When the South African cricket team takes on Pakistan in the first Test in Karachi on January 26, one important member of their think tank, much-respected performance analyst of 11 years, Prasanna Agoram will be “working from home” in Bangalore. He has been unable to join his team which landed in Pakistan on Saturday as he has an Indian visa, and the South African team management told him that despite their efforts, he can’t travel to the country due to “security protocols”.
Clad in a South African team jersey, wearing his official training shoes, Agoram will be in his dining room at home, amidst a trail of wires, two laptops, a UPS for uninterrupted power supply and with a bowl of murukku, the crunchy-savoury snack, and filter coffee.
“I am like a dead man walking,” Agoram tells The Indian Express, unable to hide his disappointment at missing his first series ever since he joined South Africa. “I will do my best from here but yes, this is a big blow for me and for the players in the team who depend on me for the detailed analysis that’s best done from the ground. But we need to understand the protocols in place. I have been told that Lalchand Rajput, former India player who coaches Zimbabwe, couldn’t travel to Pakistan, umpire Aleem Dar is unable to come for work to India and such. So, I am not the only person.”
Agoram won’t be able to transmit instant analysis and technical and tactical feedback as security protocols during match time prevent telecommunication from outside the dressing room. Only the manager of the team is allowed to have a phone during match time, and even that is restricted to logistical purposes. Usually, Prasanna is most active on match days, transferring his inputs at drinks breaks or with the coaches through the game.
Feedback after play
He has his plans to work around the situation though. At the end of the day’s play, by the time the players get back to their hotel rooms, they would be sent individual digital documents which would give them details on what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they can improve. The coaches will have data available for them to work on.
“Players who need face-to-face chats – the medium that they prefer- will have Zoom calls and such. Where I can take them through slides, if needed. Or just talk and share. I have a UPS with one hour back-up. I am all set to do ball-by-ball analysis,” Prasanna says.
As ever, he has been hard at work in recent days, culling data – numbers and video footage -from Pakistan domestic matches, analysing the home team including their new players, and preparing tactical methods to tackle their spinners and bowl at their batsmen.
Not the same feeling
However, all this can’t replicate the feel of being at the ground. “What I would miss most is the week before the Test match, actually. That’s when the real prep work gets done.” He gives an example to make his case.
“Let’s say, the sweep shot. The best player of the sweep there has ever been is Pakistan’s Younis Khan. What I do is have his technique on a split frame on the left-hand side.” He then takes the footage he shoots of the South African batsmen and places it on the right frame. “I then compare and tell the batsmen what more they can do. They don’t have to do it like Younis, of course, as his method and physical traits are different but to give an idea about how low they can get. What’s the ideal height and length to go for?”
That ideal height has to take in the bounce and turn in the pitches. “That’s best seen live at the nets. Then we can tweak accordingly. And there are several sweep shots – the flat sweep, the paddle, the reverse, the slog, and all that is also best worked out on the ground and tailored according to the spinner they will be facing. That can be communicated from here, but again nothing like being there. Someone like Temba Bavuma likes to see analysis and video footage from nets and tailor it. One good thing is that these players are highly professional and good; so, they will adjust but still I feel I could have added more if I were there.”
Hopeful of good result
Agoram is upbeat about South Africa’s chances in the series. “We just beat Sri Lanka and also in Galle (2014), a place where even India hasn’t been able to (win of late). In Keshav Maharaj, we have one of the best finger spinners in the world. How many bowlers have taken nine wickets in an innings? Tabraiz Shamsi is coming along very nicely and George Linde, the left-arm spinner, is very talented. Our fast bowlers are known to the world; so are our batsmen who just did it again in Sri Lanka.”
One thing the players will miss is smearing the cake on Prasanna’s birthday on January 23. “I am the one who creates the most mess on players’ birthdays, smearing cake on their faces. Their revenge is on my birthday. That they will miss now!” he says with a laugh. “I have been with them for 11 years; the bonding is something out of this world.”
As ever, once the umpire says, ‘let’s play’ and the bowler runs in to bowl for the first ball of the match, Agoram says an internal monologue will run in his mind. “I visualise Amitabh Bachchan about to start the ‘fastest fingers first’ round in his show Kaun Banega Crorepati. “Aap ka time shuru hota hai ab!” (Your time starts now!).