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"We work backwards" - RCB's Head of Scouting Malolan Rangarajan gives insights into IPL talent search [Exclusive]

Malolan Rangarajan joined RCB as the Head of Scouting in 2019
Malolan Rangarajan joined RCB as the Head of Scouting in 2019
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 22 Apr 2021
Exclusive

One of the most celebrated franchises in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have boasted of a wide array of superstars who have donned the team's jersey.

Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle and most recently, Glenn Maxwell are only a few of the innumerable stars who have represented RCB. The franchise has also proven to be a springboard for some domestic talents like Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar among others, who have exhibited their skills for RCB and earned a call-up to the national side.

With the IPL attracting eyeballs from all across the globe, it's only natural that the players who represent their franchises are the centre of attention. What this often means is that the effort of the support staff, and more importantly, the tireless work of the talent scout department, often flies under the radar.

The hours of work put into scouting players from some of the most remote or metropolitan areas, the sheer number of calls with the franchise's management to comprehend the requirements for an upcoming IPL season, is something out of the ordinary.

One man who has poured his blood, sweat and tears into scouting some of the best talent available is Malolan Rangarajan, Head of Scouting at RCB. The 31-year-old, who plied his trade for Tamil Nadu and then Uttarakhand in the domestic circuit, was roped in by RCB in 2019. Since then, the Bengaluru-based franchise has featured players across cultures and skill sets.

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Malolan shed light on the '24 hours x 365 days' work of a talent scout, what it means to strike a balance between pleasing fans and picking the right players and more. Full interview below -

Q. RCB’s depth in resources is something we’ve not seen in the squad for quite some time in the recent past of the IPL. Was it a genuine effort to strengthen the all-rounders’ section?

Yes, but we have this process set in RCB where we work backwards. After the IPL ends we have a post-season review, we try to find out where our gaps are and it was very evident that we were lacking someone who could take on the middle overs and so we went hard for Maxi (Maxwell).

So like that we’ve tried to address each issue and all our recruits are a by-product of the gaps we've identified, it might be different for the people but the management found gaps and the players we identified were to fill the gaps we found.

Q. IPL 2020 ended in November and the player auction was in February 2021. In these times of the pandemic, what was the strategy in place to keep an eye out on the domestic talent from the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy?

We do a post-season review where we try to find what the gaps are, we assign roles for each spot in the playing XI and we get a fairly good idea of all the domestic teams in India. We have information on each Indian cricketer, we know what their skill sets are. Sometimes we have a targeted scouting based on what we want, especially when we have such a short turnaround, we almost know what type of player we are looking for.

Malolan is also RCB
Malolan is also RCB's fielding coach

Q. Team culture is very important, especially in a two-month long tournament like the IPL. Can you give an example of how deep you dig into a player’s career and life to understand if they would fit into the team?

That is a very, very important part of our scouting process here, we just don’t stop with watching players play. If a player is of interest or not, we try to dig deeper, we try to travel to his place of origin, try to get as much information as we can.

Even though it may not affect our recruitment policy, we ensure we have enough information on that player from a psychological standpoint, his well being standpoint, his cricketing standpoint. Two months in a bubble, you need to know how a particular player might react in a situation.

Q. Can you explain to us a day in the life of an IPL scout like yourself? How many videos do you go through, how many calls do you need to attend, how many sheets of paper do you have to flip through?

Once we know what kind of roles we are looking for, it’s about going around the country and centres where matches are being played. There aren't too many phone calls but we do have the occasional calls to update the management as to where each individual is going. There are a lot of forms which scouts have to fill out. We have a set of 30-35 questions which vary from skill, psychological, physical point of view. There’s a lot of work which helps us filter out the player. We use these parameters to understand the player who we go for in the auction.

Devdutt Padikkal topped the run-charts for RCB in IPL 2020
Devdutt Padikkal topped the run-charts for RCB in IPL 2020

Q. What's the story behind backing Devdutt Padikkal to come good for RCB? He didn't play the whole of IPL 2019, was that to get him ready for the next season?

