The players' auction for the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the most awaited annual off the field events for the cricket fraternity. With myriad of young and exciting talents as well as contemporary greats around the world going under the hammer in the quest of featuring in the lucrative T20 extravaganza, the auction always draws plenty of eyeballs.
For IPL's 12th edition, Jaipur is hosting the event on 18 December and it is expected that the focus will be on the rookie and uncapped players on this occasion, considering that we had a mega auction prior to the last season and most of the big names are already been taken.
Nevertheless, more than a thousand players (1003 to be exact) initially registered for the auctions, aiming to fill up the 70 available spots across the eight IPL teams. From this pool, the franchises have shortlisted 346 names, who will eventually feature in the final list.
Interestingly, this time almost all the franchises have released quite a few cricketers coming into the auction. With the 50-over World Cup scheduled right after the IPL 2019, a lot cricket boards haven't provided the N.O.C to its premier contracted players to play in this competition in order keep them fresh for the pinnacle event. Whereas, some cricketers are only available for certain periods. Hence, the franchises are also playing it smart by getting rid of few international stars from their squads and focusing on quality utility players, who are available for the entire season.
Here we will decode the pre-auction strategies of two former champions – Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Rajasthan Royals (RR).
Kolkata Knight Riders
Players retained: Dinesh Karthik (c), Robin Uthappa (wk), Chris Lynn, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi, Nitish Rana, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Rinku Singh, Prasidh Krishna.
Players released: Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Tom Curran, Javon Searles, Cameron Delport, Vinay Kumar, Ishank Jaggi, Apoorv Wankhede.
Available slots: Indian - 7, Overseas - 5
Available purse: Rs. 15.20 crore
In the auctions, the two-time champions KKR are renowned to be smart buyers. They have a wide network of scouts around the world and Venky Mysore and Co relies on their inputs to pick the right player at a right price. Often, during previous auctions, we had seen the KKR management going for non-renowned names instead of the usual suspects. And from their consistent show in the recent editions of the IPL, we can say that this strategy had worked for the 'Men in Purple'.
This year, KKR have let go three of its premier foreign pacers – Starc, Johnson and Curran. Furthermore, amongst the retained players, Russell is the only overseas player who is capable of bowling pace. And on that bouncy pitch at Eden Gardens, KKR need quality fast bowling options for sure. Hence, there are at least couple of vacancies in this team for overseas fast bowlers.
Well, it is expected that the Knights will bid aggressively for England all-rounder Sam Curran, who has been a sensation in his first year of international cricket. He is a left-arm seamer, which makes him an ideal replacement for Starc and Johnson. Also, the 20-year old is a more than decent batsman down the order. Looking further, there are quality options like Oshane Thomas of Windies who impressed everyone in the recent tour of India, South Africa's Junior Dala as well as England's Chris Jordan, players who can be considered as decent picks.
Amongst the Indian options, players like Sourashtra's Jaydev Unadkat, who played for KKR a few seasons before, Bengal's Kanishk Seth or Rajasthan's Nathu Singh may also fit into their scheme of things.
When it comes to batting, Chris Lynn is KKR's first-choice opener, but as a back-up they might aim for Nicholas Pooran, the 23-year old wicket-keeper batsman from Trinidad, who has been one of the top performers in the CPL. Also, last season due to Russell's injury, they missed a solid overseas middle-order batsman. So, keeping such adverse situations in mind, KKR may look to fetch a back-up option.
However, this franchise always prefers to keep their squad smaller in size. Hence it is highly unlikely that the KKR will fill their entire available quota of 12 in this auction.
Players retained: Steve Smith, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Ish Sodhi, Ajinkya Rahane, Krishnappa Gowtham, Sanju Samson (wk), Shreyas Gopal, Aryaman Birla, Sudhesan Midhun, Prashant Chopra, Stuart Binny, Rahul Tripathi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mahipal Lomror.
Players released: D'Arcy Short, Heinrich Klaasen, Ben Laughlin, Dane Peterson, Zahir Khan, Dushmantha Chameera, Jaydev Unadkat, Anureet Singh, Ankit Sharma, and Jatin Saxena.
Available slots: Indian - 6, Overseas - 3
Available purse: Rs 20.95 crore
Rajasthan Royals is another IPL franchise, which prefers to invest on utility cricketers. Though in the last auction, the move of spending whopping Rs 11.5 crore – the most for an Indian – for Unadkat backfired for the Rajasthan side. However, for the upcoming season the management has released the left-armer from the squad and there is a good chance of Rajasthan re-buying him at a much cheaper price.
With Australia's Smith expected to return for the next edition of IPL, Rajasthan Royals' batting will get a necessary boost, but the inaugural champions will be in search for an opener in D'Arcy Short's replacement. Hence, there is a vacancy for an top-order batsmen and team management would have eyes on attacking Afghanistan opener Mohammad Shahzad.
In IPL 2019, two of Rajasthan's premier players Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes will leave for national duties, mid-way during the tournament. Hence the management will require multiple back-up options and in Windies' Shimron Hetmyer and Carlos Brathwaite, Australia's Dan Christian as well as former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum are all likely to be on their radar. But since they have only three slots left in the overseas quota, this time around the management will have to be very calculative.
In their bowling detainment, Royals desperately require an current Indian international pacer. So, there is no reason why the RR management should not aggressively bid for Mohammed Shami, who has been released by Delhi. They can even target Ishant Sharma.
Even in order to boost their spin department, the Royals can actually go for left-armer Axar Patel or Varun Chakravarthy, the mystery spinner of Tamil Nadu.
Compared to the Royals, KKR have more places to fill but lesser purse available. However, if we talk about from significance of building a core group, the Jaipur-based franchise will face a much stiffer task than the Kolkata team in this auction.