For the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, retention usually remains a challenging task. It is never easy to make the right choice even before the action gets underway in the middle.
However, this time, all the franchises have played a smart game: keeping the core intact and shredding off the excess baggage ahead of the auction, which will be held in Kolkata on December 19.
The eight teams have ensured they go into this year’s auction with the objective of getting match-winners and utility players on board, especially with the franchises required to build fresh squads from 2021.
Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab are the two franchises that had spent big in last year’s auction, picking up Jaydev Unadkat and Varun Chakravarty at whopping prices of Rs 8.4 crore each. But both teams have released the ‘big buys’ ahead of the auction.
Rajasthan Royals chief operating officer Jake Lush McCrum agrees that last year there were some over-priced buys. But he insists that this time around, the focus is on roping in players who can finish off a game even if the stars falter. Royals have a total of 11 slots available, of which four will be overseas players.
“So the reason we released certain players is that we wanted to have flexibility and space in our slot to be able to buy match-winners in the auction. We released some players who we think were overpriced in the previous auction,” McCrum said.
“We have got a trial in a few weeks and we are looking to find some sort of young match-winners to follow our discovery potential, championing team and strategy. We are looking at the challenges for the championship this year and we think that the retention being made will give us a really good core team,” he said.
McCrum also agrees that the franchise is now “at the final selection” process in terms of international players. It has a star-studded international line-up in captain Steve Smith and England internationals Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer.
“We have got all the best international players in Buttler and Archer, and while many of the guys may not be able to play just one match or two matches, we need boys ready to perform.
“We are looking to make sure we get four internationals, two or three key Indian players and some sort of supporting Indian players, but we must have the confidence that everyone we buy can win us a game,” he said.
With just a month left for the auction, most of the franchises have sent their scouts out to watch domestic cricket at various Indian venues in a bid to spot young talent. And the franchises agree that in the end, those “spottings” help them maintain a balance of experience and youth.
“The major job of a scout is to watch as many games as possible and then pick particular players who they think can be of help for the franchise. Then the players are asked to usually attend trials and only after that it is decided whether a franchise will opt for him in an auction,” said a former India cricketer who has worked as a scout with one of the IPL teams.
Kings XI Punjab traded its captain Ravichandran Ashwin to Delhi Capitals and also released Andrew Tye, David Miller and Sam Curran. And the franchise chief executive officer, Satish Menon, says the franchise will be looking for suitable options in the auction.
“We looked at creating a core and this core will stay with us for some time. So obviously, it has to be a young set of players who can give us at least three-five years,” Menon said, explaining the reason behind retaining most young players.
With nine slots available, the franchise has “gaps to fill.” To its advantage, it has the biggest purse available – Rs42.7 crore.
It is a similar story for Chennai Super Kings, which has released only five players. Needing to fill two overseas slots, the franchise’s CEO, Kashi Viswanath, says that the target will be to look for replacements for the players who the franchise has left out.
“Our focus has been to retain the core and we have released only three Indian players, of which Mohit (Sharma) had injury problems. There were two other fringe players (Dhruv Shorey and Chaitanya Bishnoi). The core hasn’t changed,” Viswanath said.
The overseas players – Sam Billings, David Willey and Scott Kuggeleijn – were left out as they were not available for the tournament last year. “We will be looking at replacing the players we have ruled out. That will depend on the availability of players in the auction pool,” Viswanath said.
Last year, most franchises looked apprehensive ahead of the player auctions as they were not sure about the availability of the overseas players. With the World Cup lined up, most cricket boards had asked their players to cut short their IPL sojourn and join to camp.
But this time around, those factors are not involved and that gives the franchises a better chance to explore the options. In the past, there have been instances when franchises have gone on to buy a particular player, despite releasing him earlier – Jaydev Unadkat being the best example, where Royals released him last year and again brought him back on board.
“The auction strategies are not that simple as they appear to be. A lot of factors are involved in the process. The franchises need to keep various factors in mind so that everything goes according to a plan and at the same time, doesn’t exceed the budget,” an industry expert who has been following the trends for long said.
It will be interesting to see how teams like Kolkata Knight Riders – which has left out Robin Uthappa and Piyush Chawla – and Rajasthan Royals make up for leaving out some of the top domestic cricketers.
With plenty to look forward to, the eight franchises surely are heading for an exciting auction.
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