It was a reunion that Prasanna Agoram was looking forward to and preparing himself for ever since the Indian tour to South Africa had been announced. Even so,the Proteas performance analyst had goosebumps as walked into the restaurant of the Sandton Sun Hotel for breakfast on Monday. The Indian team had just arrived in South Africa and were making their presence felt.
Prasannas vigilant eyes,though,were seeking out his boys men who had become superstars but who,for Prasanna,remained the same starry-eyed kids desperate to make the grade up from junior cricket,approximately six years ago. This was to be an unofficial reunification for the U-19 class of 2005-06.
I didnt know who to hug first. As I gave Virat a big hug,I saw Rohit (Sharma),Chintu (Pujara),Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma. These were my boys,who I had seen since they were in short pants at the U-15 level. The memories came flooding back, says Prasanna,a grin plastered on his face.
He sounds like a doting guardian. When I see Jadeja,he is following the trend of growing a massive moustache. But for me,they will always be my kids, he says. I still remember when these guys were at the U-19 level,at the NCA,their sleeping hours were decided by the coaches and they would be scared to even step out of their room.
Since late 2010,Prasanna has become an integral part of the South African side. His technical and analytical inputs have earned high praise from the likes of Hashim Amla,Graeme Smith and every coach they have had during his tenure.
BUT it was during the mid-2000s at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore that the whizkid from Chennai began taking his first strides along a unique path not tread previously in the cricketing world. On it,he came across the cream of talent making their way up.
At that time,all the scorecards from every nook and corner of the country would come to me at the NCA. I was very keen to see this Virat Kohli,who had scored three consecutive double-centuries at the U-17 level. When I did,I knew he was India material straight up, recalls Prasanna. Then I remember a cover drive Rohit played,which I can never forget,against an Australian U-19 team in Dharamshala. It was class.
Then came the stint as video analyst of the India U-19 team at the 2006 World Cup in Sri Lanka. That team included Rohit,Pujara and Jadeja,but more importantly,it would prove to be the turning point for Prasanna.
It was the major assignment of my life and theres been no turning back. Thanks to Venkatesh Prasad who gave me a line,which Ive made a mile. The contribution Im making to the South African team is a lot more than what I did back then. I was learning my role. They would come to me whenever they wanted to have a nice positive chat or be motivated, he says.
In his bid to inspire his wards,Prasanna even came up with a unique motivational video,a trend that he follows even now with the South Africans. One of those,left an indelible impression on the likes of Rohit and Pujara.
It was the day before the U19 World Cup. We booked an entire hall with a big screen and called the boys in. The first slide was Pujara. It said Today and then there were clippings of Rahul Dravid. The next slide said Tomorrow,and Pujaras batting highlights followed. You should have seen the look on his face, he says. When Mark Waugh came on,I could see that excitement in Rohit Sharmas face. I also compared Piyush Chawla with Warne.
He also reveals to have been much more than an analyst during that tour,having had to often lend his shoulder as an older sibling. I was 30 and these kids were 17-18. There was a huge age gap. They called me Sir some of them still call me that. They saw me as a teacher. They realised how close they were to play for India, he says. Rohit will remember,in the semifinal which was telecast live,he scored a classy 59 against England. When we were watching the replay of his innings,he repeatedly asked me to pause the video and wanted to hear what Sunil Gavaskar was saying about him.
While India did end up losing the final of the World Cup to Pakistan in dramatic fashion,the tournament proved to be a stepping stone for quite a few,including their beloved analyst.
I remember Rohit walking in after we had bowled Pakistan bowled out for 109 and saying shut your laptop,well win this match in 20 overs and then party. Stop working so hard. Unfortunately the match did get over that soon but we had lost. It was devastating but I will never forget those times, says Prasanna.
Boys to men
I HAD said then that India had found able replacements to Tendulkar,Dravid and Laxman in the form of Kohli,Pujara and Rohit. Im very proud that theyve made my words come true, he says.
Prasanna will be in the opposition camp over the next month,devising strategies to outdo the same guys he once mentored,whose techniques he worked towards perfecting.
I always work harder when we are up against India. Last time,in 2010-11,I didnt know most of the team personally but now,my boys are here, he says. But when I put on the South African jersey and sit there,I wont see the kid in Jadeja or Kohli — no soft corner. I have an emotional attachment with this team,but I will not enjoy watching Rohit or Virat scoring even a single boundary against us.