Behind the Kings: Scouting for skills in Punjab and beyond

Analyst Ashish Tuli explains the scouting process that has allowed KXIP to pack in some local talent.

There's a reason why Prabhsimran Singh, Arshdeep Singh, and Harpreet Brar were picked up in the Kings XI Punjab squad for the 2019 Indian Premier League.

Scouted by the on-the-ball team analyst Ashish Tuli, the trio had the X-factor that complete the KXIP squad as well-rounded additions with an eye on the future. The fact that they hail from Punjabi is a sweetener to the package they can offer to strengthen the identity and keep the flavour of the team intact.

Tuli and his team knew what they had to do before their scouting process kicked into action. Their main focus was on the catchment area, initials inscribed on the top of the KXIP logo: K.J.H.P.H. -- standing for Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana -- shortlist potential and create opportunities often bereft in the region.

"We also looked at a few other areas, like Vidarbha since they performed very well last year in all age groups," Tuli adds, attesting that there was no stone left unturned. It's why Darshan Nalkande and Varun Chakravarthy came on board as well. After all, talent cannot be overlooked.

"You cannot pick someone from just one game," declares Tuli. "It's not like someone scores a fifty or a century, and you label him a very good player."

Tuli makes a pertinent point to his scouting process conducted last year, where he and his team observed hordes of players to identify those who can potentially step up to the IPL. His team meticulously prepared for this in crunch time, as they observed the U-19 and U-23 tournaments and then the Vijay Hazare Trophy, cognizant that it could get tighter with the Diwali break and the Ranji Trophy slated to begin soon after.

Armed with statistics of several hopefuls, and following as many matches as they could, they shortlisted around 55 to 60 players, of which 45 made it to the trial where the KXIP support staff -- pillared by reports from Tuli's team -- took over and made a final shortlist.

"Our objective was to get players to trials," says Tuli, who has his credentials stamped as an analyst for a couple of years for the Indian cricket team. "According to us, those 45 players could potentially make it in the IPL."

Arshdeep Singh was one of the Punjabi talents discovered at the trials last year.

Not going in blind

After crunching numbers and making their observations, the team then spoke to the coaches and respective state representatives to get more insights on their man.

"We looked at anyone whose statistics told us that he was doing something," he says. "After that we made some inquiries, asking how their skill was, how they rate their players. If we had marked a player and he has performed in one game, and we find him interesting, then we'd watch more of his matches.

"We had a process, it's not like we blindly picked them."

But it wasn't just that as they were conscious of the fact that there could be performances that aren't necessarily headline-grabbing but significant nevertheless.

"Maybe one player bowled well but didn't get numbers on his side, but if he impressed us we'd watch a few more matches of his," he says. "And sometimes you can conclude whether a player has something in him or not with just one shot. There was one player, of whom I witnessed just one delivery. It was a brilliant ball! So after that I watched two more of his matches."

In a field that offers multiple parameters, however, Tuli lays emphasis that context was key in most cases.

"What's the situation? Does your situation allow you to play a shot? What was your temperament then?" he reasons. "Like when a team is several wickets down and a top order guy performs with tailenders or in a match-winning situation, someone plays a particular shot and the team loses.

"Things like these, that are maybe intangible to a certain extent," he asserts. "It's very situation-based and you only know when you are sitting out there. And of course, the more you watch cricket, the more your understanding kicks in."

Tuli has done his bit ahead of the season. Now when the IPL kicks off, his analytical skills will switch towards Punjab's opposition.

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