Chennai Super Kings: Perhaps the simplest strategy of building a winning IPL team, given the constraints of a maximum of 4 foreign players in the line-up, is to create a strong-base of front-line Indian batsmen, support them with a few “almost there” Indian batting talent, and garnish liberally with foreign bowlers and all-rounders. Chennai Super Kings got the formula right from the first season itself. So it was no surprise that they retained the maximum amount of old talent that they could (Dhoni, Raina, Murali Vijay and Albe Morkel). And then worked aggressively throughout the auction to get back as much of their old squad as possible, including Dhoni’s four-leaf clover, Joginder Sharma. CSK has proven performers who have performed well as a team (perhaps the most important thing in the IPL). Their players are synonymous with the brand, making their audience connect immediately with the franchise. And many of them are from their home city Chennai. No franchise could ask for things to be better.
If there is any cause for disappointment, it is that they lost the iconic Murali. But they were once again smart enough to get the promising Suraj Randiv, who together with Ashwin will be a tough duo to handle for even the best. While Doug Bollinger was a star for them last IPL season, considering his current abysmal form, one can also question the wisdom of bringing him back. Otherwise everything looks great for CSK. The red light areas have cause to cheer.
Mumbai Indians: Whether Rohit Sharma will ever fulfill his promise at the international level is doubtful. Whether he is worth his 2 million USD may also be open to debate. But the fact remains that at the IPL, he is an asset to have. And with this other man by the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, he forms a supercharged core of batting talent. Add to it the possibility of Symonds and Bhajji emerging as langot yaars in the dressing room monkeying around with their opponents and with each other, the genius of Malinga, the Sunny Deolian brutality of Pollard, the whole hearted cheer-leading of Bobby Darling and the potential provided by hard-hitting wicket-keeper Davy Jacobs, Mumbai Indians promises a blizzard of entertainment. Which is also incidentally the name of a player they have hired.
Mumbai Indians is another of the franchises which did the maximum retention possible and like Chennai, it was a huge win for them considering the prices at which Indian stars went in the open market. This means they have a very strong team formed on the cheap. Having said that, I believe they made some iffy choices at the auction—-prominent among them being Moises Henriques, a multiple-time IPL failure, and James Franklin of New Zealand. If however they can retain Rayadu and be able to get catchment area player Rahane, this is one strong, real strong outfit.
Pune Warriors: I like the look of this team. Subroto Roy’s gang went all out to get two Indian batting stars and they did a good job netting Yuvraj and Uthappa. Eyebrows may be raised at the latter’s 2 million plus price tag but again like Rohit Sharma, Uthappa is “made for IPL”. Yuvraj is the iffier of the two despite being light years ahead in terms of class. This is because of late, he just seems to be “not there” and there is a chance that he may never recover fully from the trough his career is now in. Maybe being given the captaincy of the franchise will motivate him. Or perhaps the owners would go with the exceptional Graeme Smith, who in my opinion is Pune’s best buy, as the captain. Nehra and Murali Kartik provide a strong India-based bowling attack, providing the franchise great independence in choosing their foreign players with both the batting and bowling core being built of good Indian players. Angelo Matthews and Mitchell Marsh will definitely be in the first XI and I presume so also will Tim Paine, a better wicket-keeping buy than Brad Haddin (Paine is Australia’s official T20 keeper). If Pune wants, Uthappa can keep wickets freeing up a foreigners slot for an extra spinner. In all this is a flexible team. If there are any thumbs down, I would question the selection of Jerome Taylor and Jesse Ryder, two injury prone cricketers and would have liked them to take another all-rounder in place of the moderate spinning talents of Nathan McCullum.
Kolkata Knight Riders: They came with intent. And with a definite plan. Within half an hour of the auction, they had spent 50% of their purse on two players. The KKR had gone all in—-betting everything on two of India’s best IPL players that were available. Is it a risky gambit? Sure. Gambhir is prone to groin and elbow injuries and Yusuf is a hit-miss player. If things go south, since they have not spread their money around, KKR will be buried. If things go well, the KKR might be unstoppable—–having one of the strongest Indian batting cores among all the franchises. Continuing their solid run of good decisions, they picked up Eoin Morgan at a very good price. Shakib was another buy that made sense—a good all-rounder targetting one of KKR’s primary target demographics—Bangladesh. And finally the world’s best ODI player no one knows about—all-rounder Ryan Doeschate. Powerful Indian batsmen, a clutch of good all-rounders—- this KKR will bat deep. Very nice.