Credit must go to the whole coaching management for identifying the obvious fact that Devdutt has the potential. But giving him the opportunity to play 14 games was a conscious decision made by the senior coaching staff and not so much so from a scouting perspective. We were very sure of his qualities as a batsman, but it doesn’t end there.

That’s a refreshing change that’s come about in RCB, we’re giving extended runs and it’s been very well documented in the previous 12 months as to how our Indian domestic players have come of age in the last 12-18 months.

Q. In these times of social media, pressure from fans is certainly something that plays a big role in picking an IPL team. How do you maintain a balance between pleasing the fans and bidding for the right players?

RCB fans are one of, if not the most, passionate fans I’ve come across and they always come up with ideas which make sense more often than not. Having said that, our processes are very simple, we try to address what is best for the team.

At times, it may coincide with what the fans say. At times, we might not keep the fans happy, but what I can assure everyone out there is that the only thing we have in our mind is that this RCB team goes out to win the trophy. That’s the first step we take, we think of winning the trophy and what’s the best way of achieving that.

Q. Do you recollect the time you got the call from RCB to make the switch from playing to talent scouting? How tough a call was that, and in hindsight how do you look back at that decision?

It came out of the blue, for sure, the call. Having played First-Class cricket for about 8-9 years, there aren’t regrets. I was able to identify the fact that I may not play for my country, which is the dream for any cricketer. This opportunity that came about from RCB doesn’t come too often and I knew the opportunity would come only once, I was not going to give up on it.

I was very sure about how I was going to go about the job once offered, I am very grateful for the opportunity. I’m very excited to see what we have in store from a scouting perspective for the next 12-18 months. Hopefully the talent we pick will be world beaters.

Malolan in action during an RCB practice session
Malolan in action during an RCB practice session

Q. Does the RCB franchise conduct a fair few trials for players to come and test their skills? Or do you sometimes make a decision purely based on performances in domestic tournaments?

Firstly, performance in domestic tournaments is a byproduct of how the player is. We try to identify players who have the potential to fulfill a role for RCB. That’s the main criteria for us but it doesn’t stop with that. The only time we conduct a trial is when we feel we don’t have enough data about the individual from a skill perspective.

Usually we scout everything about an individual fully, we travel to their state or their city, try to get as much information as possible. If we don’t have enough information then we have a trial and test them under match conditions. But that’s rarely happened because we’re working 24x7, 365 days.

Q. We know that there’s probably going to be a mega auction next season ahead of IPL. When you picked the domestic talent for IPL 2021, was that for the long run, or just for this season?

We have our scouting process through which we identify talent who can give us answers for the short term, medium term and long term. Ideally in the domestic structure, you would like to think talents will come good in the medium to long term. To be specific, we try to cater to the coaching management’s demands and gaps, the roles we are looking for. It’s very rare that you try to answer the gap with domestic scouting for a single season, it’s usually for the medium to long term.

Q. When you pick players, do you look at them as those who can make the jump from the domestic level to international level?

Ideally you would like to think that these players can make the jump. Fortunately or unfortunately, only a few of them will have the chance to go on to represent the country, we try to find potential to fulfill a role for RCB. Skills matter a lot, because the jump from domestic to IPL itself is a lot, so we depend on the skills they portray on that day, we try to watch them over and over again to consolidate and validate our views of them actually having the skill set. Once they are put in the IPL, we know if they can come through or not.

Q. In terms of an overall eye on player selection, how do you look to keep one eye on international talent, and the other on domestic talent?

Basically we only have 8 overseas spots in a squad. More often than not they are the best players, but we try to find one player who is an X-factor, someone who is not a big name known here and there. We have our scouting system and our coaches are spread across the map so we use their services as well.

Usually 7 out of 8 are superstars in their own way for their countries. We have a process where we try to identify that one X-factor player who many franchises might not be having a look at and the same with domestic scouting as well. We more often than not fill the gaps. One or two players are future projects we are looking to invest in today and who might come good in the medium to long term.

Published 22 Apr 2021
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