When teams are preparing in the short term before an Indian Premier League auction day, the surprise factor usually tends to be high. The requirements that franchises have are usually very specific and the talent pool is unlikely to have the depth for them to let go when a player goes beyond a reasonable price. This much is known.
But even if one was prepared for such surprises beforehand, there is no possible way the things that happened in the auction ahead of IPL 2021 could have foreseen. On one day, these records were set: Chris Morris received the highest ever bid, Riley Meredith became the most expensive uncapped overseas player, Krishnappa Gowtham set the record for the most a team has spent on an uncapped Indian cricketer. Apart from that, the likes of Jhye Richardson and Kyle Jamieson overshot most reasonable expectations of how much interest they would generate.
Here are a few takeaways from what we witnessed during the auction in Chennai on Thursday:
Recruited by Kings XI Punjab at the 2020 auction for Rs 10.75 crore, Glenn Maxwell had a poor season (not a single six hit) and never truly got going. He was then released by his franchise and it was a decision that made sense. But after impressing on international duty, the Aussie enigma attracted an even higher bid in 2021. The Maxwell-IPL auction love story is not ending for now.
But remember that time when you looked at the batting lineup RCB had at the end of an auction and thought to yourselves ‘Yes, that is a world-class lineup’? Of course you do, because that is pretty much every RCB season since the franchise brought in the likes of Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers to go with Virat Kohli. The franchise invariably had the wow factor going for them in the batting lineup. Has it always delivered? That’s debatable.
On that note, they once again have emerged with a batting lineup that looks like a million dollars on paper: Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Maxwell to go with the promise of Devdutt Padikkal. And if (and it is a big if, and we perhaps say this every season) Mike Hesson-Simon Katich-Virat Kohli can give Maxwell the freedom in the middle order and get the best out of him, it ticks a massive box in their check list. The team struggled with their scoring rates for most part of the the 2020 season, and relied heavily on de Villiers to do the heavy lifting with Kohli unable to up the ante. In Maxwell, they have a solution to that problem.
But in addition, they also have a problem to which many teams have not found the solution in past. With Maxwell, the question is never about talent but it is the output. If RCB can get what Australia do from him in the shortest format, he will be worth the investment. “We were looking for an X-factor player for the middle order,” is how Hesson put it but that is an eerily familiar line when it comes to Maxi. The challenge now is to solve that equation for X.
What to make of Cheteshwar Pujara?
Not long after his one-for-the-ages performance in Australia in 2018-’19, Pujara was in the news for something not many expected. A T20 century in domestic cricket. Playing for Saurashtra against Railways, he smashed a 61-ball century in February 2019. Of course, he was not picked, as has been the case over the past few years.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s recent IPL history:
Auction 2021: To CSK for Rs 50 lakh
Auction 2020: Unsold for Rs 50 lakh
Auction 2019: Unsold for Rs 50 lakh
Auction 2018: Unsold for Rs 75 lakh
Auction 2017: Unsold for Rs 50 lakh
Auction 2016: Unsold for Rs 50 lakh
Auction 2015: Unsold for Rs 100 lakh
Auction 2014: To KXIP for Rs 190 lakh.
For 2021 though, he finds a new franchise. And one that trusts its process, its methods, its reasons (even if not always evident to the outside world) to find a core and trust it. CSK have the habit of picking up players in auction and not playing them for an entire season, so it is hard to predict right now what the future holds in the league for Pujara.
One thing is clear, he has been wanting this for a while and we now know through stories from his teammates how stubborn Pujara really his. Sample this from an interview to ESPNCricinfo after that aforementioned century: “I put my name in [for auctions] because somewhere down the line I am very confident about playing white ball, whether it is ODI or T20. If I am not picked, I am not picked. But with such results, if I can carry on like this, people will start noticing. Even franchises might take notice. If I am still not picked I will carry on doing the things I am doing. I don’t want to change anyone’s perceptions.”
Now, this might be a case of dedicating too many words for a player who might not even play a single game in the coming season but it is worth considering the fact that this means a County stint could be tough to fulfill for India’s Test talisman. Is that a worthy trade off in the long run? Hard to say, but in the here and now, it is reward for a batsman who kept putting his name in the hat because of the trust in his own abilities. For a character like Pujara, it is worth a moment of applause.
Pace is pace (but overseas)
Zaheer Khan smiled a lot at the Mumbai Indians auction table on Thursday in Chennai, because the defending champions seemed to have gotten players for the roles they had in mind. But he was also smiling while doing one of those interviews during a break because he was happy to see bowlers hog the limelight, and especially quicks. Once a pacer, always a pacer. As was predicted, quick bowlers were the hottest targets during a short auction and teams had their eyes on many targets.
But later, speaking on Star Sports, Gautam Gambhir said it is “unbelievable” that Umesh Yadav went for Rs 1 crore when so many other overseas pacers fetched high bids. Whether his surprise is justified or not, it is worth noting that it was the overseas pacers who commanded the significantly higher fees. Out of the 16 players who went for more than twice their base price, 12 are bowlers who bowl pace and only two were Indians.
Players who went for more than 2 times BP
|Full name||Country||Category||C/U/A||Base price (Rs lakh)|| Bid made|
|Times over base price||New team|
|Chris Morris||South Africa||AR||Capped||75||1625||21.67||RR|
|Kyle Jamieson||New Zealand||AR||Capped||75||1500||20.00||RCB|
|Adam Milne||New Zealand||Bowl||Capped||50||320||6.40||MI|
It could quite simply be down to the quality that was available in the pool because if a team already had a good Indian pacer in their ranks, they were not released. And the one-year cycle is not the ideal period to invest in uncapped talent. Teams were looking for team-ready pacers with league or international experience, while how much success they would have in Indian conditions is debatable.
Either way, it was a good day to be a pacer.
Roundish peg for a round hole
Three players, who went without takers when their names came up for the first time, might have found new teams that might just work out best both ways. For Kedar Jadhav (Rs 2 crore to SRH), Harbhajan Singh (Rs 2 crore to KKR) and Fabian Allen (Rs 75 lakh to Punjab Kings), good news came late in the night when teams asked for their names to be brought back up for bidding. At their respective base prices, the three players go to teams where they will each be roundish pegs for round holes.
For Jadhav, being called out by his previous franchise for poor performances while being released, would have been a bitter pill to swallow, given not even a handful in the squad actually emerged with reputations enhanced after a poor season. At SRH, he will get a chance in the middle order that needs solidity and experience.
Harbhajan’s pedigree in the tournament is well established but would teams still believe he is capable of producing worthy performances? KKR, though, needed a non part-time offspinner as a squad option and the Indian veteran fit the bill.
For Allen, who is rated highly across franchise cricket, chances did not come by at SRH because of their overseas options, but at PBKS he will (when called upon) provide much needed fireworks lower down the order.
These are three recruitments that might not have created a flutter in the auction room late on in the accelerated phase, but keep an eye out for their performances when the season begins.
Shahrukh Khan and a moment to smile
The auction happens at a furious pace, the debate around it ubiquitous. It all goes by in a blur, even more so than an actual game of T20. But every year, you find a moment which makes it worthwhile to pause and reflect. The question for the need of an auction over a draft is something that will happen annually (and perhaps for good reason) but ultimately, the end result of this process is putting smiles on the faces of unheralded Indian cricketers who have a chance to make it big.
On Thursday, that moment came courtesy Shahrukh Khan (to Punjab Kings) and how his Tamil Nadu team celebrated his success.