Team India is fighting it out in Australia in one of the most gruelling Test series right now, but even as cricket's most keenly contested rivalry carries itself out, the centre of the cricket world will shift to Jaipur on December 18th for the biggest payday in cricket, the IPL auction.
It's no secret that IPL auctions can make or break the fortune of IPL teams. This year the auctions aren't going to be as significant as last year’s though since most of the teams already have a core that they will be betting on again this season.
Still, there are new factors at play that will decide how teams will go about choosing new players and reinforcements for their squads. The 2019 World Cup may force several players to miss the IPL entirely or partially. Most teams prefer players who can play for them for the entire duration of IPL.
There is also the likelihood of IPL being played outside India in 2019, possibly in South Africa. Teams will try to pick players who have the skills to do well outside of India.
Teams also take a longer-term view of IPL auctions these days. So, it's possible that some owners will ignore the constraints posed by 2019 and start looking for players who can serve them in the coming seasons as well.
Here is how two of the biggest teams in IPL history may go about their business in this year's auction.
Chennai Super Kings
After last year's fairytale win that was built on Chennai banking on its core group, we shouldn't expect the team to tinker around much with its personnel.
The upper limit on the squad size also curtails the choices for CSK. Out of a maximum of 25 players that a squad can have, CSK has already retained 23. They also have the maximum quota of 8 overseas players already in their ranks. This leaves CSK with just two picks in the auction, both Indian players, with a remaining purse of Rs.8.40 Cr which is a sizeable amount given there are no marquee Indian players in this year's auction.
Ideally, getting an Indian fast bowler should be at the top of CSK's priority list for this year. Despite last year's success, one got the feeling that Dhoni was constrained by lack of another quality Indian fast bowler in the side, especially at the death. Deepak Chahar was exceptional in his first spell, but couldn't execute team's plans in the death overs. Shardul Thakur was too inconsistent, and while KM Asif was lively, he lacked the skill and variety to trouble top batsmen. Dwayne Bravo isn't the same bowler at the death anymore.
Jaydev Unadkat and Mohammed Shami will be two names on the team's radar during the auction. Mohit Sharma may also be a contender for his death bowling ability. His effort to keep Dhoni quiet with his wide yorkers in a tight finish last year was one of the best bowling efforts of last season.
Wriddhiman Saha may also get a look in as Dhoni's backup. Last year Dhoni played a big chunk of the season with a back injury that restricted his movements as a keeper, but Dhoni continued to keep wickets to help the team balance. This year, with the World Cup lingering on the horizons, Dhoni may want to give his back some rest by letting someone like Saha share his load.
CSK may also look to pick a spinner as reinforcement for ageing Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir. Axar Patel may attract a few bids at the auction, but CSK may not go after him, given they already have Ravindra Jadeja in their side and the two are unlikely to feature together in the same playing eleven.
CSK owners would have closely followed the exploits of Varun Chakravarthy in Tamil Nadu Premier League. A mystery spinner hardly anyone could pick, Varun had an economy rate of 4.70 in TNPL. Having a local boy in the ranks would also keep the fans happy, not that the CSK fans can ever be faulted for being low on enthusiasm!
The Mumbai team actively trimmed down their squad in the lead up to the auction. They now have room for a maximum of seven picks during the auction out of which one can be an overseas player. Their purse isn't that heavy though with just over Rs 11 Cr to spend.
The players that Mumbai let go were smart choices. Mustafizur Rahman has been asked to rest by his Bangladesh cricket board. Pat Cummins, given his injury-prone career, won't take part in 2019 edition either. Akila Dananjaya has recently been called for a suspect action, and he too would want to fix his issues before jeopardising his career further.
Quinton de Kock was a timely trade by the franchise. QDK hadn't done much at RCB last season and was suffering a dip in form in recent months, but in Mzansi Super League in South Africa this year he seems to have found his lost touch. De Kock can play for them as a specialist opener along with Evin Lewis given Ishan Kishan is already in the side.
Mumbai will be keen on reinforcing their fast bowling department to give Jasprit Bumrah some support. Lasith Malinga is back in the auction this year and given his long-term association with the team, Mumbai will be keen on getting him back to play the dual role of player and mentor.
The owners may also try to get one fast bowler from the South African duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Given Morkel doesn't play international cricket any more, he may get preference.
Mumbai have always been bullish on West Indian stars and Shimron Hetmyer, the big-hitting left-hander and a star of the recently concluded series between India and West Indies, should attract a few bids. Hetmyer could well turn out to be one of the most expensive buys in this season's auction.
The other thing you can be sure of with the Mumbai Indians is their awareness of young Indian talent. The team has one of the best scouting systems in the country that would have done its homework on every youngster in the auction by now. Mayank Markande, a name hitherto unknown before the last season was an inspired pick by the team last year. They also have the joint highest wicket-taker in 2018 U19 WC, Anukul Roy, already in their squad.
Domestic stars like Ankit Bawne, Rajneesh Gurbani, Shivam Dubey and Rohit Rayudu may be on Mumbai's pruned list for the auction. Or they may just throw a surprise again by picking someone none of us has heard of before!
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Gambhir, who flourished under Dhoni's captaincy in international cricket, pointed out his overall record as CSK skipper.