At the weekend when work halts for many, futures will be decided and fortunes made. Paddles will be raised and lowered when nearly 590 cricketers from around the globe go under the hammer at the IPL auction in Bengaluru. More than 200 will find buyers. Nearly ₹550 crore will be spent by 10 franchises seeking to build and rebuild squads.
The IPL’s biggest pull are these lucrative contracts, better paying than any offered by national teams including India. It was at an auction in 2017 that T Natarajan rose from obscurity of playing tennis-ball cricket in Salem to bag a multi-crore IPL deal and went on to play for India. Varun Chakaravarthy, who had drifted from cricket to architecture, regained his mojo once his unique T20 bowling skills were rewarded in one such bidding war in 2019.
But there are other ways of rewarding talent in franchise sport. Player drafts, used by IPL in 2016 for the new franchises from Pune and Gujarat, being one. Trades and loans can help teams adjust squads before and during a season. Many franchises have made a strong push to move towards that rather than have these mega auctions. But that’s for the future. In the here and now, 10 teams, new and old, will try to make a roster through the now-familiar, unpredictable and captivating world of player auctions.
First day, first show
On Saturday, 161 players will be available. From among them teams will form the core of their squads before going to Sunday’s accelerated auction involving smaller contracts and unsold players.
How the first day unfolds could be key to answering questions like whether Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), no longer led by Virat Kohli, would be able to reinvent themselves. Will Anil Kumble finally be able to taste success as a coach? Kumble’s Punjab Kings (PK) come with the fattest purse (72 crore), having retained only Mayank Agarwal and Arshdeep Singh meaning they are looking an almost clean slate . Conversely, it could highlight their inability to hold on to KL Rahul, the hard-hitting Shah Rukh Khan and young leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi.
Kohli is done with leading teams and Agarwal hasn’t been named captain yet. That means RCB and PK will be on the lookout for a new captain. Shreyas Iyer could be on their wish-list.
More questions. Will Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) finally buy some capped Indian players? RR’s wish-list has always had a fair number of England players. This time they have had to let go of many except Jos Buttler. Their ‘Moneyball’ experiment hasn’t worked beyond the first season and the Sanju Samson-led team is in desperate need of solid Indian talent. KKR, who showed a late surge in form to finish runners-up last year, have decided to stay invested in their disruptive match-winners. They have retained Andre Russell and Chakaravarthy despite their injury concerns and Sunil Narine, overlooking his advancing years and up-and-down form. In the absence of a suitable captain, they might go for Eoin Morgan and hope the 50-over World Cup winner isn’t priced out of their range. Or, they could pitch for Iyer.
Picking a player is not an exact science but with franchises getting better at it, the auction has evolved over time. A lot of stress is on scouting talent and number-crunching analysts usually have more than owners indulging in their whims. There will be no Right-To Match cards this time which means, in Yuzvendra Chahal’s words, “I will go to whoever pays the most for me.” Speaking to R Ashwin on his YouTube channel, Chahal said: “This is the first time where I might end up going to another team because there is no right to match.”
This rule change offers Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants, the two new teams, a better chance at the auction. Both go to the auction having bought an opening batter (Shubman Gill, KL Rahul), leg-spinner (Rashid Khan, Ravi Bishnoi) and all-rounder (Hardik Pandya, Marcus Stoinis). That could mean they will go hard at fast bowlers.
Eye on the future
Another question that will be answered over the next two days is whether Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will seek younger talent. MS Dhoni is unlikely to play beyond a year. Having retained Ruturaj Gaikwad, they could be on the lookout for more young and local talent. Will Khan get to make Chennai his home?
Sunrisers Hyderabad have already gone that route by making the bold move of letting go of a collective R8 crore purse to retain uncapped players Abdul Samad and Umran Malik. They now have the most star-studded support staff with Dale Steyn and Brian Lara joining Muttiah Muralitharan. Led by Kane Williamson, they will be targeting building an equally striking playing squad.
Delhi Capitals look best placed going into the auction. The side coached by Ricky Ponting has retained many young, established names such as captain Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel, Prithvi Shaw and Anrich Nortje. They may try and buy former players Kagiso Rabada, Avesh Khan and Shimron Hetmyer.
Finally, who wouldn’t want to know how five-time champions Mumbai Indians (MI), now led by India captain Rohit Sharma, will invest. MI began unearthing T20 stars from scouting programmes before anybody else did; South African left-arm pacer Marco Jansen being their latest success story. They wouldn’t mind him opening the bowling with Jasprit Bumrah. Should MI pull off such a coup, Jansen and Bumrah’s recent on-field spicy exchange will be forgotten.