The Royal Challengers Bangalore women’s team is set to go big on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to unearth talent from far corners of the country, their director of cricket Mike Hesson said on Thursday. While the team management will not discard the time-tested method of sending scouts to unearth promising talent, RCB will also deploy AI technology to supplement their efforts. “We think our scouting needs to go a little bit deeper than sending regular scouts to tournaments. There’s a lot of untapped talent and potential throughout the whole country,” Hesson said at a press conference ahead of the Women’s Premier League (WPL).
“So, we have an artificial intelligence system, where we look at some key metrics. From a bowling perspective, it will be around pace. From a batting perspective, it will be around different positions that they get into. Once we identify talent there, we can bring them into camps or we can go and watch them at specific tournaments,” he added.
Hesson said the RCB are looking to spot talent at a very young age in order to train and prepare them adequately.
“We’re trying to look far beyond just the mainstream tournaments or first-class cricket or state cricket. We’re trying to look at underage talent, talent from the extremities of the country, people that potentially aren’t in teams already,” he said.
“The players we’re looking at might be a year away from actually being a part of the RCB. But we can identify them, we can watch them over a period of time and just see how they develop. That’s certainly how we also operate in both the men’s and women’s programme,” Hesson said.
RCB might have put up an enviable roster with Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Heather Knight and Dane van Niekerk in its ranks but head coach Ben Sawyer is clear that the big names would be rotated during the WPL, starting Saturday.
Along with these four celebrated names, RCB have also roped in legendary New Zealander Sophie Devine and WBBL (Big Bash League) star Erin Burns, and Sawyer accepted that he is spoilt for choice.
Asked about his picks as top-four overseas players, Sawyer, the current New Zealand women’s team coach, didn’t give a straight answer.
“All six will play a role. We play four games in the first six days. We will have different match-ups against the teams and I am fortunate to have them,” Sawyer said.
“Don’t expect us to operate with the same four in the whole tournament. We have got some multi-skilled players. Pretty sure you will see all six in the tournament,” said Sawyer.
Sawyer has worked as a coach in The Hundred and WBBL and is confident WPL will take women’s cricket to a new level.
“That’s a scary thought for an international player of what they are going to come up against in future. I’ve seen the impact that WBBL and The Hundred have had. It’s (WPL) just going to take it (women’s cricket) to another level.” The Indian women’s team is yet to win a global trophy at the senior level and are sometimes labelled “chokers”. Asked if the WPL will help them get rid of the mental block in crunch games, Sawyer was empathetic.
“Once they win one or two games, there is going to be no stopping the Indian team.” The 45-year-old has worked in women’s franchise leagues in England (Birmingham Phoenix – The Hundred) and Australia (Sydney Sixers – WBBL), and based on those experience, he said its only in the initial years of league tournaments that big names matter before every member in the squad understands her role and becomes a vital cog.
“Maybe at the start, you are relying on the big names but in seven-eight years’ time, every single player in the team had an important role to play and was no longer seen as just making up the numbers,” he said, recalling the early days in WBBL.
“The experience some of the younger players will get at the international level will take them to another level. They will be exposed to playing international-style cricket week in and week out during the competition,” he added.
India’s tennis great Sania Mirza is a perfect role model and her inclusion as RCB’s mentor for the upcoming WPL will inspire the team, feels the team’s director of cricket Mike Hesson.
The 36-year-old six-time Grand Slam winner recently retired from tennis.
“No matter what sport you are from, but coming up as an elite and challenging the norms in terms of an athlete, wanting to embrace pressure and how to deal with it, and not be afraid of it, for women’s sport, Sania is a huge icon,” Hesson said.
Hesson said RCB have plenty of experts to talk about the technical nitty-gritty of the game and the former world No. 1 in doubles would give the players an edge by talking about the mental challenges she faced in her professional career.
“The more you talk about pressure and emotions of the game, and the challenges rather than talking technique for which we have got plenty of experts, I think it’s exciting,” he added.
The WPL will commence on March 4 with Gujarat Giants taking on Mumbai Indians.