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Indian Premier League: The IPL auction featured big price tags and bigger gambles

Unlike the mega auction from earlier this year, the recent IPL auction featured teams buying players to rejig their squads.

Chennai Super Kings spent big money to buy England captain Ben Stokes. (AFP)

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What makes the Indian Premier League (IPL) perpetually intriguing is that every team has star players, untried prospects, and big holes. It plays right into the glorious uncertainties of cricket, unlike a bilateral series which can sometimes be lopsided.

The auction on 23 December for next season’s IPL, coming after the triennial mega auction in February this year, was a chance for the 10 franchises to rejig their teams. They had varying needs and levels of money to spend, depending on the players they released and leftovers from the previous auction. This meant each franchise’s strategy was unique. 

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Of course, there were a few players that everyone wanted, and the bids went sky high for Sam Curran, Cameron Green, and Ben Stokes. Unlike in the mega auction, the franchises already had functional teams in place and could go all in for a marquee target. That’s why these ‘mini-auctions’ often produce the biggest buys.

However, auction dynamics don’t always translate into commensurate performances on the field. A glaring example of this has been the previous most expensive buy, Chris Morris, on whom Rajasthan Royals splurged  16.25 crore in 2021 for a paltry ROI (Return on Investment). This time, Punjab Kings paid a king's ransom of  18.50 crore for Sam Curran, who helped England win the T20 World Cup in Australia. But bowling in Mohali is a different kettle of fish from cooking up a storm in Melbourne; we will have to wait and see the proof of the curry. 

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A potentially bigger impact may come from the second most expensive buy, Cameron Green. The five-time champions, Mumbai Indians (MI), who finished last in the IPL 2022 table, broke the bank for the big Aussie all-rounder by paying  17.50 crore. Green’s powerplay hitting in India just before the World Cup was awe-inspiring and he can be a handful with the ball too, as he showed with his 5 for 27 in the ongoing Test between Australia and South Africa. News that Jofra Archer will be returning to the England ODI side in January, after a long layoff, will also be music to Mumbai Indians’ ears. If Jasprit Bumrah returns to action too, it’s going to be the most formidable new ball attack in the league, complementing MI’s power-packed batting.

Less convincing is the  16 crore Lucknow SuperGiants (LSG) paid for West Indies captain Nicholas Pooran, who was let go by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). Pooran has only four fifties to show from four IPL seasons, which is hardly enough for a marquee batsman.

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Chennai Super Kings, on the other hand, have got a match-winning all-rounder in Ben Stokes, the hero of England’s ODI and T20 World Cup wins in 2019 and 2022. The price of  16.25 crore was only a shade over what LSG paid for Pooran. Stokes fits right into the phlegmatic Dhoni-Fleming culture. And if Dhoni calls it a day, who better than Stokes to lead CSK?

English players were naturally in demand, but the  13.25 crore SRH paid for IPL debutant Harry Brook seems a bit much. He has an average of 27 with a solitary fifty in 20 T20 games so far. So it’s more of a punt on the youngster becoming a new IPL star. 

Along with record prices for players in demand, under-performers took big pay cuts, including former Punjab Kings captain Mayank Agarwal and former SRH skipper Kane Williamson. Captaincy led to Agarwal’s average and strike rate crashing in 2022. Now he goes to SRH at a discount. 

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Agarwal can reinvigorate the SRH top order which got bogged down with Williamson’s low strike rate in the last two seasons. Finally, SRH pulled the plug on the Kiwi skipper.

But, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Current IPL champions Gujarat Titans (GT) snapped up Williamson for  2 crore, a steep fall from the  14 crore he got from SRH for 2022. If the Kiwi skipper, who looked like he was on a comeback trail in the World Cup, rediscovers anything like his form in 2018 when he led SRH to the final, GT will be a winner.

Understandably, the two IPL 2022 finalists, GT and Rajasthan Royals (RR), retained their core players and had little interest in going after the marquees. But they did grab some bargains. 

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RR picked up Aussie leg-spinner Adam Zampa for just  1.5 crore and it will be interesting to see him bowl in tandem with Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin on a turner. Likewise SRH got England leggie Adil Rashid for his base price of  2 crore. Given the wicket-taking impact of leg-spinners in the middle overs, the general lack of interest in Zampa and Rashid was surprising. MI could have bid for one of them, seeing that the spin section is their weak link, but had nothing left in the tank after spending  17.5 crore on Green.

Another late RR buy at base price was former England captain Joe Root, who doesn’t find a place in his national T20 side. Whether Root is serious about rebooting a T20 career, or is more interested in using his IPL stint to prepare for the ODI World Cup in India next year is a moot point.  

Other notable acquisitions were hard-hitters Phil Salt and Rilee Rossouw for Delhi Capitals, and the tall left-arm England seamer Reece Topley for Royal Challengers Bangalore. And fittingly, the Bangladeshi pair of Shakib Al Hasan and Litton Das go to Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) where they will feel right at home. Seeing how they pulled off an ODI series win over India this month, it may well be Joy Bangla for KKR in 2023.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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