It has been 12 years since the Indian Premier League (IPL) first kicked off but the excitement and fervour remain as good, if not better, and the prelude to the big event, the IPL auctions, is once again set to hit the floors.
While this isn't a year where there's a major overhaul of teams, the auction attracts attention because fans are curious about the strategies teams would adopt given their limited bank balance and giant-sized holes in the team.
Picking players who bring value at a low cost will be the primary target for a lot of teams and in the process, we are likely to see bids for a few unconventional international players, the ones who usually fly under the radar. Here we identify five of them.
George Munsey (Base price: 20 lakhs)
A 360-degree batsman is invaluable in the shortest format of the game given the areas he can pierce in the field. There are batsmen around the globe who have earned franchise T20 deals with this ability. But imagine a player who compulsively has to play a reverse sweep and nails it almost every single time. If Scotland's George Munsey doesn't come to your mind, it is probably because you haven't been watching enough cricket.
The 26-year old left-handed opening batsman reverse sweeps spinners and pacers with equal ease and does it with some swagger. At the T20 World Cup Qualifier earlier this year, teams struggled to contain this opener despite having tailor-made fields for this very shot he pulls out every now and then.
With him being adept all around the wicket with his other strokes, the task is even more arduous. In eight matches at the qualifiers, Munsey made 234 runs at an average a shade below 30 while striking at 140-plus.
What makes Munsey a fabulous pick for any T20 franchise is the huge confusion he creates for the opposition team skipper in terms of field placements and bowling changes. Given that the captains try to cover up unusual gaps and move fielders around, Munsey's partner is also likely to benefit. The bowlers too lose their channel of attack given the weird shots the Scottish opener pulls off with utmost ease.
In a tri-series involving Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland in September this year, Munsey cracked a breathtaking ton - a 56-ball 127 with 14 sixes - as Scotland racked up a domineering 252.
Then, he and Kyle Coetzer brought up a double-century opening stand, only the third of its kind in International cricket.
Given the low base price and value he brings to the table, Munsey might just grab a deal at the auction this time around.
Franchises that could be interested in him: Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kings XI Punjab
Naveen-ul-Haq (Base price: 50 lakhs)
When West Indies toured India to play Afghanistan at Lucknow in a series of games, one player that stood out head and shoulders above the rest in the T20Is was pacer Naveen-ul-Haq. While we have heard countless tales of Afghanistan producing extraordinary spinners, it was Naveen, a seam bowler, who made a mark in the series against Windies.
Now, before it is assumed that Naveen is among the best T20 pacers going around, let's put it out there that he is just any other fast bowler with variations. What makes him special is his impeccable execution, particularly in the death overs.
Naveen isn't the kind to thrive on every wicket in the country. On sluggish wickets, where pace off the ball is the way to go, the Afghanistan pacer will be a handy bowler for any franchise. In the three T20Is at Lucknow, Naveen clocked figures of 1/39, 1/19 and 3/24, impressing with his variations which included cutters and slower balls blended with yorkers.
Only two months had Naveen played a key role in Mis Ainak Knights' win in the Shpageeza T20 League. He replicated those performances against West Indies in front of an Indian audience just in time for the auction.
It is very unlikely that a lot of franchises will be interested in Naveen. But teams that play on slow decks like Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals might ponder picking him to add some much-needed variation in their ranks. With an economy of 7.45 and a good strike rate in T20s, Naveen could well be a surprise pick at this auction.
Franchises that could be interested in him: Delhi Capitals, Chennai Super Kings, Kings XI Punjab
Alex Carey (Base price: 50 lakhs)
Despite playing six matches for Australia this year in T20Is, Alex Carey hasn't had to bat even once. A lower-order finisher with a good array of strokes, Carey's claim to fame comes from the ODI World Cup where he showcased extraordinary grit and excellent execution skills from lower down the order.
Carey racked up scores of 38*, 71, 85 and 46 in the final four games at the World Cup, batting according to game situations and giving his team a facelift from a low batting position.
