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IPL mega auction: Delhi were the smartest, but can they win the title?

Former Sunrisers Hyderabad captain David Warner is now a Delhi Capitals player. (AP)
Former Sunrisers Hyderabad captain David Warner is now a Delhi Capitals player. (AP)

Last year's league topper Delhi Capitals started the auction with a steal: Rs 62.5 million for David Warner

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Tue 15 Feb 2022, 12:39 AM

Smart buys, outsized bids, and bargain prices — the IPL 2022 mega-auction last weekend had them all. This is what makes the Indian Premier League so competitive and engaging. The franchises have to outthink their rivals and not just outspend them to get an edge.

For the mega-auction, which comes around every three years, the eight existing franchises were allowed to retain a maximum of four players each. And two new franchises were given the opportunity to pick three players from the pool of released players before the auction. Minimum prices were set for each retained or pre-selected player, and the amounts deducted from the total purse of Rs 900 million for each franchise. Also, every player had the option to be released instead of being retained.

All this made for a complex exercise in which franchises adopted varying strategies. Some went for mega bids for a few big guns, others spread their money out to ensure all bases were covered. At the end of the day, on paper, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gujarat, and Hyderabad appear to have sold themselves short, with the other six franchises having a better chance of making it to the top four spots in the league for the playoffs.

But then, who could’ve predicted that the Dad’s Army of Chennai Super Kings would win the title last year after the second leg moved to the UAE due to covid outbreaks in India? It’s strange that the mega-auction was held before any official announcement of this year’s venues, but perhaps understandable because of the covid situation. Most franchises appear to think the matches will be confined to Mumbai and Pune or shifted to the UAE, which may explain why their sides are bristling with pace bowlers.

Let’s assume they’re right about the venues and do a SWOT analysis of each of the ten teams.

Chennai Super Kings (CSK)

For all of MS Dhoni’s talk of moving on to fresh blood, CSK stuck to their tried-and-tested age-defying players. Ambati Rayudu and Robin Uthappa made their way back into the team, which means the batting remains vulnerable, given the decline in Dhoni’s prowess. Dwayne Bravo is back too, but South African all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius is an alternative.

CSK’s smartest buy was New Zealand’s Devon Conway late in the auction for his base price of Rs 10 million, which must have tickled their Kiwi coach Stephen Fleming. Conway, who made a double century on Test debut at Lord’s last year, had an impact in the T20 World Cup too. He will be a terrific partner for young Ruturaj Gaikwad at the top, in place of the highly successful but ageing Faf du Plessis, whom RCB acquired after CSK bailed out at just Rs 70 million. Perhaps that’s the blood-letting Dhoni wanted.

The most expensive buy for CSK was swing bowler Deepak Chahar for Rs 140 million. He will combine well with the pace of Adam Milne or Chris Jordan. And his batting, along with that of the retained spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali, may cover up shortcomings in the middle order.

Mumbai Indians (MI)

Mumbai Indians like to have a strong core of Indian batsmen, because only four foreign players are allowed in the playing 11. So they wanted wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan as Rohit Sharma’s opening partner, whatever it took. This cost Rs 155 million, the top price in the auction.

Another decision they took is to get England fast bowler Jofra Archer to share the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah, no matter what. So they paid Rs 80 million for Archer, knowing that he’s recovering from surgery and won’t play this season. To them, the prospect of Bumrah and Archer bowling in tandem in the next two seasons is worth a sacrifice in the current season.

This meant they expended nearly half of the Rs 480 million of their auction money on two players, one of whom won’t play this year. So MI fans bore the agony of seeing their franchise pass up one good player after another in the auction. They could not afford to buy an Indian spinner of note, and will have to take their chances with a rookie or two in the middle order. But a strong top order, big guns Kieron Pollard and Tim David at the finish, and an adequate pace attack keep MI in the reckoning.

Delhi Capitals (DC)

Last year’s league topper Delhi Capitals started the auction with a steal: Rs 62.5 million for David Warner. The player of the tournament in last year’s T20 World Cup makes an even better opening combination with Prithvi Shaw than Shikhar Dhawan, who moves to Punjab Kings. Warner, who fell out with Sunrisers Hyderabad last year, will be aiming to give his best under Aussie coach Ricky Ponting. One of the three foreign captains to win the IPL title, he will also be a great help to young skipper Rishabh Pant.

