You may disagree with BCCI’s style of functioning. But there is no denying that the logic to their planning takes some beating. They controversially split the Ranji Trophy season to provide a huge yawning gap between the league and the just-commenced knock-out phases. That gap was intentionally packed with plenty of T20 and limited overs cricket, all of which served marvelously as pointers to the caliber of the 230 Indian cricketers among the 351 who will go under the hammer at the forthcoming IPL 2016 auction in Bengaluru on Saturday.
IPL auctions have an inbuilt element of drama as there’s still some getting used to the fact that a cricketer’s talent is up for grabs to the highest bidder. As always, the thrill of the unknown, in the form of an anonymous player being thrust into the limelight, is a huge draw. Who will be this auction’s KC Cariappa could well be the poser.
These apart, one factor, intriguing for the sheer range and scope of planning it triggers, is how a limited purse would be maximized to assemble a combination best suited to exploiting the conditions of the franchise’s home stadium where 50 per cent of its league matches have to be staged.
Rajasthan Royals were the first to grasp the potential of this reality and in the inaugural season bemused opponents with huge outfields and slow turning tracks which aided their bowlers. Since then, others, notably Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru have come up with a bag of tricks to forge teams tailor-made to exploit conditions of their home base.
The first indication that other teams too were cottoning on to this was revealed by the list of players they let go. In some cases they chopped out the non-performers. At other times, in order to garner a bigger purse to take to the auction, they discarded their costlier players. But in all instances there was a definite indication that some thought had gone into retention or otherwise of their players.
Thus, the most absorbing aspect of this edition’s auction would be the manner in which teams would spend the total remaining purse of Rs 197.98 crore. That would reveal their strategy for the season and beyond.
This is why the choice of Stephen Fleming and Brad Hodge as head coaches by new-entrant franchises, Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions is particularly striking. Their pick of players says a lot about their train of thought. For example, all the five Gujarat picks – Brendon McCullum, skipper Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner and Ravindra Jadeja -- are handy T20 batsmen.
The last four named can also bowl effectively in this format of the game. This leaves them with a wish list which could include a wicket-keeper adept at handling spin bowling on Indian pitches, pace bowler, opening batsman and a couple of other good batsmen and spinners. A top overseas player along with two ‘covers’ (in case of injury, etc) would do nicely.
RPSG too are very strong on batting – skipper MS Dhoni, Steve Smith, Ajinkye Rahana and Faf du Plessis, with a top notch spinner R Ashwin thrown in. The Kiwi Fleming, who did an excellent job with CSK, probably knows the T20 worth of fellow-countrymen Martin Guptil and Colin Munro better than anybody else and they could be on his shortlist. He would, however, have to devote a lot more attention on getting the bowling mix right given that Pune’s batting is already pretty sharp.
A lot of attention will also be centred on the spending habits of Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Both have huge purses available and a lot of their purchases must factor the quality of their home base pitches. Delhi may not be too keen on Feroz Shah Kotla as base but will have to put up with whatever the BCCI forks out. SRH too have issues with their base as support was hardly forthcoming even though they split their home matches between Vishakapatnam and Hyderabad.
Delhi, with the highest available purse, of Rs 37.5 crores, will be keen to choose horses for courses at least this time around. Among their 13 retained cricketers are Shreyas Iyer, Mayank Agarwal, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy. So that’s a good core to start with. But they need to put together some match-winners to enthuse confidence and belief among their supporters.
SRH, on the other hand, have retained a couple of really special players, David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan. They also have the services of Eoin Morgan, Moises Henriques, KL Rahul, Naman Ojha and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But they need to make their purse of Rs 30.15 crore talk with some intelligent purchases to excel in home conditions.
Kings XI Punjab too have a couple of outstanding T20 batsmen in Glenn Maxwell and David Miller. But their Indian component is just about passable, with Axar Patel, Murali Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha among the brighter sparks in a dull landscape.
Royal Challengers Bangalore let go of Dinesh Karthik for whom they had paid Rs 10.5 crore and are therefore on the lookout for a wicket-keeper. They, like other franchises must have their eye firmly on Delhi’s Rishabh Pant, the India Under-19 cricketer currently playing the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. Pant is an explosive left hand batsman with good wicket-keeping skills to match and will be an asset to RCB whose skipper Virat Kohli must be aware of his prowess.
