them up.
When Shadab Khan was playing for Islamabad United two years ago, I saw him on the highlights and immediately sent a message to Katich saying we need to pick this guy for TKR. We picked him as soon as we got an opportunity.
"Once we spot talent and see potential, even if they have a day or two off, it doesn't matter"
What made you pick Shubman Gill?
He didn't play much domestic cricket last season, but he played some age-group cricket. I saw him in a few NCA matches. The way he played at the U-19 World Cup - he was cut from a different cloth altogether. We wanted someone who could stay with the team for a longer run and be a potential investment as retention material going forward. It was an easy decision to put our money behind him and get him at any cost.
The decision to promote Sunil Narine to open the batting - how did that come about?
Once, when I was in his home in Trinidad, I saw many trophies, and they were all for "best batsman". I asked him, "Whose trophies are these?" I thought they must be his father's, or whoever. He said, "It's mine" and gave me a quirky smile. Then I found out he's a legend in windball cricket batting.
I happened to be in Australia when he first opened in a T20 game, in Melbourne. He was striking the ball really well. After the game, I told him - he had gotten out trying to hit over midwicket at the MCG - he should have gone straight because he was striking it well. He said that he had the confidence to hit it out of the park. I realised that if he had so much faith in his batting that he felt he could hit someone out of the park at the MCG, he must be really confident.
From there he went to the PSL and was the highest six-hitter there [Narine was fifth on the six-hitters' list though he batted in fewer innings than those ahead of him]. He hit more sixes than [Shane] Watson, [Kieron] Pollard, lots of international superstars. After that he finished a few games for us in the CPL, and then when Chris Lynn was injured during the IPL, we thought we could take that risk, because we don't lose anything with Narine going up the order.
Is Andre Russell the most complete T20 cricketer?
I would think so. If you want to get a back-up for Russell, you can't. There's not many players in the world who can bowl, bat and field the way that he does. You'll either find a better bowler or a better batsman. You can't find a Russell. He's grown leaps and bounds from 2014 to what he is now. He has worked really hard on his fitness and his game, and it's out there for everyone to see what a match-winner he is.
You work with several franchises, nationally and internationally. How have you gone about building this global network? Was it on the basis of the work you've done in the IPL?
I don't know if it's purely on IPL credentials, but I have a few friends in cricketing circles and when they feel I can add some value, they ask me if I am available. Brendon McCullum asked me about the PSL when I was at the BPL. But I wasn't involved when the drafts happened, so I wasn't involved in picking teams. It was a good experience being there for the first time in a different league, trying to understand their culture, how they work and how they see T20 cricket.
In a set-up like that, where you're given players and haven't sat in on the drafts, how does it work?
There's only limited scope of work that you can do when you already have a bunch of players. Say, for example, you want someone who can bowl a wide yorker or a wide slower ball, and if you don't have the correct personnel in your team to do that, then you need to alter plans according to their strengths and weaknesses. It becomes a little more challenging, but that is the way it is. You can't have everything your way.
I enjoy picking teams and then trying to build an empire from there rather than working with what they have and not knowing their strengths and weaknesses. It takes some time to assess that as well, and [sometimes] by the time you do that, you're already out of a T20 competition. So it was a bit challenging.
How does it work at Trinbago Knight Riders?
One fortunate thing about TKR is that we are based out of Trinidad, which produces a lot of good cricketers. So we have a lot of players from that home base. And at the same time you can pick only five foreigners there, so it makes your job a little easier. You have two big marquee names and the others are supplementary players according to the composition of the team.
Because I work in so many other leagues, I see a lot of players, and you can filter out who will fit the bill, who will be available then, and who is willing to come and play for that money. We try and put all these pieces together and form a team.
Being involved with so many teams, you must have come across situations where you have worked closely with a player in one tournament but have to plan against him in another. How do you handle that?
They fear it more than me!
"How we rate ourselves is on both where we stand on the table and how well our individuals and team have done to grow as cricketers"
But how comfortable would you be about giving a team insight on a player's weaknesses, given that he might be a key player for you in another league?
