Saturday, June 6, 2020

Tete-a-tete with Prasanna Agoram, Proteas Performance Coach

DHCF: How did it all start for you? Given its quite a niche career option, what challenges did you face?
Prasanna: It's everyone's dream to play for India, whatever level of cricket you play and I was no different. When I was playing state level cricket for Tamil Nadu in age categories like all other young boys, I wanted to play for my country. It didn’t happen as I felt there are guys who had more talent than me. Then I became a qualified umpire in BCCI in 2000 dreaming about walking in Eden Gardens and Melbourne cricket ground but unfortunately it was not as easy as I thought and I don’t want to elaborate on this. Then finally I finished my Engineering in Electronics and Communication and went on to do my post graduate diploma in Computer Applications and was employed as a software engineer in Bangalore. This is when I saw an article in Hindu stating that a software company is developing a software for match analysis for Indian cricket team in 2001. I thought look I have decent cricketing knowledge and when it comes to developing software not many can match my speed. So I started developing match analysis software all alone from that time which I demonstrated to the National Cricket Academy. NCA employed me as their technical head in 2003 and the rest is history. The main challenge I faced was when few of the top cricketers and coaches kept on asking me that I not being a certified coach,  am I qualified to talk so much of cricket. Then thanks to Cricket South Africa I did my level 3 coaching certification from CSA in 2014  and now with so much of experience not many question my credentials.

DHCF: How has cricket analytics changed over the years?
Prasanna:  A lot. The amount of data one can derive is huge now. But let me make it clear, with the
data we can get now, close to 500 points can be written on Virat Kohli’s batting for example but there is no value in it. No one wants to read a document of 500 points. It is all about what is the best 2 options which you can exploit a player technically/tactically. So the analyst has to be knowledgeable enough to feed the players what exactly is required and that too in short and crisp way. Giving too much of info can also be exhaustive.

DHCF: Given more and more data is being generated now for each delivery in a match, do you see machine learning/AI becoming a force in sports analytics?
Prasanna: I do capture around 13 parameters for every ball live during a match. When a player asks me where did I go wrong in bowling to Steve Smith, my answer has to be simple enough to say your lines were wrong and that is how tailor made my match analysis software Block Hole is. It tells you exactly where a bowler went wrong against a batsmen after the game. Data is a force as long as people know how to maximise its effect.

DHCF: How do you help a player when the player keeps on repeating the same mistake match after match? Does it get frustrating at times?
Prasanna: Look we should never ever get frustrated in our job. If we do then this is not the place where we can hang around. No player steps on to the field of play thinking about committing a mistake. Many occasions a player will come and say I tried this which will be completely against the plan given by me and might be the batsmen's strength as well. But the way you make him understand is what is going to create a win win situation for both of us.

DHCF: Name a player who was/is most interested in analytics
Prasanna: Look a player will get much interest only based on the proven intelligence, what we give in our job. If I give a plan for Steve Smith, the player trusts me and executes the same on field. If it works I gain respect. The players will come to me only if I have some thing to offer. Amla , Maharaj, Shamsi and Nortje to name a few.

DHCF: Name a player who didn't/doesn't believe in it at all 😀
Prasanna: I won't say anyone doesn’t believe in it. Players just take what they want. AB Devilliers will just ask a few questions like - what variations a bowler has in death overs? Please explain me the trends on this ground, is it high scoring, if so when teams have accelerated ?  - to set his game plans. That doesn’t mean he is against analysis.

DHCF: How different is the role of an analyst across different formats of the game?
Prasanna: Role is same for all formats. Nothing differs. Importance on certain parameters differs based on the duration of the game.

DHCF: How different is it to be in your role for an international team vs a franchise team say an IPL team?
Prasanna: The role doesn’t differ, it is pretty much the same as all the coaches/players know me well now as I am in this field from 2002. IPL is more taxing as you play different opponent in alternate days so you need to space your time well to be available for the players. Bilateral series are a little bit easy compared to IPL.

DHCF: If someone wishes to pursue sport analytics as a career option, how and where to start, what would be your advice?
Prasanna: Its simple. I would advise this to an educated person to sharpen skills. More you watch cricket more you learn. Unfortunately there is not much of guidance in this profession like other in cricket. My goal is to come up with certification courses to aspiring analysts may be next year which will give them a clear understanding on what to do to achieve their ambitions in this field.

DHCF: Which has been your most memorable day/match as an Analyst?
Prasanna: Most memorable match would definitely be the world cup quarterfinal 2015 match Vs Sri Lanka where we won a knock out game for the first time in a world cup event.

We would like to thank Prasanna for taking time out and having a conversation with us. 

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