Call it what you will: Targeted shopping, fill in the blanks, money ball, mind the gap, etc. Tuesday’s auction was all about observing the game plan of franchises.
Each was aware of their team’s shortcoming and the manner in which they went after targeted buys was a revelation of the gaps they sought to plug.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK), for instance, already had a squad of 23 but were still in need of another Indian fast bowler. They unsuccessfully went after Jaydev Unadkat before finally settling on their former pacer Mohit Sharma.
CSK have a number of Indian Premier League (IPL) veterans in their ranks in skipper MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Harbhajan Singh, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Imran Tahir, Ravindra Jadeja and for Mohit, it is a sort of homecoming.
Last year CSK, despite being labelled ‘Dad’s army’, proved they still had a trick or two up their sleeve. They had the last laugh when they beat Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) to the title. Nobody in their right mind will underestimate them or their skipper after that resounding win.
Their opponents in the finals, SRH, too did not have much of shopping to do. They had let go of Shikhar Dhawan during transfers but couldn’t find a suitable Indian replacement. They finally settled for Kiwi Martin Guptill. Skipper Kane Williamson was probably convinced that his fellow countryman could be the ideal replacement for Dhawan.
SRH also grabbed two wicket-keepers, Jonny Bairstow of England and Wriddhiman Saha, who was coming off an injury.
Australian David Warner would be another returning to the squad as his suspension ends on 28 March. It remains to be seen if his return to IPL would be further delayed by the Sheffield Shield final scheduled for late March.
In any case, bowling is SRH’s strong suit with the Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar their trump cards.
Mumbai Indians (MI) had already purchased Quinton de Kock from Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) during the trading window. Besides, they already had a number of T20 specialists in skipper Rohit Sharma, Keiron Pollard, the Pandya brothers, Evin Lewis and a top quality pacer in Jasprit Bumrah. Thus, much of their money and effort was spent on snapping up left-arm pacer Barinder Sran.
Their purchase of veterans Lasith Malinga and Yuvraj Singh might have looked puzzling. But MI explained that Malinga has been their best overseas player ever and that Yuvraj would be a big contributor. That said, it would be interesting to see how one of their finds last year, leg-spinner Mayank Markande, fares.
RCB were a top-heavy unit last year, and did not have enough muscle power in the middle order. They rectified that by bagging West Indian Shimron Hetmyer, Mumbai all rounder Shivam Dube and South African Heinrich Klaasen.
Hetmyer is an exciting young talent who proved his credentials on the tour of India earlier this season. Alongside skipper Virat Kohli and the incomparable AB de Villiers, he brings a lot of high quality batsmanship to the line-up.
Former champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have an awesome choice of bowlers to call upon: Prasidh Krishna, Andre Russell, Carlos Bratwaite, Anrich Nortje, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Lockie Fergusson (pacer); Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Joe Denly (spin).
If their batsmen can post a decent total, their bowlers could make life miserable for rivals. KKR have a good mix of youth and experience and the inclusion of Brathwaite should add muscle to their efforts.
Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) splurged money at the auction and made a number of intriguing buys, not the least being two unknown Indian cricketers, Varun Chakravarthy (Rs 8.4 crore) and PrabhSimran Singh (Rs 4.8 crore). Chakravarthy, an architect by training, is a mystery spinner with a lot of variations thrown in. KXIP must be hoping that he’d run through his quota of four overs before rival batsmen sussed him out!
Prabhsimran is a teenage wicket-keeper from Patiala who can also wield the willow handsomely. KXIP have also roped in all rounders Sam Curran and Moises Henriques, who could be expected to stay the whole season, besides the experienced South African fast bowler Hardus Viljoen. Mohammed Shami is another top buy. KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Karun Nair will be the top Indian batsmen. Chris Gayle and Ravichandran Ashwin will also be expected to play key roles.
Rajasthan Royals is one team that could be hit pretty badly if its players were pulled out for World Cup preparation. The absence of stars, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Butler and Oshane Thomas could be hard to fill, although as far as fast bowling resources are concerned Jaydev Unadkat, Dhawal Kulkarni, Varun Aaron could chip in well for Thomas and Stokes.
Delhi Capitals too made some interesting buys. They grabbed experienced South African T20 batsman Colin Ingram for Rs 6.4 crore and all rounder Axar Patel for Rs 5 crore. Their most exciting buy was the explosive young West Indian all rounder Sherfane Rutherford. The 20 year-old Guyanese bats left-handed and bowls right-arm fast, and much is expected of him.
Delhi have their pace bowling unit well covered even if Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Trent Boult get recalled early. Their batting is in good hands, with Dhawan and Rishabh Pant being the local flavour in a line-up of aggressive batsmen.
All said, the teams look well-matched. But other ponderables like premature withdrawal of players, shifting of IPL, etc could play a major role too. The teams though would like to believe they have all angles covered, gaps filled and are primed to grab the championship. We’ll know, come March!