Why such a fuss over the IPL auction, a pessimist asked me. After all, it’s about wealthy people who like to invest doing what they like – investing! Nothing exciting, he added.
It’s probably a sentiment that would find quite a bit of support across the country. If company takeovers and real estate bidding were telecast on live television and marketed for a month in advance, they would only have got so many viewers.
And if that says anything at all, it is that the men behind the IPL have succeeded once again; for those of us who DO follow it can merely argue that this is the IPL – it’s cricket, it’s entertainment, it’s well-sanctioned regional rivalry – and there wouldn’t be anything more to say.
To that end, this year’s auction will be another intense affair. The teams will be coming back with six seasons worth of experience and analysis and a chance to start over, which is almost in line with the entire competition itself. It’s a revival of sorts for the under-performers and it’s going to be dicey because after this auction, very few big names from the past will stand out as favourites.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore will count on themselves being part of the “elite” few. Here’s how the start of the auction looks for them:
Auction Purse: Rs. 30.5 Crores (305 million)
Right-to-match cards: 1
RCB had a now-up-now-down sort of season last year. When they won, they won emphatically but otherwise, something looked amiss and they have quickly realized that it was the depth of their bowling. It is evident from the players they have retained that the bowling/bowling all-rounder slots will be their top priority going into this auction. Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers carried the team through most of last season – something that was almost decriminalized by rival fans – and have been bestowed with the responsibility again.
Right to Match
The three players retained will primarily be used as batsmen only. Considering the relatively weak batting roster they had, it doesn’t look likely that the RCB batting order will feature anyone else from the 2013 squad. That would make any one of Zaheer Khan, Jaydev Unadkat, Muralitharan, RP Singh or Vinay Kumar contenders to be pursued with the card.
However, I would be very surprised if Ravi Rampaul doesn’t attract bids from other franchises and if RCB doesn’t exercise their right to match. He was, by far, their best bowler last year and a viable option to lead the attack this time and for a relatively cheap price.
Daniel Christian, Andrew McDonald and Moises Henriques were employed mainly as utility players last year. Would RCB gamble on one from this bunch of “balance-bringers”? Possibly.
The elimination of the Pune franchise and the Daredevils’s endeavour to start from scratch has brought into the auction some very high quality. Importantly, from RCB’s perspective, a vast majority of this list consists of premier Indian bowlers; going by the form the Indian bowling has been in recently, a lot of them could be available at knock-down prices.
Some of this lot who will draw intense bid-shed would be Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Shami Ahmed and Pragyan Ojha. If they can land two from this list without a substantial hit on their 30.5 million purse, say a setback of not more than 40 million, they will have done extremely good business.
However, by retaining their top batsmen, they have made it clear that an overseas strike bowler is on their radar and Morne Morkel, undoubtedly, will be top on that list. Mitchell Johnson would be sought-after too. But they are both bowlers who will command large paychecks and alternatives must be considered. James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Coulter-Nile and Doug Bollinger (at 5 million!) really spring up from the list and Clint McKay could also be an option.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if RCB go in strongly for either or both Mitch McCleneghan and Tim Southee. The latter, at a base price of 5 million rupees, could be a real steal if Chennai decide they don’t want him. In any case, I expect a large contingent of Kiwis to come RCB’s way this auction with their new head coach in Vettori.
Which brings me to another useful player in Nathan McCullum. Heaven knows that Bangalore needs spinners and if they can snap up big-hitting McCullum and someone like an Amit Mishra or a Rahul Sharma, most of their bowling woes will solve themselves.
One positive that RCB has this season is that they will not have to spend too much on capped batsmen. In fact, the crop of domestic batsmen coming through from Karnataka are so promising that I wouldn’t expect the franchise to splurge on more than two marquee batsmen. One thing is certain, however, and that is that Robin Uthappa will be one of them. It’s a no-brainer, really. He’s everything they need at the top with Gayle and is also a local boy.
Finch and Hales may be fancied too, but my fantasy pick would be Mahela Jayawardena to partner Gayle at the top. They don’t come much better than that.
Expect also, some interest in Dinesh Karthik, Johan Botha and Thisara Perera.
To sum it all up, these are the players I think RCB will have a lot of time for. Will they have the money, though?
Batsmen: Uthappa, Taylor/Jayawardena, Eoin Morgan.
Bowlers: Morkel, Southee, Johnson, Pattinson, Ojha, Mishra.
All Rounders: Corey Anderson, N. McCullum, Shakib al-Hasan, Johan Botha, Thisara Perera.
Signings that may surprise: Rajat Bhatia, Murali Vijay, James Neesham, Alex Hales, Fidel Edwards, L. Balaji, Virender Sehwag, Shadab Jakati.
Uncapped players: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, CM Gautam, HS Sharath, Shreyas Gopal.