IPL auction: The battle begins

The stage is all set as 578 players get ready to go under the hammer during the Indian Premier League auction on Saturday and Sunday.

Defending champion Mumbai Indians will look to further bolster its squad as it bids for a record fourth title.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

On the eve of India's third Test against South Africa in Johannesburg earlier this week, Faf du Plessis admitted it would be impossible to ignore the Indian Premier League auction. “There will be distractions, and that is normal, it's human,” he said. “The IPL plays a big part in our lives.”

On the other side of the globe, in New Zealand, Rahul Dravid allayed concerns that his India U-19s may be preoccupied ahead of a World Cup quarterfinal. “We have spoken about the auction once, and we said let’s keep that out of our minds,” he stated.

READ: IPL auction will come every year, not World Cup, says Dravid

Players featuring in India's domestic T20 tournament, which concluded on Friday, will doubtless have considered their IPL chances. “We see some big names not performing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy because they're focusing not on how they have to bowl or bat but on the IPL auction,” said Hyderabad coach J. Arunkumar. “It's natural. They get so tense.”

Such is the potential of the tournament to shape futures that the ITC Gardenia in Bengaluru will again have the undivided attention of the cricket world, when the 2018 IPL player auction commences here on Saturday. A total of 578 players will go under the hammer over two days: not since 2014 has the IPL seen a full-scale auction such as this.

ALSO READ: IPL auctions: Uncapped players set for a fat purse

The return of former champions Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, after their two-year suspension, will enliven proceedings; it will be interesting to see how the two build their teams. For several franchises this weekend will represent a squad reshuffle, retentions notwithstanding. Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, both of whom have retained only a single player, will have to build from scratch. Punjab, KKR and Delhi Daredevils need captains it would seem; this could trigger a battle for players with the experience of leadership.

Teams also need high-profile Indian players and there are not too many of them available: Ravichandran Ashwin, Manish Pandey, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, K. L. Rahul and Yuvraj Singh (whatever his recent record in the IPL) may all expect to draw tall bids. The right-to-match card will make teams' approach towards these players intriguing. CSK, though, will be unable to exercise that option in Ashwin's case, having retained three capped Indian players already; it remains to be seen if, as M. S. Dhoni wishes, the side will be able to acquire the off-spinner again.

ALSO READ: How IPL has been life-changing for talented Indian youngsters

A year ago, Ben Stokes became the IPL's most expensive overseas signing. He duly delivered for Rising Pune Supergiant, emerging the player of the tournament. A lot has changed in the Englishman's universe since, but it is not thought that his legal troubles will make him any less attractive to franchises. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – with their specific, specialist skills – are always likely to be in demand.

Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, who has proven himself an outstanding T20 bowler, will be sought after too. Last year's auction also catapulted a number of uncapped Indian players to fame (and considerable wealth); more such reward is expected for domestic talent.

ALSO READ: IPL auctions: Cricketing minnows chasing big dreams

There will be surprises at the auction; there will be bids that defy reason. One thing, though, is guaranteed: there will be no dearth of interest. Andhra coach Sanath Kumar recalls a domestic game from a few years ago that was underway on the day of the auction. “The players were not even bothered about the match,” he says. “It was all about who went for how much. It is total IPL maya.”
 

Top picks

Indian players: R. Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jaydev Unadkat, Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan

Overseas players: Rashid Khan, Mitchell Starc, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Ben Stokes

Uncapped Indian players: Deepak Hooda, Prithvi Shaw, Krunal Pandya, K. Gowtham, Kamlesh Nagarkoti

Dark horses: Jofra Archer, Mujeeb Zadran, D'Arcy Short, Evin Lewis, Andrew Tye

 

Vital numbers

578: Total players going under the hammer

360: Indians among them

182: Slots remaining in squads

80: The salary cap in crores

36: Marquee players (base price of 2 crore)

2: Players from Associate nations (Canada's Hamza Tariq and Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane)

 

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