Every year, the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction leaves millions amazed with bidding wars and uncapped players landing big bucks, apart from the usual fare of glitz and glamour. This year was no different. However, 66 players were picked by the eight franchises for a total of Rs 91.15 crore which included Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) splurge Rs 14,5 crore on English all-rounder Ben Stokes and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) placing a Rs 12 crore-bid for Stokes's countryman Tymal Mills.
Former Indian pacer and ESPN Cricinfo auction day expert panelist Ajit Agarkar spoke to Firstpost to share his thoughts on the talking points from the IPL 2017 auction.
"Some of the teams who have done well over the past few years only had to fill in some gaps or have some back up players, but in general, most teams have a plan. Sometimes the prices dictate whether it works for you or not, but at the end of the day if you have decent 12 or 13 players who are in good form then you generally have a good tournament.
"There is not a lot of difference, some teams might not be as balanced as some of the others..." he added.
For the 39-year-old, there were a few teams who seized the opportunity to add balance at this year's auction.
"I think (the) usual suspects. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) already was a strong team, but they have added three or four decent players, a couple of experienced seamers, which they needed after Andre Russell was not there. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Mumbai Indians (MI) and Sunrises Hyderabad (SRH) also look strong on paper," said the former KKR bowler.
After KKR lost all-rounder Russell, they needed a strong all-rounder similar to the West Indian and did well with the inclusion of Chris Woakes. How good a replacement for Russell is Woakes? Were KKR right in choosing the England all-rounder? "Yes, it is very good. The Eden Gardens pitch is helping the seamers in the past six to eight months to a year, plus they (KKR) have got Trent Boult. So the two of them could make the difference on that pitch. The advantage KKR have is their Indian batting is quite strong, so they can afford to play an extra overseas bowler which helps their cause and they (have) relied on slower spinning tracks."
There is no hiding the fact that there were quite a few shockers at the auction with some of the big players getting ignored. But, according to Agarkar, nothing was so shocking about the event in Bengaluru. "You expected Stokes to go for big money as it happened. I think (Tymal) Mills is a great buy. Again he has gone for big money. So, no real surprise," he reasons.
But midway through the auction, the fans were rubbing their eyes in disbelief staring at the television set when the likes of Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Mitchell Santner, Colin Munro and especially the current No 1 ODI and T20I bowler, Imran Tahir, had no takers.
"I don't think he (Tahir) has had the same impact in the IPL last year. I'm sure that all other franchises had a look at it and also, he is an overseas spinner. Unless you have a spot for an overseas spinner, given that only four foreigners can play, you wouldn't want to spend money, until you require a spinner, that too on an overseas one. Sometimes it is hard to explain, but you eventually look at what your team composition is and who is in your squad to pick accordingly and someone has to miss out," Agarkar explained.
Apart from the stars and the familiar faces, there were players from Associate nations who proved to be surprise picks. "When you look at their (Afghanistan players Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan) numbers, they are so good in T20 cricket that it is not a surprise. It is good, it tells you how the team has progressed and the top teams brought them. It tells you that it not just the nationality but the quality of players that they (look to) have."
Meanwhile, before the auction, the balance in the RCB squad was a huge concern with a batting line-up second to none but the bowling being a bit weak. One can argue that their bowling cost them their first IPL title in the previous edition. However, after parting ways with the Australian pacer Mitchell Starc, they roped in the services of Tymal Mills.
"I think it (the RCB squad) is a lot more balanced, but bowling is bit of a worry. I think (now) they have enough cover. Now it is all about execution, which is always the bigger challenge," said Agarkar.
While everybody expected two-time winners Mumbai Indians (MI) to purchase an opener after Martin Guptill was released, they bought all-rounder Karn Sharma, young West Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran and welcomed back Mitchell Johnson. But Agarkar feels it was the correct decision as purchasing an opener would have upset the balance of the side, given that they can field only four overseas player. "Lendl Simmons always opens for them, so I don't think they needed an opener. Ro (Rohit) and he are a good pair. They are one of the better teams, and don't need too many changes," he added.
Meanwhile, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led RPS were criticised for their one-dimensional batting with only a few big hitters last season. "I think (Faf) du Plessis was injured last year, Kevin Pieterson did not have a good season; so it was the lack of firepower. I think it is the bowling which is bit of a worry and not batting so much as they have Dhoni, Rahane, Smith," explained Agarkar.
As always, it is more than what meets the eye and this time around, the Pune franchise made a huge statement by landing Stokes, but after splurging so much of money on the England all-rounder, they found themselves struggling to pick other players.
"Now they spent so much money on Stokes, they couldn't buy another bowler. But I think they want a lot from Stokes as a bowler otherwise they would struggle again because their bowling seems odd.
"There were multiple teams bidding for him, that's why so much money was paid because of his quality. They will be desperate (to ensure) that he has a big future because they put everything they had to lure him. I mean they had Rs 17 crore and then they spend Rs 14 and a half on one guy and made the rest of the auction difficult for them."
Nevertheless, even Agarkar agrees that it was a pretty good day in the auction for Indian bowlers. "I think (when) the teams look for bowlers, it is always nice. A lot of these guys have impressed at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. They are new in this tournament and they have the opportunity to show what they can do."