IPL mega auction: Big-name veterans may not find initial takers

The story goes like this… After the inaugural Indian Premier League auction in 2008, then Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya got a phone call from a friend, who “congratulated” him for building “a very good Test team”. RCB were in for a rude awakening in the opening game, when Brendon McCullum blasted 158 not out off 73 balls, while RCB’s top order – which included Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffer and Jacques Kallis – fizzled.

Fourteen seasons down the line, as the stage is set for another mega auction ahead of the 15th edition of the tournament, franchises have become smarter. They have got an understanding of the T20 format and its requirements. Franchises now focus on current form and potential. They want value for money.

The auction list of 590 cricketers has 10 marquee names upfront, each having a base price of Rs 2 crore. They would open the proceedings of a two-day auction in Bengaluru on Saturday and Sunday. Six of those players – Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult, Shikhar Dhawan, Faf du Plessis, Mohammed Shami and David Warner – form the OT (over thirty) brigade. Don’t be surprised to see one or two of them going unsold in the first round of the auction.

“It’s a two-day auction and while you go to the room with a certain plan, opportunities might arise and you have to be ready with adequate money to be part of a bidding war,” said a franchise chief executive.

Take the case of Dhawan. He is 36 years of age and has been left out of India’s T20I set-up. His T20 strike rate is touching 125 opening the innings and according to some franchise insiders, the left-hander is being looked at as a bargain buy rather than someone who prompts the owners to break the bank.

A similar thought process exists for 37-year-old du Plessis despite his match-winning 59-ball 86 for Chennai Super Kings in last year’s final. His IPL form last term didn’t lead to Cricket South Africa considering him for the T20 World Cup. He is unlikely to be a hot property at this year’s auction either.

“To a certain extent, old bonding plays a part. But beyond a certain level, you cannot be looking at what I would say is our attachment. It is going to be decided on the future of the team,” CSK chief executive Kasi Viswanathan told The Indian Express.

Warner, however, is likely to have many takers, notwithstanding his unavailability for the first few matches of the IPL. The Aussies will be touring Pakistan until April 5 and Cricket Australia is not releasing players on national team duty for the IPL. And yet, Warner, a captaincy material and batting x-factor, is likely to draw big bids.

As for Shreyas Iyer, some franchise insiders are expecting him to be one of the top buys at the auction.

Going to the bowlers in the marquee list, it is learnt that Shami and Boult are the first names on many teams’ wish list. Shami is a fast-bowling royalty, while Boult’s left-arm pace is coveted by captains and coaches. That both Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada would miss a good chunk of the first half of the IPL – South Africa’s series against Bangladesh ends on April 11 – makes Boult, and compatriot Lockie Ferguson, an attractive proposition, as they are available for the entire duration of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Ashwin, as he told IPL auctioneer Richard Madley on his YouTube show, would like to return to his old franchise CSK. This paper understands that the four-time IPL champions, too, aren’t averse to bringing him back to the fold. Then again, it’s an open auction and nothing can be predicted beforehand.

PSL factor

Franchises these days work like football clubs, with their scouts keeping a close watch on different T20 leagues around the world. Little wonder then that everybody is keeping an eye on the ongoing Pakistan Super League and performances there are expected to have a serious knock-on effect at the IPL auction.

Only a few days ago, Jason Roy (base price Rs 2 crore) blazed to a 57-ball 116, including 11 fours and eight sixes, playing for Quetta Gladiators and decimating a Lahore Qalandars bowling attack that boasted Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Rashid Khan. Such impact performances have traditionally been rewarded handsomely at the IPL auctions.

Just a day before the 2018 IPL auction, Mumbai all-rounder Shivam Dube had whacked Baroda spinner Swapnil Singh for five consecutive sixes in a Ranji Trophy fixture. At the auction, RCB bought him for Rs 5 crore.

In 2019, the IPL auction witnessed Yashasvi Jaiswal’s rags-to- riches story – a Rs 2.4-crore buy for Rajasthan Royals on the heels of his 203 off 154 balls for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

From that perspective, watch out for Shahrukh Khan, who comes into the auction with a base price of Rs 40 lakh. His last-ball six against Karnataka to win the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Tamil Nadu is still fresh in memory. Punjab Kings released him but the 26-year-old has become a part of Indian team’s white-ball set-up since. “Finishers are at a premium at the moment. Shahrukh has fantastic potential,” said a franchise official.

