Cricket

IPL Auction 2021: CSK leave 'intent' largely unaddressed; RCB go big, but are they better?

  • Yash Jha
  • February 19th, 2021
  • 17:55:13 IST

Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings: divided by legacy, united by a lack of levers heading into the IPL 2021 auction.

In social media terms, RCB finally outdid their Southern rivals in IPL 2020 – they made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, while CSK failed to finish in the top-four for the first time. But neither side could actually look back at the campaign in the UAE too fondly: CSK were caught in a time-warp, and RCB undid all the good work from the first half to fizzle out with five successive defeats.

All told, both franchises needed a solid auction to plug the gaping holes in their respective setups. Did they succeed?

Royal Challengers Bangalore

If returns were directly proportional to money spent, RCB would be in dreamland. They made two purchases in excess of Rs 14 crore on Thursday – no other team in the history of IPL auctions has made more than one.

Over 80 percent of RCB’s available purse at the auction was shelled out in acquiring Kyle Jamieson and Glenn Maxwell. Interestingly, more than two-thirds of RCB’s overall budget of Rs 85 crore now lies allotted towards four players – Jamieson, Maxwell, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.

The primary purpose of the auction, however, lies not in breaking records, but building a unit to improve upon what you originally had. What did RCB need to do, in that regard? They needed batting options equipped with finishing T20 innings, they needed at least one quality all-rounder, and they desperately needed pace-bowling options for the death overs.

Purse Spent: Rs 35.55 crore

Purchases: Kyle Jamieson (Rs 15 crore), Glenn Maxwell (Rs 14.25 crore), Daniel Christian (Rs 4.80 crore), Sachin Baby (Rs 20 lakh), Rajat Patidar (Rs 20 lakh), Mohammed Azharuddeen (Rs 20 lakh), Suyash Prabhudessai (Rs 20 lakh), KS Bharat (Rs 20 lakh).

Oh Maxwell, the triumph of estimation over evidence. Following Thursday’s bumper pay-day, the Australian now stands second only to Yuvraj Singh in terms of the cumulative amount earned through IPL auctions – Rs 45.30 crore from five auctions, with a continuously upward-moving graph. For that graph to still be going northwards after the annus horribilis that was IPL 2020, is quite astonishing.

Yes, Maxwell has regrouped rather well since the six-less safari in the UAE: 457 runs in 16 innings, strike rate 144.62, four half-centuries (and seven scores above 30). But that has been the general theme, hasn’t it? ‘Big Show’ away from the IPL, no-show at it – Maxwell returns less than 20 runs per innings over an IPL career spanning 82 matches; remove the first three matches of IPL 2014, and that figure falls further to 16 runs per innings, at a strike rate under 150.

And then there’s Jamieson. A Sobers-esque start to life in Test cricket – batting average 56.50, bowling average 13.27 – but what T20 credentials does he bring? The Kiwi fast-bowling all-rounder has a T20 career economy of 7.98 and strike rate of 138.69 after 38 matches. Bang in the middle of middling to good. But 31 of his 38 outings have come in New Zealand’s domestic T20 competitions – which aren’t quite packed with international performers.

In Christian, arguably, comes RCB’s most sensible purchase of this auction. A true T20 mercenary, with the experience of 15 franchises (four of them in the IPL) and nine titles (in four different countries). It’s not just experience either, as the Aussie all-rounder comes with red-hot recent form: Christian blasted 272 runs at a strike rate at a strike rate of 182.55 in the recent edition of the Big Bash League – the third-highest strike rate for any batsman with 100+ runs in the competition – and also picked up 15 wickets at an economy of 8.84.

Sachin Baby has been a quietly impressive performer in domestic T20s since the start of 2018 – 37.5 runs per innings, at a strike rate of 140 – and that sees him reunited with RCB, his last IPL franchise (2016-17).

His Kerala teammate Mohammed Azharuddeen represents the opposite storyline: shot into limelight on the back of one extraordinary display – a record-shattering 137* off 54 balls against Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last month. Outside of that outing though, the 26-year-old is light on T20 pedigree: 314 runs from 21 innings, at a strike rate under 120.

Rajat Patidar, Suyash Prabhudessai and KS Bharat are likely to remain squad options.

Auction positives

RCB required middle-order refurbishments to supplement the might of Kohli and de Villiers. In Maxwell and Christian, that target is achieved.

RCB needed quality all-rounders to lend better balance to an at-times skewed lineup. That was evidenced through their pursuit of Chris Morris up to the Rs 9.75-crore mark – one bid shy of the 10 crore fee they paid for the South African last season – and although they couldn’t reacquire Morris’ services, Maxwell, Christian and Jamieson provide ample bolstering to the all-round reserves.

In Bharat, RCB also get a back-up wicket-keeping resource, in case de Villiers’ workload needs to be managed or Josh Phillippe doesn’t fit in the XI.

Auction negatives

RCB desperately required death bowling options after giving up on Morris – and that’s a hole that still remains unplugged.

Jamieson, while being a strike option (a wicket every nine balls), has leaked 9.75 runs per over at the death in his limited T20 career. Given the hefty price-tag, he is likely to be preferred over Kane Richardson – arguably the more complete T20 bowler of the two. That said, Richardson himself has an economy of 9.86 in the death overs since 2019.

The other potential banana-peel – a potentially disastrous one – lies in which Maxwell will show up. If it’s anything like the IPL-Maxwell we’ve seen, RCB are going to wear a rather frustrated look.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned primary purpose of an auction: have RCB really improved upon what they had in 2020? Jamieson and Maxwell for Morris and Moeen Ali – the jury is going to be out on this one.