Did they screw up also? Of course they did. After all that’s part of their identity too. For one, they need an Indian wicketkeeper, letting the very reasonably-priced Saha go without even a bid. I am not convinced about the viability of Haddin since he is not Australia’s first choice T20 keeper (Van Wyk, who played for KKR in 2009, would have been cheaper) and having him cuts into a foreigner’s slot which can be better used to get in another all-rounder (between Haddin and say Doeschate, makes way more sense to play the latter). Unless they have Sreevats Goswami as their keeper from the catchment area, not bidding for Saha is going to hound the Knight Riders.
Throughout the three years, KKR had had one of the weakest bowling attacks in the franchise. This time will be no different. Lee is unlikely to be fit throughout and, in any case, he is coming off a long lay-off. Incidentally Lee’s selection (no one else bid for him) continued KKR’s fascination with over-the-top fast men like Akthar and Bond. And we know how well those turned out. Pattinson is a bowler with promise but with a stress fracture problem. In order to make full advantage of their strong foreign bench of all-rounders and attacking batsmen, KKR needed good Indian fast bowlers. I understand that with 50% of their purse spent on two players, they could not afford a Nehra or a Zaheer or a Praveen Kumar. But they dropped the ball by not bidding aggressively for Dinda, one of Bengal’s genuine bowling talents. Finally, seeing all the Indian bowlers going, they panicked and then went overboard for Balaji, spending more on him than they would have to for the far better Dinda. With Balaji and the so-far underwhelming Unadkat as the Indian pace battery and with not a single first-rank Indian spinner, this remains one of the weakest attacks in IPL 4.
But then again, they don’t have Agarkar. Which is an improvement.
Bangalore Royal Challengers: This is another franchise which came with a plan. A plan for a total re-boot. And I am not absolutely certain they did it right. Showing a nose for profiting from an adversary’s mistake, “Doctor” Mallaya took advantage of Delhi’s huge strategic boo-boo of not retaining some of the amazing talent they had from IPL 1.0 snagging Dilshan and DeVilliers, two of the world’s best T20 players and shoo-ins for a starting line-up. Zaheer (who I believe will be the captain) and Langeveldt (whom KKR never could use properly) are a good opening attack with Vettori providing excellent spinning options. Of course the success of their team is critically dependent on Virat Kohli and Saurabh Tiwary emerging as the strong Indian batting core every franchise needs. Their other Indian batting talent is iffy—-Pujara is yet a finished product and from his performance for KKR last season, I am skeptical about his abilities as a T20 player (worried also that his eagerness to succeed in T20 for financial reasons might ruin his Test match technique). Kaif is a joke and I seriously wonder why he was bought. Kohli, in his defense, has shown talent as well as maturity at the highest level. My worry is the very expensive Saurabh Tiwary. In Mumbai he was well-supported last season in a stellar line-up but here he will be expected to shoulder a huge amount of responsibility. If he cannot, BRC will have a problem.
Deccan Chargers: Their strategy in IPL 1.0 was to pack their team with the best foreign batting talent money could buy at the time—Symonds in the form of his life, Gilchrist, Afridi and Gibbs. They came last. The second time, with the action moving to South Africa and on the backs of Gilchrist, Rohit Sharma and the bowling of RP Singh, they won the title. The third-time round was another disaster with Gilchrist misfiring at the top and RP Singh’s shocking loss of form totally blunting their bowling. This time, they decided to fix that by getting one of the best pace bowlers the world has ever seen, Dale Steyn and backed him up with the highly-rated Juan Theron. Everything fine so far. Then they replicated their other strategy, of buying explosive foreign batting talent—-Duminy, Pietersen, White and Sangakkara at a good price. Only problem—-they are all foreigners and cannot play together. They did not retain Rohit Sharma nor get a replacement for him. Yes Sikhar Dhawan they did buy but he isnt a Rohit Sharma. This leaves the Chargers pretty weak in the Indian batting department. And they don’t even have Venugopal Rao to swing his bat happily. I also believe that splurging 900K on a totally unknown quantity, Dan Christian was excessive, this guy has to be immensely immensely fantastic to justify this kind of investment. (To put it in perspective, Sangakkara came in 200K cheaper) In all, I believe that Deccan Chargers lacks homegrown Indian batting talent, making them weaker, on paper, than they were even in 2008. Unless of course, with the amount of money they have remaining, they get lucky with uncapped players and are able to draw local lad Rayadu back to his home state. If they do so, then yes they will be looking good. But not as of yet.
