Sunrisers Hyderabad parted ways with Kane Williamson after retaining him as its captain for the Indian Premier League’s 2022 edition. At a time when doubts have emerged about Williamson’s future as a T20I cricketer, defending champion Gujarat Titans pounced on him right at the start of the IPL Player Auction on Friday.
IPL Auction 2023: Full list of sold and unsold players
Titans’ head coach Ashish Nehra explained the rationale behind Williamson’s addition in a freewheeling chat with a group of journalists after the conclusion of the auction.
How did you plan the Titans’ first mini-auction wherein you had to fill in a few gaps?
First, you have to see how much funds you have. Then, on the auction table, you will never get all the first-choice players. We were lucky that more or less we got them and still had some money left. We knew at the start that we couldn’t go for the likes of Cameron Green or Sam Curran because they were going to fetch a big price. We are delighted to have been able to fill up the spots that we had to. I was actually pleasantly surprised that we got Kane Williamson at such a low price.
IPL 2023: ‘Excited’ Sam Curran ‘didn’t sleep’ before earning Rs 18.50 crore Punjab Kings deal
What does Kane Williamson bring to the team?
Experience, to begin with. He is a proven player. He has dealt with elbow issues over the last couple of seasons and didn’t have an excellent last season. But of course, with the fast-paced nature of the T20 game, teams do tend to think differently. But for us, we would have gone for him even for a higher sum because we believe in him. You have to have the combination of experience and youth. Kane Williamson brings a lot to any team, not just GT. We are privileged to have him, that too at base price.
So, are you looking at him as a regular member of the XI?
Yes, of course. Somebody like Kane Williamson, you are looking at batting at No. 3.
Sai Sudharsan was tried out at No. 3 last year and he has had an exceptional domestic season so far. How difficult will it be for him to make way for Williamson?
It’s difficult for any player but you are referring to a youngster like Sudharsan, who has a long way to go. With Williamson in the team, it will help him immensely. Maybe he will get fewer games - even last year he didn’t play every game - but just imagine the amount of learning Sudharsan will earn while working with Williamson. Every player has to wait for his chance and Sudharsan knows that. Last year, because of injuries, almost everyone got a chance. Even the likes of Darshan Nalkande and Pradeep Sangwan got game-time and they did really well. That is the hallmark of GT, that the majority of players excelled whenever given opportunities.
IPL 2023: Did the new Impact Player rule affect bidding in mini-auction?
I feel there is no such thing as a finisher. If you are set and batting well, you are expected to finish the game. Even your opener can be your finisher.
— Ashish Nehra, Gujarat Titans Coach
Will Williamson’s addition result in Hardik Pandya switching to the finisher’s role after playing anchor a few times last season?
Hardik batted at No. 3 only once last year, otherwise he batted at No. 4. With Williamson at 3, Hardik will continue to bat at No. 4. We cannot think so far ahead since there’s still so much time for the IPL to begin. We will take a call closer to the tournament but I don’t think Hardik will bat down the order. And I feel there is no such thing as a finisher. If you are set and batting well, you are expected to finish the game. Even your opener can be your finisher.
Does K.S. Bharat’s inclusion as back-up keeper indicate a clear succession plan being in place for Wriddhiman Saha?
See, I have always believed that age is just a number, so Saha remains the No. 1 choice, but in case of injuries, we need a strong back-up. We have Matthew Wade, but he is a foreigner, so we needed an Indian keeper. Even if Saha was 28 instead 38-39, we would still look at an Indian keeper. And I don’t see anybody more experienced than K.S. Bharat. He has been playing franchise cricket, domestic cricket, India A, so we were lucky to have him.
You had spelt out the need to have a quality pacer before the auction. How does Shivam Mavi fit in that role?
Not just Mavi but we also got Joshua Little, because for the price that we got Kane Williamson at, we could go for Joshua all the way. When you look at a smaller auction, Shivam Mavi was right up there among top three bowlers. Another guy was Mukesh Kumar, who has also fetched good money. Mavi is an upcoming youngster. We will try to give him as many opportunities as we can and back him. If we can help him, if he does well, it will be good for Indian cricket. We are looking forward to working with Mavi and Joshua Little.
IPL Auction 2023: Gujarat Titans is one franchise I wanted to play for after KKR, says Shivam Mavi
Is the fact that English players have emerged as the most sought-after at IPL auctions a reflection on the brand of cricket they have been playing in international cricket?
Whenever a team does well in international cricket, it is bound to make a difference. But from a franchisee’s perspective, nationality doesn’t really matter. They want to include better players. There is no doubt about England doing well being a factor but you look at other players as well. Cameron Green, for instance, hasn’t played a lot for Australia but the teams do spot the talent. So I am not surprised at all with the big names and the England players faring well.
How much of a change did the introduction of the Impact Player rule bring in the auction strategy?
Not really, at least for us. The Impact Player can only be an Indian player. If the same is allowed for foreign players, then you think a little differently. But I don’t think it has necessitated too much change in the auction strategy.
Do you think the Impact Player rule has resulted in Indian all-rounders taking a beating in the auction?
See, when you talk about white-ball cricket, it is difficult to say which rule is okay because there have been so many rule changes, even in 50-over cricket. It has resulted in statistics being vastly different, for those who are driven by numbers. Earlier, we were hearing that the 14-over benchmark will be left intact for the Impact Player, but it’s not there. Many years ago, there was a super-sub experiment in ODIs, but you had to name the replacement at the start of the match. Over here, you can get any of your reserves into the team. So, it’s difficult to judge a rule change until it’s tried. For sure, it’ll be more exciting. It will make the white-ball game even faster, just like many other sports. Be it hockey or basketball, there have been many rule changes to make the game more interesting. As a player, the only thing you can do is to get used to it.