RCB’s team composition, on the whole, is in contradiction with the tried-and-tested template for most title-winning franchises. Generally, it’s a mix of an Indian batting core with overseas players to boost the all-round and pace-bowling stocks – think CSK 2010-11, or KKR 2014, or MI 2019-20.

RCB, on the other hand, are unlikely to go in with any combination that doesn’t include three overseas names in the top-six/seven (de Villiers, Maxwell, one out of Phillippe and Christian), which leaves only one bowling option to use (Jamieson/Richardson) – compounding the load on their Indian bowling core. While the spin department appears well equipped, with Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar, how will Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini cope with the pressure of a long season?

The negatives appear to outweigh the positives for RCB.

Chennai Super Kings

In 2020, Chennai Super Kings finally had their encounter with Murphy’s Law. Senior players opted out at the last hour, young players tested positive for COVID-19, the player of the match in their season-opening win got injured… and the years caught up with an ageing squad.

While a more dramatic overhaul would have to wait until 2022, CSK did their bit to address the imbalance – the average age of five of their six released players was 36.

The roles they needed to go after at the auction were crystal-clear: impactful, intentful batsmen across the order, an alternative for Dwayne Bravo, and off-spinners.

 

Purse Spent: Rs 17.35 crore

Purchases: Krishnappa Gowtham (Rs 9.25 crore), Moeen Ali (Rs 7 crore), Cheteshwar Pujara (Rs 50 lakh), M Harishankar Reddy (Rs 20 lakh), K Bhagath Verma (Rs 20 lakh), Hari Nishaanth (Rs 20 lakh)

An all-rounder who can float across the order, and preferably bowl off-spin. That was the perfect fit CSK were looking for, in a bid to tackle multiple areas of concern in one move.

The urge was evident with the first name out of the bag in the all-round category, as the Super Kings almost went the distance before conceding Glenn Maxwell to Royal Challengers Bangalore. Instead, at less than half of Maxwell’s bid price, CSK procured the services of Moeen Ali – arguably a more utilitarian fit in the CSK puzzle than Maxwell might have been.

Moeen has a sizeable sample space of batting all across the order in T20s: 59 innings as opener, 41 innings at number three, 34 at numbers four and five, and 23 at six and seven.

He’s got lesser credit than he deserves for his top-order returns – 27 runs per innings at a strike rate of 147.75 as opener, 25 runs per innings at a strike rate of 136.57 at number three. He’s also got an adequate strike rate lower down the order: 147.37 at numbers six and seven.

Moeen’s most vital attribute to CSK’s cause ranks as their biggest win from this auction – more on that later. And then there’s the bowling: an off-spinning entry in the CSK squad, at last, with a respectable career economy of 7.69 (which improves to 7.13 in a limited sample of 19 IPL outings).

It made sense for the three-time champions to also go in search of an Indian option of the same type, but even ignoring the barely-believable sum they shelled out for him, was Krishnappa Gowtham the best pick for this suit? He’s got a decent career track record in the format: bowling economy 7.79, batting strike rate 165.74. But there’s an issue here – which we will soon come to.

On a day when four signings went beyond the Rs 14 crore mark, the biggest cheer from the auction room was reserved for the Rs 50 lakh purchase of one Cheteshwar Pujara. It was all a little cute – but not very positively so.

Tamil Nadu’s C Hari Nishanth and Andhra youngsters M Harishankar Reddy and K Bhagath Varma are unlikely to be anything more than squad options.

Auction positives

Moeen doesn’t just offer the ideal fit in the all-rounder/off-spinner category, he also serves a potential solution to a very specific issue in the CSK batting lineup.

All through IPL 2020, while CSK suffered for a lack of intent in each phase, their woes were particularly resounding in the middle overs – more specifically when facing spin.

Moeen scores at 10.08 per over in the middle overs of T20s; Moeen scores at 9.90 per over against spin in T20s.

Gowtham, too, brings death overs meat with the bat – a scoring rate of 11.80 per over at the death in the IPL.

Auction negatives

In the last two seasons of the IPL, Gowtham has bowled 28 overs in nine matches – conceding 250 runs and picking up only two wickets.

Since the start of IPL 2019, Gowtham has played 20 T20s in all (including the SMAT) – and taken 10 wickets in 69 overs, at an average of 56.10 and an economy of 8.13.

Given that an equally-seasoned but much more in-form Jalaj Saxena was picked up at his base price of INR 30 lakh, this was a lot of money that CSK could have saved – to invest towards adding batting firepower.

While CSK didn’t have any overseas slots remaining after the purchase of Moeen, there were still Indian resources around, as wide-ranging (in both experience and going-rate) as Shivam Dube, Sachin Baby and Shahrukh Khan – each of whom would’ve offered attacking batting cover to the Super Kings.

Instead, they took Rs 50 lakh out to add Pujara to their squad. Pujara, who has a T20 career strike rate of 109.35. Pujara, who hasn’t played in the IPL since 2014.

He deserves a lot of happiness, and a lot of honour, does India’s Test match rock. But this isn’t the way. It doesn’t help anyone.

You might still have given some leeway to the moves for both Pujara and Gowtham if this IPL was seeing CSK head back to their Chepauk fortress. All indications, however, suggest otherwise – and hence CSK, Moeen apart, will have to find a way to make their resources from 2020 click.

Updated Date: February 19, 2021 17:55:13 IST

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