Kohli is one of RCB’s outstanding players, the others being one-man demolition army Chris Gayle, Mr. 360 AB de Villiers and left arm paceman Mitchell Starc. RCB picked Maharashtra batsman Kedar Jadhav during the trading season but require one more frontline bowler and batsman to be a fearsome threat. Their purse of Rs 21.625 should come in handy to zero in on at least two top players.
The Shah Rukh Khan-owned team Kolkata Knight Riders have a brilliant Indian component of players. Their overseas player, Shakib Al Hasan is very handy on slow pitches with his left arm spin. Intriguingly they’ve retained Sunil Narine who has been prohibited from bowling in international matches because of suspect action. It’s unclear whether he has modified his bowling action. The bigger question though is: Would he be effective?
Champions Mumbai Indians have the least purse, Rs 14.405 crore. But then they also have the least slots to fill. They let go of the injured Aaron Finch and even without him seem to have all bases covered. They retained 19 of the players with whom they won the eighth edition of the IPL. One year after that success, their young investments, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Shreyas Gopal, Unmukt Chand, Siddesh Lad and J Suchith would have only become more mature and should be a great support to the established stars, Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga and others.
The dice, thus, is cast. Only a maximum of 116 players can be chosen on Saturday for the ninth edition of IPL to be played from April 9 to May 29.
The eight marquee players identified by the BCCI -- Ishant Sharma, Shane Watson, Kevin Pietersen, Yuvraj Singh (all with base price of Rs 2 crore), Dale Steyn (Rs. 1.5 cr), Aaron Finch (Rs 1 Cr), Martin Guptil and Dwayne Smith (both Rs 50 lakhs) -- are expected to feature first in the auction (unless otherwise agreed) and the price they command would have a bearing on the purse available for the rest of the purchases.
Hence the strategy to invest on bench strength or lull someone into overspending would set the trend for the day, and the season.
Update: Ashish Nehra has been added to the marquee player list with a base price of Rs 2 crores.
Purse available with each franchise from their maximum of Rs 66 Crore apiece:
1. Delhi Daredevils: Rs 37.5 crores
2. Sunrisers Hyderabad: Rs 30.15 Cr
3. Rising Pune Supergiants: Rs 27 Cr
4. Gujarat Lions: Rs 27 Cr.
5. Kings XI Punjab: Rs 23 Cr.
6. Royal Challengers Bangalore: Rs 21.625 Cr
7. Kolkata Knight Riders: Rs 17.95 Cr.
8. Mumbai Indians: Rs 14.405 Cr.
1. Rishabh Pant (Left hand bat & WK; Delhi & India U-19)
2. David Mathais (Right arm fast bowler & batsman; Karnataka)
3. Avesh Khan (Right arm fast bowler; Madhya Pradesh & India U-19)
4. Travis Head (Australia- 22 yr-old LH bat. Big Bash hero with average of 55.2 & strike rate of 158.62
5. Colin Munro (NZ left hand bat with T20 strike rate of 159.49)
The following are some of the cricketers asking for a big base price:
Batsmen: Michael Hussey (Rs.2 Cr), Cameron White (Rs 1.5 Cr), Mahela Jayawardena (Rs.1.5 Cr), David Hussey (Rs 1 Cr.), Usman Khawaja (Rs 1 Cr.)
Bowlers: Ashish Nehra (Rs 2 Cr), Dhawal Kulkarni (Rs 2 Cr), Kane Richardson (Rs 2 Cr) James Pattinson (Rs 1.5 Cr), Mohit Sharma (Rs 1.5 Cr)
Wicket-keepers: Sanju Samson (Rs 2 Cr), Dinesh Karthik (Rs 2 Cr), Brad Haddin (Rs 1.5 Cr), Jos Buttler (Rs 1.5 Cr).
All Rounders: Stuart Binny (Rs 2 Cr), Mitchell Marsh (Rs 2 Cr), Tillakaratne Dilshan (Rs 1.5 Cr).