When Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) announced the names of the three players they were going to retain, two things stood out. First was the bewildering decision to keep Sarfraz Khan, who has not been playing regularly, and the other was that Virat Kohli had become the highest paid player in the Indian Premier League (IPL). RCB spent Rs 17 crores to retain the services of the Indian captain. One just wonders how much would have the teams splurged had Kohli been in the auctions. Rs 20 crores? Rs 25 crores? The teams would surely have broken their banks to buy him.
Along with Kohli, there were a few other players who had the potential to be the biggest buys of the season had they not been retained by their respective franchises; right from AB de Villiers to Jasprit Bumrah. Ben Stokes was the talk of the town during the last IPL for being purchased at a whopping Rs 14.5 crores and other players like Kieron Pollard, Andrew Flintoff, Pawan Negi, Yuvraj Singh etc have also drawn the same attention over the last few years thanks to their price tag, which comes with a lot of baggage and responsibility; some have stood up to the hype while others have failed miserably.
With IPL 2018 auction a few days away, let's go through the five players who have the potential to be the most expensive purchase of the season:
Having put his name in the auction list for the first time, the England all-rounder was an instant hit and was acquired by Rising Pune Supergiant. Despite the presence of many other big names, Stokes attracted all the limelight and he didn't disappoint. With 316 runs at a strike rate of 142.99 and 12 wikcets, Stokes won the 'Most Valuable Player' of IPL 2017 award.
Many things have changed for Stokes since that IPL courtesy a controversial off-field incident, but there is nothing to suggest that his stakes have dropped. So much so is his demand that the IPL governing council has guaranteed all the eight franchises that they have the option to replace Stokes, in case he becomes unavailable for the full tournament due to legal reasons or proceedings.
No prizes for guessing what he brings to the table: an explosive batsman, decent bowler and an agile fielder, who has a knack of pouching terrific catches. The only thing that might work against Stokes though is his form. In the last four to five months, he has not played any competitive cricket apart from a brief stint with Canterbury in New Zeland. But he is expected to make a comeback soon and in all likelihood will play the ODI series against New Zealand, if not the T20I series.
Root might be missing T20Is for England but he has made it clear that he wants to play the IPL. Kevin Pietersen was the first English player who urged his teammates to play the tournament, a view which ECB didn't endorse much. But with Andrew Strauss at the helm of cricketing affairs, more and more England cricketers are taking a part in IPL.
If there is any minuscule doubt about Root's credentials in the shortest format, one must revisit the innings he played against South Africa during the 2016 World T20. With three franchises — Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab — still looking for a captain, Root will the player to watch out for in the auction.
When Starc pulled out of IPL 2017, RCB, in the hope of buying a bowler with a similar skill set, purchased England's Tymal Mills for Rs 12 crores, 12 times his base price. Unlike Stokes, Mills couldn't put up a great performance. With Starc once again in the auction pool, one can expect teams to go all out for him.
Searing pace, inch-perfect yorkers and scarily good bouncers: Starc has all the ingredients to be a match winner. Now there is a common perception that T20 is a batsman's format, but if you go through this year's retention list, you will understand the importance of the bowlers and Starc's record speaks for himself.
When Sunil Narine was at his peak, there was a joke that circulated in the cricketing circles that KKR bowl only 16 overs but bat for 20 overs. That was the impact which Narine had made in his initial years. There is little mystery to Narine nowadays but the same joke now can be repeated for the team that Rashid plays for.
From becoming the first Afghanistan player to make his IPL debut to wreaking havoc in the Big Bash League (BBL), Rashid has gone from strength to strength in the last one year. So far (in nine matches) the 19-year old has snared 14 wickets at an economy of 5.58 in the BBL.
It was surprising to see Sunrisers Hyderabad not retain Rashid considering that he had a stupendous season with them, but with him now in the auction the teams won't leave any stone unturned to acquire his services.