After months of international cricket, it is time for cricket fans in India to welcome franchise-based Twenty20 cricket in their backyard.
The Indian Premier League (IPL), which will enter its 10th edition this year, is already knocking on our doors with the auctions just around the corner. While the honchos in charge of the franchises get ready to shell out big bucks in the event that is to take place on the 20th of this month in Bengaluru, the players will keep their fingers crossed of getting that cash along their way.
Among the franchises with the maximum ability to spend in the upcoming auction is Delhi Daredevils (DD), who have the second-highest balance purse worth Rs 23.1 crore, with Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) having the highest for the tenth edition. Given how they had spent a whopping amount of Rs 8.5 crore on then-uncapped Pawan Negi, who could not live up to his billing thereafter, the Delhi franchise will look to spend their amount a little more wisely this time around, especially with all player contracts eventually expiring next year.
There are a few things in common between DD and KXIP, the two franchises will enjoy the highest purchasing power in this auction. And both have lacked the firepower to clear the final hurdle or win the crunch moments. KXIP had a fantastic season in 2014, in which they made it to the finale before losing to a spirited Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to hand them their second title win, DD are yet to clear the semi-final/playoff hurdle, where they have reached thrice before.
Daredevils have produced brilliant performances in each of the seasons in which they made it to the last four, topping the table in 2009 under the inspirational captain of Gautam Gambhir. However, they have also been terrible in the others, scraping the bottom of the barrel between 2013 and 2015, before making a marginal improvement last year under the captaincy of Zaheer Khan and mentorship of Rahul Dravid, managing to avoid the last two spots if not anything else.
The Delhi squad at the moment, having retained 18 players including five foreigners, looks fairly balanced on a couple of aspects. In South African wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock (who was the leading run-scorer last year for the franchise) and young batting sensation Rishabh Pant, Delhi perhaps can boast of the most attacking opening combination among all the franchises. Then you have reliable top-order batsmen in England's Sam Billings (who recently had a good run in the Big Bash League), Shreyas Iyer, who was crowned the IPL Emerging Player in 2015, as well as Karun Nair, who was also among the runs last year (357 at a decent average of 35.70). Given that De Kock might leave early for national duties, Daredevils might look to rope in another foreign opener in Martin Guptill or Australia's Ben Dunk who ended up as the highest run-scorer in the recently concluded Big Bash League.
Carlos Brathwaite's (of the 'Remember the name' fame) presence in the side adds to the ensemble of all-rounders that also includes South Africans Chris Morris and JP Duminy, as well as local boy Jayant Yadav. And then the pacers, with skipper Zaheer and the in-form, albeit subject to fitness, Mohammed Shami as the front-line pacers, the combination of which would be a dream new-ball pair for any captain, with their ability to swing the ball both ways.
Aside from Negi, some of the other key players Delhi decided to release were leg-spinner Imran Tahir and Australian pacers Nathan Coulter-Nile and Joel Paris. If the Delhi bidders are to use their right-to-match option on any of these players, Tahir might just get another lucky break with the franchise, given an impressive run-of-form in limited-overs over the last one year.
New Zealand-born England all-rounder Ben Stokes is easily among the most sought-after players ahead of the auction, with the Virat Kohli-captained Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) expected to bid heavily for him. Stokes' addition to the Delhi franchise would be a great boost to their middle-order, which is one area they could look to build on. Another option would be to get in Angelo Mathews or Eoin Morgan who has regained his form following Big Bash, and England heroics against India.
Given the fat wallet that they have right now, they could also look into getting a back-up seamer for Shami, and pacers such as Mitchell Johnson could be in demand for the same. Johnson, who had retired from international cricket in November 2015, bowled a couple of fantastic spells in the recently-concluded Big Bash, including 4-2-3-3 for Perth Scorchers in their semi-final clash against Melbourne Stars.
Expect Delhi to go all aggressive at the auctions. They are in desperate need of a change of fortune, and playing their cards right in the upcoming auctions is one place they can start off their quest from. They would be hoping that Dravid's golden touch with the India A and U-19 teams finally extends to the Daredevils.