Carey finished with 375 runs in 10 matches at the World Cup, averaging an impressive 62.5 while scoring at a rate of 104.16. Impressed with his performance, the Sussex Sharks stole him for the T20 Blast where he made 264 runs in 10 games, striking at a whopping 152.6 while averaging in the upper half of the 30s.
In a 78 off 46 balls against Somerset from No 4 and 61 off 30 balls against the Welsh Dragons opening the batting, Carey showed that he can be a fiery T20 batsman capable of moving around in the batting order. His street-smart wicket-keeping is an added bonus and teams this IPL auction might ponder going for Carey to add some utility to their line-up.
Franchises that could be interested in him: Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals, Sunrisers Hyderabad
James Neesham (Base price: 50 lakhs)
Twitter hero, James Neesham, could well be a fabulous pick in the IPL auctions despite his underrated status as an international cricketer.
"The auction is unpredictable, who knows," Neesham quipped on Twitter in reply to a fan who asked him about his IPL chances. But when you have performed as well as he has in recent times, the chances multiply.
The auction is unpredictable. Who knows ♂️ https://t.co/o5DH10c8wX
— Jimmy Neesham (@JimmyNeesh) December 9, 2019
A grossly underrated limited-overs cricketer, Neesham has had a stupendous 2019 where his maturity, composure and exuberance have stood out in key moments for New Zealand.
In the three T20Is he played for the Black Caps this year, Neesham struck 42 off 22 in one and 20 off 15 in another. But it is his ODI form that could fetch Neesham a gig this IPL season. Averaging 43.6 and striking at 107.38 this year in the 50-overs format, Neesham has been a force from lower down the order with his power hitting.
He started the year with a 13-ball 47 against Sri Lanka and followed it up with a 37-ball 64, sealing his World Cup spot in the process. In the tournament in England, Neesham caught attention with his performances in crunch situations for the Kiwis, not least in a 112-ball 97* against Pakistan as his mates struggled to score. In the finals against England, he grabbed three wickets and later struck 13 off 5 balls in the Super Over tie.
With a handy bowling arm too, Neesham is a lower-order power hitting all-rounder, a category that quite a few franchises seek this auction. From Chris Morris to Carlos Brathwaite and Sam Curran, several pace bowling international all-rounders were released by franchises before this auction. Now is as good a time as any for franchises to go for someone like Neesham, who is in red hot form.
Franchises that could be interested in him: Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders, Delhi Capitals
Tabraiz Shamsi (Base price: 50 lakhs)
Remember the magic trick Tabraiz Shamsi pulled out in the Mzansi Super League (MSL) last month? Chances are that the viral video - where he turns a red towel into a stick after picking up a wicket - caught your attention too.
— Mzansi Super League (@MSL_T20) December 4, 2019
Known for his unique celebrations - ranging from the magic act to using the shoe as a telephone and pulling out a mask to cover his face - Shamsi has stood out this year with his wicket-taking abilities in the MSL.
In 9 matches till the finals, Shamsi has taken 14 wickets for the Paarl Rocks - third from the top in the wicket-taker's list - while conceding runs at an economy of 7.09.
He started the season with a 3 for 16 against Cape Town Blitz but it is the handful of big wickets he has taken in key moments this season that will make Shamsi an enticing pick in the IPL auction. Shamsi played a key role in helping the Rocks go to the top of the points table with a 2 for 24 in Port Elizabeth against The Nelson Mandela Bay Giants - a performance that included the wickets of Heino Kuhn and big hitter, Marco Marais. Later, his 2 for 25 against the same team saw him dismissing two other big players, Ben Dunk and Ryan ten Doeschate.
Shamsi has been in the IPL before and couldn't make an impression then. This time he comes off the back of a year where his T20 performances have skyocketed. The wrist spinner is a natural wicket-taker and is a good pick for quite a few franchises this IPL season.
Franchises that could be interested in him: Kings XI Punjab, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore
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