Caribbean fast bowler Alzarri Joseph did no harm to his auction prospects, through his opening spell in the second ODI against India on Wednesday. A tweet from Harbhajan Singh followed: “Kon banega crorepati in the #IPLAuction I think ALZARRI JOSEPH will be a crorepati”.

’Keepers in demand

Wicketkeepers would be in demand, especially those who open the innings. The marquee list has de Kock, while Ishan Kishan, too, is entering the auction at a base price of Rs 2 crore and matches the South African’s profile. Mumbai Indians have released both of them and are expected to go all-out for at least one of those players. Another two ’keeper-batsmen franchises are very interested in are Nicholas Pooran and Jonny Bairstow. India’s KS Bharat would carry his enhanced reputation, thanks to his pyrotechnics for RCB against Delhi Capitals last year and an excellent Vijay Hazare Trophy for Andhra where he scored two centuries.

One significant approach of this auction could be that teams go big for Indian players; batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners. It’s a vast talent pool and the likes of Harshal Patel and Chetan Sakariya, for example, would benefit from this approach. Prasidh Krishna, too, is fresh from his 4/12 in the second ODI against the West Indies. The Indian spinners’ pool has a stellar star-cast comprising the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav and Rahul Chahar. “Indian players are equally good, if not better. There will be no issues with their availability. Also, with the Covid situation still being fluid, investing in Indian players makes sense,” said a franchise head coach.

At least four players from the India U-19 World Cup-winning team can earn lucrative contracts; batsman Yash Dhull, medium pacer Rajvardhan Hangargekar, left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal and all-rounder Raj Bawa. The last name has excited a lot of franchises with his all-round show in the recent final against England U-19.

Team strategies

A mega auction is where franchises build their squads from scratch. Different teams have different strategies. A very successful franchise like CSK that has thrived on retaining a core group over the years and building a family, is looking at the future.

“This auction is going to be a very difficult one, because it’s a mega auction with two (new) teams coming in. It would be very difficult for any of the franchises to get back the players whom we want. Maybe, we will be looking for the future also. We have to take that into account, as a new cycle starts,” Viswanathan told this paper.

RCB, meanwhile, look to build their squads around three retained players – Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and Mohammed Siraj. They are hoping to get back some of their old hands. “We have got some players there (in the auction pool) we have seen develop over the years and if there’s a chance to get them back at RCB and continue their development, then we will certainly look to do that,” RCB’s director of cricket operations Mike Hesson said in a video post by the franchise.

Delhi Capitals, on the other hand, are focusing on seven other players apart from the retained four – Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel, Prithvi Shaw and Anrich Nortje – to strike the right balance. “Now, we want to get seven players, who can give us more balance basically. That’s our important goal and that’s the challenge to be honest,” DC assistant coach Pravin Amre said.

As regards to the two new teams, Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans, they have a blank sheet to work with. No Right to Match (RTM) card gives them a level playing field. According to sources, Lucknow are targeting an attacking spinner to bowl in tandem with Ravi Bishnoi.


Curious case of Archer

England fast bowler Jofra Archer making a late entry into the auction has raised many eyebrows. Archer hasn’t played any cricket for nearly a year now and according to the England and Wales Cricket Board, is still “in the final stages” of his recovery after an elbow surgery. The 26-year-old wasn’t part of the original list but got into the auction pool after 44 new players were added at franchises’ request. Archer has listed himself at a base price of Rs 2 crore, but the BCCI has informed the franchises that a replacement will not be allowed if the player misses out due to his injury. Archer, listed as Player No. 171, will go under the hammer on Sunday. Grapevine has it that he must know something which other people don’t.

Timely performances

· Ahead of the 2013 IPL, MI’s talent scout John Wright spots Jasprit Bumrah during a domestic T20 game. The franchise offers him a contract and the rest is history.

· A day before the 2018 IPL auction, Mumbai’s Shivam Dube hits Baroda spinner Swapnil Singh for five consecutive sixes. At the auction, RCB rope him in for Rs 5 crore.

· In October 2019, Mumbai teenager Yashasvi Jaiswal becomes the youngest Indian batsman to score a double century in List A cricket, 203 against Jharkhand in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Two months later at the IPL auction, Rajasthan Royals fork out Rs 2.4 crore for him.

· Before the 2021 IPL auction, Shahrukh Khan smashes 40 not out off 19 balls in a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy game against Himachal Pradesh. At the auction, Punjab Kings bag him for Rs 5.25 crore.

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