DC will miss the pace of Kagiso Rabada and Avesh Khan. Another South African, Lungi Ngidi, will now be Anrich Nortje’s new ball partner, while Shardul Thakur comes in place of Avesh with the added value of his batting. Left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav replaces Ravichandran Ashwin as the spin partner of Axar Patel. Yadav brings more wicket-taking potential but could prove more costly than Ashwin in runs conceded.

Mitchell Marsh, another Aussie World Cup hero, comes into the side, probably at No.3, making DC the most dangerous batting side in the tournament, although their bowling appears to lack last year’s punch.

Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)

RCB appear to have messed up another auction with a logic-defying Rs 107.5 million for Sri Lankan leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, whose main claim to fame is a hat-trick against South Africa in the last T20 World Cup. The strange part is that RCB bought Hasaranga as a replacement player last year too, but gave him only two games, in which he bowled six overs, gave 60 runs, and took no wickets. And yet they showed no interest in Yuzvendra Chahal who took 18 wickets in 15 games at an economy rate of 7 for them last year. Rajasthan Royals snapped up Chahal for Rs 65 million.

RCB’s smartest buys were Faf du Plessis for Rs 70 million and Josh Hazlewood for Rs 77.5 million, two of CSK’s mainstays last year. The top order looks solid with Faf, Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell. But again they have no batsman of note after that, except Dinesh Karthik, who is past his prime. They paid Rs 107.5 million to buy back Harshal Patel, the highest wicket-taker in the last IPL. It remains to be seen how effective his variations will be on Indian pitches. Hazlewood and Mohammed Siraj will make the new ball talk, but RCB’s fortunes may well be tied to those of Hasaranga and Harshal.

Punjab Kings (PBKS)

Punjab Kings dodged a bullet. Coach Anil Kumble and owner Ness Wadia were in a deep discussion on whether to take Hasaranga’s bid to Rs 110 million, when the auctioneer Hugh Edmeades collapsed. When the auction resumed, Punjab promptly pulled out of the bidding war, leaving Hasaranga with RCB. But their enthusiasm to acquire a leg-spinner-cum-hard-hitter was unabated as they later bought Liam Livingstone for Rs 115 million. The English player has better credentials than Hasaranga, but has failed in his nine games in the IPL so far. A gamble more likely to come off is the Rs 60 million they put down on Odean Smith, the new power-hitter from the West Indies who bowls at a fiery pace.

PBKS, who had the biggest purse after retaining only two players, got off to a great start when they acquired Shikhar Dhawan, Jonny Bairstow and Kagiso Rabada from the marquee set. Mayank Agarwal, Dhawan and Bairstow pack a punch at the top and Livingstone and Sharukh Khan are hard-hitters lower down. With Rabada and Smith to open the bowling, and two good Indian spinners in Rahul Chahar and Harpreet Brar, Punjab Kings have the resources to reach the playoffs this time. The unknown factor is the quality of captaincy of Agarwal or Dhawan.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR)

Last year’s finalist let their captain Eoin Morgan go and bought Shreyas Iyer, released by Delhi, for Rs 122.5 million. Iyer will anchor the middle order with old Kolkata hand Nitish Rana, stalwart Ajinkya Rahane, and England wicketkeeper-batsman Sam Billings. More exciting is the opening combination of Venkatesh Iyer and Alex Hales, who was a rising star in the England limited overs side until he was banned in 2019 for recreational drug use. He wasn’t welcome in the England side after rehabilitation, with skipper Morgan openly expressing his distrust. But Hales has been scoring briskly in the Australian and Pakistani T20 leagues. It’s ironical that he now comes into the KKR side, while Morgan remained unsold at the auction.

With the retention of Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, and Varun Chakravarthy, and buying of Pat Cummins and Shivam Mavi for Rs 72.5 million, the bowling unit has a familiar look, with three all-rounders in the lot. The induction of Iyer, Hales, and Billings, in place of Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, and Morgan, makes the batting a tad stronger. But the perennial question will be whether Russell will stay fit.

