Sunday, February 9, 2014

IPL Auctions: battle of wits

The coming week will see the IPL auctions unfolding once again. For me, the auctions are almost as exciting as the actual six week carnival. To see a marquee player's name go under the hammer, and then to see multiple teams bidding furiously to win him over is fun to watch. For the team owners, coaches and the staff, it is almost a game of chess, in which they try to outmaneuver each other, either by raising the bidding so that it becomes too expensive for the other team to get that player or to artificially raise the bidding and then opt out, so that others make a big dent in their pockets. On top of that is the bigger job of trying to make a team that is well balanced, will gel together and finally be strong contenders for the coveted IPL title. And this is the year when almost all teams will be again built from scratch, so that makes the auction even more intriguing.
The top three teams last year have all, predictably, have retained the maximum possible players in an effort to keep the nucleus of their squad the same. For them, the auctions will be all about filling the gaps. If I were in any of the three camps, I would look to retain 3 more players in the auction without spending more than 40-50% of the balance kitty (around Rs 8 - 10 crore). Thus for Mumbai Indians, they should look to get back Dwayne Smith (whose contribution last year remains underrated), Dinesh Karthik (quality keeper and T20 batsman) and possibly Rishi Dhawan or Glenn Maxwell. And for CSK, it would possibly be Murali Vijay, Mike Hussey and Mohit Sharma. The Royals, as usual, would be interesting to watch. With 5 players retained, at first glance, it seems that they do not have many others to choose from (save a Brad Hodge). Will they continue to keep faith in a Kevin Cooper, Siddarth Trivedi and the 43 year old Pravin Tambe ? Or will they unearth some fresh domestic talent ? Or will they break with tradition and bid strongly for a couple of superstars ? Time will tell.
For the other sides, it will be about making the shrewd choices. There is a galaxy of proven T20 performers on offer and it will be great to see which side chooses which strategy. Another wild card this time is that the venue of the tournament is possibly unknown at the time of auction, which makes it all more the difficult for the franchises to make up their squads, knowing that they may not get those 7-8 games at home. Especially for a team like KKR, used to playing on the slow wickets at the Eden Gardens, it will be difficult to make a strategy without knowing where there are going to play this time around. And finally, Delhi Daredevils is the joker in the pack. Starting with a completely blank slate, with the full amount to play for and with a think-tank comprising of Gary Kirsten and Viv Richards in their tent, it may turn to be the squad to look forward to come Thursday, when the auction closes.
And there are always some players who would be keenly watching the auction. The two that stand out are Corey Anderson and Kevin Petersien. Anderson is the new kid on the block, and good performances against India always help (as they will for Kane Williamson). But the man of the auction has to be KP, especially after the events of the past week (which means he will available for the full two months). Given the less than transparent circumstances surrounding his exit from the England squad, it will be a nerve-wracking experience for any franchise when it comes to the bidding war that is likely to follow when his name is announced. Where will KP be this year ? My feeling will be it will be between SunRisers and Kings XI. And finally, for some great legends of the game, it might just be the end of their IPL careers. Sangakkara and Kallis might be the ones that end up missing out, but then, who can argue against Father Time ? It will be sad nonetheless.
So, let the auctions begin ! :)

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