Cricket

IPL Auction 2021: Of giant purses and gigantic purchases, how Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals shape up

  • Yash Jha
  • February 19th, 2021
  • 10:44:31 IST

Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals. These were the two teams most hard-pressed to change their game, and they arrived at the IPL 2021 Auction armed with the purses to do the same.

With combined reserves in excess of INR 90 crore, Punjab and Rajasthan were always going to be favourites for the big-money buys of this auction, and they didn’t disappoint on that count; the Royals made the most expensive purchase – not just on the day, but in the history of IPL auctions – while the Kings bagged three of the eight costliest picks of the day.

But did either franchise succeed in their goals ahead of the auction? How do they shape up going into IPL 2021? Let’s take a look.

Punjab Kings

Their name may have shortened, but Punjab were never likely to fall short on the money to pursue their targets, possessing a purse 37 percent greater than any of their competitors at the auction.

Having fallen just short of the playoffs for the third season running in 2020, the Kings had clear-cut areas that needed addressing: middle-order firepower, finger-spin options, and at least one high-quality pacer.

Purse Spent: INR 34.40 crore

Purchases: Jhye Richardson (INR 14 crore), Riley Meredith (INR 8 crore), Shahrukh Khan (INR 5.25 crore), Moises Henriques (INR 4.20 crore), Dawid Malan (INR 1.50 crore), Fabian Allen (INR 75 lakh), Jalaj Saxena (INR 30 lakh), Utkarsh Singh (INR 20 lakh), Saurabh Kumar (INR 20 lakh)

In Richardson, Punjab acquired one of the marked candidates for a bumper pay-day among the fast bowlers. The 24-year-old Australian was the best bowler in the recently-concluded season of the Big Bash League. With 29 wickets, he was five clear of his closest competitor; his strike rate (12.7) was the second-best among all bowlers who delivered more than 30 overs; his economy (7.69) was sixth-best among all pacers who bowled more than 30 overs. It was no one-off either – Richardson’s BBL career figures read an impressive 69 wickets in 53 matches, at well under eight runs per over. While Richardson is fast himself, the Kings landed an express pacer in Meredith – who becomes the most expensive overseas uncapped buy in IPL history. Also 24, Meredith constantly rattled the speed-gun at this BBL, with 150 clicks a regular occurrence. It wasn’t just about the speedometer either, as the Hobart Hurricanes quick finished with 16 wickets at an overall economy of 7.82, and an impressive death overs economy of 8.64. Even as they broke the bank and the record books for the fast men from Australia, Punjab also got possibly the bargain buy of this auction with the INR 75 lakh purchase of Allen – career T20 strike rate touching 160, safe option for a few overs of left-arm spin, and a sensational fielder. Henriques and Malan are unlikely to make the PBKS first XI, but could be decent squad options; Malan, the world’s number one ranked T20I batsman, is an alternative if Chris Gayle doesn’t click, and Henriques, with his bits-and-pieces profile could help the team balance in certain situations.

Shahrukh Khan’s rising stock reflected in the intense pursuit made by Delhi Capitals before Punjab eventually won the bid for the 25-year-old from Tamil Nadu. It’s still early days, but Shahrukh’s hitting has caught the eye on the domestic circuit – he averages a boundary every 5.6 balls in T20 cricket.

Saxena brings with him the classic off-spin variety that wasn’t common to find in this auction pool. Aside from years of experience, he also comes in with good form in the format: the 34-year-old took 10 wickets in five Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy games last month, and maintained an economy of 6.26 for a Kerala side who leaked 8.82 runs per over on the whole.

Utkarsh Singh and Saurabh Kumar, both spin-bowling all-rounders, provide additional squad depth, although neither is likely to get much game time.

What the new buys add

Punjab’s pace roster, all of a sudden, appears fit to give most teams a run for their money. Richardson and Meredith add considerable heft – and speed – to a unit already featuring international regulars in Mohammed Shami and Chris Jordan, plus the promising Arshdeep Singh and Ishan Porel.

In Allen and Shahrukh, the Kings have potential picks to spark some energy into their batting beyond the big-four of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, and Nicholas Pooran.

Allen and Saxena also provide much-need options in the finger-spin department.

Areas of concern

The two Australian quicks come in with negligible sub-continental experience: Meredith is yet to play a T20 outside Australia, while Richardson’s only Asian outing resulted in two wicketless T20Is against India in early 2019.

Malan, as heady as the T20I ranking might make him seem, has his issues in the format – outside of his 19 T20I appearances, the English left-hander has a strike rate of 125.76 from 204 innings.

Henriques, seasoned as he may be in the T20 world, doesn’t exactly set the stage on fire; the Aussie has a career T20 strike below 130, and has only bowled 16 overs in 41 matches since the start of 2018.