Delhi Daredevils: If you thought the Commonwealth Games was a disaster for Delhi, then well you haven’t seen what they did to their franchise. Unlike Punjab, they can’t even cite financial trouble as an excuse for why they let Gambhir, De Villiers and Dilshan go. Just like CSK, they had a dream line-up in place. All they had to do was to retain the maximum they already had and then try to buy back as much of their team as they can while filling in gaps. They didn’t (or perhaps all their players correctly betted on getting a better price in the auction and did not sign a retention contract).
Throughout the auction, BRC picked off most of their best players. Meanwhile what did Delhi do? They went crazy. Well they did made a good purchase or two—Aaron Finch and David Warner . But then, in trying to build up their Indian core, they spent 1.9 million USD on Irfan Pathan, a person who cannot even get into the World Cup probables of thirty. To put more salt on it, they then spent an astonishing USD 700K on Venugopal Rao and USD 750K on Umesh Yadav. But wait, that was not the end of it. Finally they spent 210,000 USD on Ajit Agarkar, an act as prudent as giving the widow of an oil-magnate from Nigeria, who wants to trust you with 100 million dollars of her money, your bank account details.
King’s XI Punjab: King’s XI Punjab let their players go and spent most of the auction trying to buy them back. Most of them they lost to other franchises and among the ones they did get back was Piyush Chawla, at the ridiculously inflated price of USD 900K. In King’s XI defense, when the whole retention thing was going on, they were in severe financial turmoil. So possibly the fact that they could not retain anyone was not totally their fault. Even at the auction, they left a lot of their bid money untouched which I presume was more for reasons of parsimony than for strategy. But at least they have the basic foundation of their team correct. More or less.
Dinesh Kartik and Abhishek Nayar aren’t really the big-ticket guys but they were all that King’s XI could afford. For the franchise to do well, these two will have to bat out of their skins and form the Indian batting core. But if they do it, they have great support from Shaun Marsh and David Hussey. I love Adam Gilchrist, one of the greatest players this generation has seen, but I am skeptical as to how effective he will be at 39. If he is at anything close to his potential, then King’s XI batting can still deliver a knock-out punch or two. Their bowling however is pretty threadbare. Praveen Kumar cannot lead an attack on his own and Ryan Harris has injury problems. Given that, how much can Broad do except of course give that pretty boy look that Kings XI Punjab so much love? But I would say, despite their problems, they have done a moderately decent job in creating a team, which is more creditable seeing some of the other franchises who had everything but still blew it.
Rajasthan Royals: Because of their financial problems, the court had cut the total purse of money available to the Royals. They had also retained Warne and Watson. Which meant, they spent most of the auction looking at everyone else and squeezing stress balls. But when they came in, they made weird purchases like buying back Botha. Now Botha is South Africa’s T20 captain and can bowl a restrictive line but when you already have a spinner (Warne), why would you spend USD 950K on him, more so when you are obviously hurting for money? While Ross Taylor is a good person to have in the order, Royals have no Indian batting talent in their roster except Rahul Dravid. Now for other teams, this kind of lopsided team composition would be the end of the story. But Royals have Warne as captain and there are two things he does well—-cricket and women. As a result, there is always the chance that he will once again take a group of local catchment area players and weld them into a solid unit, like he has done before. Whether that will be a bridge too far for him this time of course remains to be seen.
Kochi Kutchie Koos (They don’t have a name yet): Never shave a lion with a rusty razor. Never embrace a man with a bomb strapped to his chest. And never buy Ravindra Jadeja. Not for USD 90 and definitely not for USD 900K. Kochi seemed to have gone on a buying spree in the auction without a thought for team balance. R.P. Singh, Sreesanth, Vinay Kumar and Ramesh Powar is a decent bowling attack but where the hell is the Indian core of attacking batsmen? Parthiv Patel and VVS Laxman? That’s it?
And Kochi, a word of advice from a Bengal man. Communism is a mistake. You adopted it just like us. You didn’t learn your lesson. You then went and ahead and bought a clutch of foreign players, all KKR toxic assets —-Brendon McCullum, Owais Shah and Brad Hodge. Have you lost your mind? What next? Invest in a jute mill on the banks of the Ganga?
Kochi is out-of-balance in two ways—-first with respect to bowlers (too many) and batsmen (too few) and even more importantly with respect to their Indian core batting talent. A pity. All one can say is that Captain Jayawardene and Murali have their work cut out for them. If they are able to raise Kochi (and these two people have the ability to), it would be quite a spectacle, worth rooting for.
But for now, Kochi seems to be this year’s KKR. Literally and figuratively.
But then again this is IPL. And here anything can happen.