Rajasthan Royals (RR)

You could say Rajasthan Royals won the auction in the last over, because they acquired four good foreign players - Rassie Van Der Dussen, Daryl Mitchell, James Neesham, and Nathan Coulter-Nile - for a total of Rs 52.5 million in the last round when players unsold earlier were presented again. By then rival purses had dwindled and slots filled, so bidding was cursory. By accident or design, it was a masterstroke by coach Kumar Sangakkara.

All-rounder Coulter-Nile rounds off the incisive new ball combination of Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna. Van Der Dussen provides a steadier alternative to the hit–or-miss Hetmyer in the middle order. And Mitchell is a viable alternative to Jos Buttler if he becomes unavailable.

Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal, and Yashasvi Jaiswal are a good complement of Indian batsmen. And in Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, who were both steals at Rs 50 million and Rs 65 million, they have a world class spin duo. Why they spent Rs 38 million for Riyan Parag, who averaged 12 in the last two IPLs and took three wickets in three seasons, is anybody’s guess. But they did end up with a good team, thanks to that stellar last round finish at the auction.

Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH)

They dropped David Warner from the team after a poor run for half a season, after he had been a top performer for so long and led them to the 2016 title. New skipper Kane Williamson, nursing an elbow injury, is an iffy starter. Their biggest buy for Rs 107.5 million, wicketkeeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran, averaged below 10 in 12 matches in the last season. Another gamble from the West Indies is all-rounder Romario Shepherd, an unknown entity in Indian conditions. The SRH batting lineup looks dodgy.

The bowling unit had more promising acquisitions in all-rounders Washington Sundar at Rs 87.5 million and Marco Jansen at Rs 42 million. Then again, going for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and T Natarajan, both of whom are yet to hit their stride after injury layoffs, was as questionable as spending Rs 65 million on uncapped Indian left-arm spinner Abhishek Sharma, after failing to retain match-winner Rashid Khan.

Lucknow Super Giants (LSG)

That brings us to the new franchise Lucknow Super Giants, whose pre-auction acquisition of KL Rahul for Rs 170 million made a dent in their purse. Rahul is in great batting form, but has been a flop as a captain in two seasons for Punjab Kings and four matches for India. As for the rest of the squad, LSG advisor Gautam Gambhir’s strategy was to pack the side with all-rounders, like MSD has been doing season after season for CSK.

Marcus Stoinis was picked from the pool ahead of the auction in which Jason Holder, Deepak Hooda, and Krunal Pandya were added. They may not be as good as CSK’s Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali, Deepak Chahar, and Dwayne Bravo, but they do give depth to the batting to encourage the top order to play freely. That should help Rahul, because as a skipper he batted for Punjab as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

The smart buy was Quinton de Kock for Rs 67.5 million as Rahul’s partner. The 2022 season will show if MI erred in letting Quinton go in their fixation to get Kishan. LSG’s biggest buy for Rs 100 million was Avesh Khan, the strapping young fast bowler who took 24 wickets for DC last season. Along with Mark Wood of England, the new ball attack will be a handful, while Ravi Bishnoi will pose a threat with googlies in the middle overs.

Gujarat Titans (GT)

This new franchise’s big moves came before the auction, when they got Hardik Pandya as captain for Rs 150 million and Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan for the same amount, apart from opener Shubman Gill for Rs 80 million. The big gamble is that Pandya will return to his earlier form and fitness after underperforming in last year’s IPL and the T20 World Cup, which cost him a place in the Indian team and possibly Mumbai Indians.

The big buy at the auction was Kiwi speedster Lockie Ferguson for Rs 100 million and the smartest buy was Caribbean speedster Alzarri Joseph for Rs 24 million. Along with Mohammad Shami for Rs 62.5 million, it makes for a formidable pace bowling unit. Another smart buy was England opening batsman Jason Roy for just Rs 20 million to partner Gill. Other than those, the Titans’ batting lineup isn’t one to give rivals sleepless nights. A lot will depend on the performance of Pandya as an all-rounder and a skipper for this franchise.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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