Holes still unplugged

No outright gaps, but the Kings’ bowling unit, on the whole, still wears an inexperienced look beyond Shami and Jordan.

Rajasthan Royals

The shift in direction at the Rajasthan Royals was made clear well before the auction, with the decision to release Steven Smith and appoint Sanju Samson as captain for IPL 2021.

IPL 2020 had seen the Royals finish at the bottom of the points table for the first time, and that ignominy boiled down to two major factors: The sheer absence of pace-bowling support to Jofra Archer, and the lack of enforcers lower down the order with most of their big batting resources more suited to taking spots in the top-four.

The absence of finger-spin options lent a rather one-dimensional look to the spin department.

Purse Spent: INR 24.20 crore

Purchases: Chris Morris (INR 16.25 crore), Shivam Dube (INR 4.4 crore), Chetan Sakariya (INR 1.2 crore), Mustafizur Rahman (INR 1 crore), Liam Livingstone (INR 75 lakh), KC Cariappa (INR 20 lakh), Kuldip Yadav (INR 20 lakh), Akash Singh (INR 20 lakh)

A death bowler of sizeable repute, with high-pace as well as deceptive variation, to go with destructive lower-order batting capabilities, and a well-traversed T20 resume: That profile sounds fitting for the most expensive purchase in IPL history – but Morris presents a curious case.

The South African was tidy during IPL 2020 (11 wickets, economy 6.63), and boasts a proud overall IPL record: 80 wickets at 7.81 per over, batting strike rate 157.87 with a boundary every five balls. Morris, over seven seasons of IPL action, has a bowling economy of 8.30 and batting strike rate of 176.23 in the death overs. That is gun territory. However, in each of the last four seasons, Morris has played under 10 games. And he’s yet to play a game since the most recent of his injuries, which cut short his participation in the UAE for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Dube, an RCB teammate of Morris’ from last season, can hope for a more certain position in the RR middle order. While Dube’s time at RCB was difficult, the three-pronged race to secure his services came as no surprise – Indian players with big-hitting ability coupled with medium-pace potential are rare commodities, and a clearer role could free the left-hander to showcase his strength. The Fizz’s return to the IPL provides Rajasthan with a handy back-up resource, especially for death bowling, although he’s played very little cricket outside of Bangladesh post-2018. Livingstone, too, is a decent reserve option, but one with form on his side. The English international scored 426 runs for Perth Scorchers in the BBL, finishing as the seventh-highest run-scorer in the tournament. Chetan Sakariya, Akash Singh, KC Cariappa and Kuldip Yadav are likely to remain squad options, although Sakariya might fancy his chances of breaking into the XI if the domestic pacers endure the tough times they did last season. The left-arm seamer from Saurashtra was on fire in the SMAT, taking 12 wickets in five matches.

What the new buys add

Morris, if fit, strikes off multiple requirements: Quality pace, quality death bowling, quality death hitting. In his one previous season with Rajasthan – in 2015 – Morris scored his runs at 9.9 per over, and conceded them at 7.4 per over. Anything close to that range, over the course of a full season, and the Royals could be in dreamland.

Think about it – if you’ve got Stokes, Buttler, Morris and Archer as your four overseas players, and they’re available for the entire season, you’re in a pretty good place.

If Dube can bring uncluttered hitting ability to the ranks, it propels a middle-order that was almost entirely carried by the weight of Rahul Tewatia’s heroics in the UAE.

Areas of concern

Morris. Fitness. Enough said on that.

While Mustafizur, on paper, would represent a potential solution to any temporary absence on part of Morris, the fine print betrays the thought. Since the start of 2018, this is all the cricket Mustafizur has played in this format: two seasons of the Bangladesh Premier League, one edition of the Bangabandhu T20 Cup, and 11 T20Is – and in those 11 T20Is, you see a disturbing pattern. Six games against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe: 9/182 in 23 overs. Five games against India and Pakistan: 1/161 in 16.4 overs.

Finally, the uncapped crew’s lack of game-time – outside of Sakariya – could trouble Rajasthan too. Akash has only ever played two T20s, Kuldip none, and Cariappa hasn’t played any recognised cricket since IPL 2019. For a side anyway thin on experienced Indian resources, that isn’t ideal.

Holes still unplugged

Cariappa’s purchase becomes more baffling as he becomes the fifth leg-spinner – joining Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Mayank Markande and Riyan Parag – in a squad with zero off-spinners. Given that Punjab bought someone like Jalaj Saxena at base price, even as Rajasthan finished the day with INR 13.65 crore unused, it makes little sense.

Click here to read all about IPL Auction 2021

Updated Date: February 19, 2021 10:44:31 IST

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