The lofted pull from Anuj Rawat. The long-on drag from Ayush Badoni. The bat speed of Abhinav Manohar. When one looks back at the first week of Indian Premier League 2022, these three moments ring out loud.
Why? This is an IPL season unlike any other, well atleast since 2013 when Pune Warriors India went defunct. The introduction of two new teams into the fold has already made an impact on the way franchises go about their gameplay. This impact was perhaps not felt hard enough when the Pune and Kochi franchises were brought in, because the IPL was still in a nascent stage.
Today, this tournament is a different beast. From 2014 to 2021, the IPL has given a new adage to T20 cricket, so much so that in some quarters it is considered not only a different format to Tests and ODIs, but a different sport altogether. The amount of time and money invested in identifying talent, the equations and calculations in buying the right profile players in the auctions, and then executing the strategies on-field – it is almost a science.
Of course, there are some teams who followed this recipe perfectly. Mumbai Indians won the IPL four times in these eight years. Chennai Super Kings hardly missed a beat, or a knockouts spot. Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals were there, or thereabouts. There can only be one winner, and there are always a couple of losers. The remaining teams lagged behind, and for good reason. Copying an existing template is not for everyone, especially not for Punjab Kings (erstwhile Kings XI Punjab) and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In that, IPL is akin to Formula One. You have Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari competing for top honours every season, almost without mistake. Their big budgets allow them to grab hold of top engineers and aerodynamicists. Then, there are the competing teams – Alpine (Renault), McLaren, maybe Alpha Tauri (previously Toro Rosso) and Aston Martin (erstwhile Force India). Lagging behind are Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 – making up the numbers, but not quite good enough.
Mercedes dominated the e-turbo engine era for the last eight years. So, what did F1 do? In 2022, they tore up that rulebook and introduced a new concept wherein the cars are more dependent on downforce than engine power. In simpler terms, they shook up the rules, broke up the template, gave a clean sheet of paper to the F1 teams, and said, “Go create, race, and have fun!” As a result, two races into the 2022 season, the racing order has been shaken up massively with Mercedes struggling.
Long story short, we go back to the aforementioned point, wherein the introduction of the new teams has torn up the existing template and shaken up the long-existing pecking order in IPL.
How? There are only so many Indian stars, only so many overseas cricketers, and only so many Indian capped players of higher quality. The sample size to draw the cricketers from remains the same, more or less, and they are now divided up across ten teams and not eight.
The first pointer of this impending change was visible at the time of auctions itself, as it impacted the buy-back strategies of various straight-thinking franchises. Take Faf du Plessis, for example. Chennai Super Kings had held back its purse for re-buying Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur, and hence had to lose out on du Plessis. They ended up paying Rs 14 crore for Chahar, and even lost out in the race for Thakur who went for Rs 10.75 crore. Chennai’s loss was Royal Challengers Bangalore’s gain.
It was the same story for Mumbai Indians, who had to compromise on losing Quinton de Kock and Trent Boult, as they looked to save up for Ishan Kishan’s Rs 15.25 crore bid. Through their astute thinking, they were able to make up for that loss by successfully buying all-rounder Tim David and pacer Jofra Archer. Even so, their overall auction compromise reveals itself in the batting line-up.
With Kishan opening and Surykumar Yadav missing, Mumbai has had to rely on Anmolpreet Singh and Tilak Varma. Even when SKY eventually returns, they have to keep playing one of these two youngsters, for Mumbai is also missing the Pandya brothers. It is a rejig born out of necessity, but within its boundaries, it gives birth to opportunity.
Mumbai has fostered many youngsters and unknown entities, and the Kishan-SKY duo is among them. Perhaps Varma will be the next prodigal T20 batter to emerge out of this camp. Elsewhere, Rawat has been given the license to hit and occupy Devdutt Padikkal’s spot in the Bangalore playing eleven.
Arguably, the most opportunity is provided by the two new franchises. Both Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants start with a clean slate, with their captains assimilating past learning from different franchises and imbibing that into building teams reflecting their own identities. Within this microcosm, Badoni and Abhinav Manohar, or even the likes of Deepak Hooda and Rahul Tewatia shine through.
Among the latter, Hooda in particular will benefit through this move to Lucknow as he will find regular playing time as the middle-order anchor. At Gujarat, Abhinav Manohar will be allowed the freedom to bat late and use his immense bat speed as a whip. His short cameo in the first game was enough to give an indication of how power hitting will shape the Titans’ lower order. Could he have risen through the ranks of an eight-team IPL so easily?
Perhaps Badoni’s case answers this question in the most definitive manner. He has finally broken through the shackles of domestic wilderness and neglect in previous IPL auctions. Handpicked by mentor Gautam Gambhir, Badoni will find that opportunity abounds aplenty when you cross that barrier in the IPL. Lucknow, with a thin 20-member squad, meanwhile, will only be too happy with unearthing a gem for mere Rs 20 lakh.
It paves the way for the future for IPL teams – a shrinking pool of Indian and overseas stars will force their scouts and talent hunters to scourge deeper within the domestic system, and find value for money in the likes of Ayush Badoni and Abhinav Manohar. In the longer run, this can only be for the benefit of Indian cricket.