It is that time of the year when IPL franchise officials turn poker-faced and keep their cards close to their chest. Fifteen seasons have gone by since the Indian Premier League came into existence, and the auction strategy has proved to be a tough egg to crack, unless one is an insider.
Every auction throws up a surprise or two. Yes, all-rounders and multi-utility players, ones who are regarded as X-factors tend to get a windfall, but there is no certainty to any of it.
For instance, in the full-fledged auction held last year, it was the fast bowlers, especially the Indians, who walked away with big pay cheques. As the IPL gets ready for a mini-auction on Friday in Kochi, it is time to expect the unexpected. Despite this being a mini-auction, 405 players are in the pool. Ben Stokes, Sam Curran and Cameron Green, all capable fast-medium all-rounders and match-winners, are set to trigger a paddle-raising frenzy at the auction.
The three are expected to fetch the maximum sum with Sunrisers Hyderabad (Rs 42.25 cr) and Punjab Kings (Rs 32.20 cr) with the biggest pay purse available expected to go all out for them. Of course, others will also be in the fray, but out of the eight Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders have less than Rs 10 crore remaining in their purse and have seven and 14 slots to fill respectively (maximum limit being 25 and the minimum being 18).
Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Capitals have Rs 20.55 cr, Rs 20.45 cr and Rs 19.45 cr available and have nine, seven and five slots to fill. So spending big on one of them would mean, they would have very little to left.
But this auction will be dictated primarily by two things: the availability of players (especially English and Australians) and the new impact player rule introduced this year by the IPL. With Ashes set to follow soon after the IPL during the English summer and the 50-over World Cup in October-November, there is apprehension among the franchise executives that a few players might pull out of the IPL at the last minute citing fatigue and workload issues.
Which is why despite the availability of Stokes – a player who could win matches on his own with that bat and ball – teams are a little concerned whether to go big for him and live with the risk of him pulling out at a later stage. For the record, Chris Woakes, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc have already pulled out of the IPL or didn’t register themselves for the same reason.
“It is part and parcel of the auction strategy,” a franchise official said. “But teams will be willing to take that risk, because he is the sort of player who could ultimately make a big difference. One just has to look at what Mumbai Indians did last year when they bought Jofra Archer for Rs 8 crores despite knowing that he won’t play the 2022 season,” the official said.
With most teams having limited purse to splurge and not even a handful of world-class players in the auction list, there is a mismatch between demand and supply. More than the big auction, it is at the mini-auction where players get a big pay as teams with a huge purse tend to outbid the rest.
While teams can fill up to 25 slots, something most usually do, talking to franchise officials and support staff one thing is clear, they are not really looking just for quantity. “Teams usually go for big squads so that all bases are covered. But there is a huge demand for quality players in a 10-team league. So if you get a pool of 18 players, then well and good. This is where the availability factor comes in and uncapped Indian players benefit out of it,” a support staff who has been part of a franchise for over three seasons said.
The concern about availability of overseas players is so serious that according to multiple franchise executives, they have been double-checking with the player agents about their commitment.
“If you spend big on an overseas player, you expect him to play a big role every season. But if they pull out, it leaves a huge hole that we can’t cover up because of the imbalance in demand and supply. And if a player ends up doing it, there is very little anyone can do about it,” a franchise executive said.
With Ashes and World Cup to follow back-to-back, franchises are also expecting few of the overseas players (already part of the team) to arrive with certain terms and conditions. For instance, franchises believe that Australia and England players’ workload will be managed by their respective boards, which means they may be forced to miss a game or two at some point. “We haven’t heard anything concrete yet, but we have been hearing it unofficially. At the end of the day, they give the NOC and you have to stick to the terms that come with it,” the franchise official said.
Impact player rule
The other thing that will make this auction interesting is the impact player rule. With teams allowed to bring in a new player during a game, it helps the teams to be a lot more flexible. While teams usually go into the auction with primary focus on picking a XI, it now becomes a bit more complicated because they have to name 14 players at the toss with any of the additional three being their impact player.
“It is a new concept and from what we spoke to our scouts, coaches of domestic teams and captains, it opens the door to be a lot more adventurous. For example, we may not spend big on a player who we think would not fit into our XI. But if we can add him as an impact player, his value is going to increase. It is an unknown territory for us, but one we are also excited about, because you need to have those players to make the most out of the new rule,” said a support staff member who watched the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s where the impact player was first introduced.