Well, if the team I'm working with has engaged me as a professional, then I have to be professional. It doesn't matter whether he is our player in KKR or TKR; if he is an opponent, he is an opponent.
There have been a few moments. When [Dwayne] Bravo was playing for one of the Bangladesh teams and he came in to bat [in a BPL match], I immediately yelled out to Tamim Iqbal, our captain, from the boundary and told him to bring on a left-arm seamer. He asked me why, and I asked him to just do it. He brought on the left-arm seamer and Bravo got out first ball. Then he came up to me and said, "I knew it was you who did it." But it was all friendly.
See, ultimately the bowler we have should be able to execute what we want him to do. If he doesn't have that skillset and we are expecting him to do something, then it's not his fault if he doesn't deliver. So it depends on the personnel you have and what match-ups you can bring against your opponents.
What does your role involve during a long tournament like the IPL?
During a tournament, I like to sit down and have a look at how opponents have gone about their game, as a team and as individuals. I'll try to see if I can spot something and whether that can be exploited by the personnel we have. At the same time, we also try to sit down as a leadership group and talk about what strategies could work and what might not.
During a game, we do send out messages to Dinesh [Karthik, the captain last season] at times. But most of the time it's about planning before the game, so that we know exactly what to do. Like this year, I called Dinesh one morning and told him that Dhoni has been batting really well, we needed to change our strategy and bowl pace at him. We all know Dhoni takes some time when he's new at the crease. When he's settled, he'll take on any fast bowler. So we'll change the tactic that other teams have deployed against him, and bowl fast bowlers when he's new [to the crease]. If he settles down and has not got out, we'll bring in our spinners. If he hits, he hits - let's see what happens. That did pay off, and Dinesh was really appreciative of the fact that we came up with that thought, and we executed it.
As for batting, there is not really much strategy behind a batting order. I don't see some rocket science behind sending x, y or z up or down the order. It depends on what skills they have and what bowlers the opposition has. A settled team like ours, where most players pick themselves in their spots, you don't really have to suddenly change a batting order during a game. Everybody knows that Russell can change the momentum of the game, and if a certain number of overs is remaining, you would like to send him up the order.
How do you assess an overall season?
Obviously where you finish on the table is a key parameter. At the same time, there have been instances when even after winning championships, we have not been 100% happy with our performance and thought we needed some extra personnel here and there to change the way we play. That is bound to happen in any tournament.
How we rate ourselves is on both where we stand on the table and how well our individuals and team have done to grow as cricketers going into the next season. And how you hold a chance against other teams in the future.
I can proudly say that we played brilliantly this year, when everyone had written us off. Nobody gave us a chance. It is not only pleasing to prove them wrong but also to see the brand of cricket our youngsters played and the kind of confidence they had in themselves. It holds good for them and for the franchise for the future.
How much importance do you give to number metrics in T20 cricket?
Numbers can sometimes be deceptive, and misleading as well. Just looking at numbers and saying "Okay, this guy strikes at 140" - it might be that most of his boundaries are through edges and he's slashing hard and the ball is going everywhere. The number doesn't translate into how he got the runs. That is where I'm saying I'd like to convince myself to see if he has the potential to play an IPL game. Whoever I pick, I would like to see them as 1st XI players. I never pick someone who I think can be a first XI player after three years.
How do you measure T20 performances, then, especially before sitting at the auction table?
It's a combination of some personal judgement, and going by the numbers. Usually our strategy coming into the auction is defining roles and putting player names according to those roles and then see who fits our bill the best. It's never been purely based on numbers, saying, "This guy has a 200 strike rate, let's get him at any cost."
It's always been about personalities as well, what they contribute to the team and how much they bring to the team in terms of helping youngsters, how big they are as a sporting personality, on and off-field behaviour. That also matters. You would have never seen any controversial behaviour with KKR in any of their players, because we do emphasise that as well.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo; Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor