For the second time in 2018, the last day of a India Test match away from home on a misbehaving pitch will coincide with the Indian Premier League auction back home. Unlike the first one in January, however, this auction is unlikely to turn too many heads in the Indian dressing room as teams prepare to build their squad for the 2019 edition, with plenty of uncertainty looming.
One look at the marquee player list for the auction and you know that this auction is not exactly a big-ticket event. Two cricketers seemingly past their prime from Sri Lanka, one of them who was a mentor at the last edition of the IPL. Two Australians who are no certain picks for their national side in the shortest format. A New Zealand all-rounder who’s reputation as a valuable T20 cricketer exceeds his performances and a former Kiwi captain who still has some firepower left in his fast-emptying tank. A journeyman South African in his 30s. And, of course, no Indian player in the highest base price category.
Add to all this the confusion over the venue(s) and the availability of foreign players, the pulses aren’t quite racing for this one-day affair in Jaipur. It is, therefore, an auction that’s going to be bereft of genuine star dust but it is in these smaller auctions that gems often get unearthed. Apart from the most obvious talking point — read: Yuvraj Singh — here are a few reasons to keep an eye on what goes down in Jaipur.
Sam Curran or Shimron Hetmyer?
|Marquee players (Base price Rs 2 crore)|
Given the above-stated lack of stars, two England all-rounders who are the most exciting names in the ‘marquee’ bracket and one man who has been making waves among Indian fans in Sam Curran. The young all-rounder won the respect of the followers of the game in India and more importantly the Indian camp during the Test series in England and has had a breakthrough year. Despite all his big moments coming in red-ball cricket, he was somehow earmarked as the player to watch out for the moment he won the player of the series award against India. And, voila, he’s one of the nine players listed at the highest base price.
Standing in his way of becoming the most sought after player in the auction on Tuesday is another youngster, Shimron Hetmyer, who has perhaps more going for his case than Curran. He’s going to be available for the entire IPL, while Curran may not be, if he finds himself in the World Cup squad. Hetmyer also has the advantage of some solid auditions during his recent tour of India and recency bias often plays a big role in the auctions. And listed at Rs 50 lakhs, Hetmyer is sure to start a bidding war that might just escalate before anyone realises.
Curious case of Pujara and Ishant
One man had seemingly given up after his name didn’t feature at all in the last auction. One man seemed to have learned a lesson after finding no takers. Both decided to play county cricket in the summer. But it seems the lure of the IPL auction is still too much to avoid for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma.
Pujara has listed himself for Rs 50 lakh while Ishant is in the Rs 75 lakh category. Sure, Indian players are going to be key for all franchises this year given the uncertainties surrounding the availability of overseas stars, but even then, it’s odd to see two men doing so well in the longest format for India as specialists, still wanting to go through potential ignominy at the auction. Maybe the lure of an IPL contract is just too good to ignore. Whether the franchises decide to go for them, however, remains to be seen but don’t bet your savings on it.
Another big day for Afghan cricket?
It’s the first IPL auction after Afghanistan achieved Test status. It’s the first IPL auction after Afghanistan players have taken tremendous strides in the year — impressing in the Asia Cup, having their own T20 league, playing their first Test and so on. And with three Afghan players well established in the Indian league, it’s perhaps time for a couple more to make their bow.
While Afghanistan has produced star spinners, there are no genuine batting stars to emerge from the country besides Mohammad Shahzad. He’s been ignored in the auction before but he’s kept himself in the reckoning with a memorable innings against India in the Asia Cup (playing well against India always helps in earning an IPL deal) and then smashing a 16-ball 74* in the recent T10 league in Sharjah. Questions remain over his fitness but he keeps swatting them aside like he hits the white ball over fences around the world and this might be the year a team finally decides to take the plunge. IPL could sure use another entertainer.
Other than Shahzad, another Afghanistan batsman making waves is Hazratullah Zazai, who smashed six sixes in an over recently in a T20 on his way to the joint-fastest half century of all time. The left-handed opener is another one likely to attract the attention of teams looking for overseas batting talent.
Uncapped Indians to watch out for
Two uncapped Indian players who could transform their minimum base price to maximum output are Shivam Dube (Mumbai) and Varun Chakravarthy (Tamil Nadu).
Dube, who’s batting has evoked comparisons with Yuvraj Singh, is an uncapped Indian all-rounder who can score quickly and guarantee four steady overs. That’s IPL-speak for a bidding war. He has been impressing across formats for Mumbai across formats, most notably hitting five sixes in an over off Pravin Tambe in the Mumbai T20 league. In what could only be a good omen for the Dube household, Shivam repeated the feat on the day before the auction in a Ranji Trophy game against Baroda. The all-rounder might well be one of the most talked about names come Tuesday night.
Varun has been on a fascinating journey — from almost quitting the game for a mainstream career as an architect, he’s now one of the players expected to attract a lot of interest at the auction, thanks to exploits in the TNPL and for Tamil Nadu in Vijay Hazare Trophy. Franchises love a good mystery spinner (even if it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success like KC Cariappa or Shivil Kaushik) but Varun, given his trial with Mumbai Indians for starters, is likely to have an IPL contract by the end of Tuesday.
Armaan Jaffer is another uncapped Indian player to look out for while it remains to be seen if Sarfaraz Khan, one of the biggest pre-auction talking points earlier this year when he was retained by RCB, can find any suitors having listed himself at the lowest possible base price.
A new face
And finally, to go with a new venue and an afternoon slot for telecast for the first time, the IPL auction will also feature a new face. The only man associated with conducting the event, Richard Madley, won’t be at the center of it all on Tuesday in Jaipur. Hugh Edmeades, an independent fine art, classic car and charity auctioneer, will be replacing Madley, who had become somewhat of a cult hero for his presence during these auctions from the first edition. Madley said he was shocked and let down by BCCI’s decision to let him go and get a new auctioneer in place for this month’s auction.
No one quite knows why this change was necessitated but some franchises might be hoping this brings with it a change of fortunes.
Which brings us nicely to...
Can Delhi and Punjab finally get it right?
One look at the list of players released and the remaining auction purses and you know Tuesday is going to be a massive day for two North Indian franchises, heavily under-performing in recent years. While Punjab have one final appearance to show for, Delhi don’t — the only regular franchise not to do so. Both teams have opted to rebuild, with Delhi going the extra mile and changing the name of the franchise from Daredevils to Capitals. While Delhi do have an exciting core to rebuild with, Punjab have gone for a behind-the-scene appointment that could prove to be a masterstroke in Mike Hesson, the former New Zealand coach. With other teams not likely to be as active as them, if these two franchises play their cards right, they can build a team that they want without too much of a challenge.