Prelude to a new IPL decade

The Indian Premier League turned over a milestone in 2017, and can fondly look back on a decade of success despite being held back by the spot-fixing controversy. IPL has managed to pull off a fine balance between quality of cricket on the field and the ability to be more than just viable, commercially. The tournament attracted a whopping bid of 16,347 crore from the new broadcasters Star and embark on the second decade of its existence as a much stronger entity.

In the 10 years thus far, the ceiling has been constantly pushed in almost every aspect. Batting records have been shattered, bowlers have found ways to make a telling impact, and strategies in the company of data and analytics have only become more influential to the success and failure of teams with each season. And then there`s player auction.

From the days of building a squad around `icon players`, to shelling out crores for a star, the player auction too has come a long way. Every year, a new record bid is achieved, a new massive contract is acquired and the upper limit pushed further upwards. Every year the salary cap sees a spike, and so do the urge to go all in for stars of the fast-paced format of the game.

The big auction on January 27 and 28, thus comes as a prelude to a new IPL decade. How teams fare across these two days, will determine their fate on the field, and the direction they take when another such event comes along three years later. Things to watch out for.

.. The T20 headliners Remember the time in last year`s auction when Mumbai Indians raised the baton even before the auctioneer Richard Madley finished saying Ben Stokes, and kept it raised for a while? That bidding war involved as many as five teams - MI, RCB, DD, SRH and RPS.

With bigger salary budgets and a new squad to build, expect teams to jump in for tussles more often in the upcoming auction. Stokes, despite his off-field situation, is likely to spark another such war, while several other marquee players (there are 16 of them listed as that) will also grab a lot of attention. From Chris Lynn and Chris Gayle to Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, each of these names could fetch a massive contract, and will define the shape of the side with the winning bid.

Teams must be mindful of the fact that an entire squad has been to built - unlike in 2017 when RPS won the Stokes bid. Franchises will head into the auction with solid Plan B (even C and D) as far as targets are concerned, and will hope to strike the balance between prising their No.1 target away and acquiring a well-rounded squad.

A fresh start? A new decade of IPL will come as a fresh start for the likes of Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore - the only three teams yet to win an IPL trophy. RCB are still likely to swear by their previous season squad and build a similar core, but a big decision lies ahead for the pair of DD and KXIP. Coaches have come and gone, different approach to auctions have been taken, but success has been elusive.

If retaining a core is deemed tough, try filling the shoes of the franchises that need to revamp (and not for the first time) with the aim to end the wait for a title. No pressure then. Captains, anybody? Finding a captain also involves a lot of thinking and strategy.

There is a strong case to be made in favour of appointing an experienced Indian player. Such stars generally invoke a sense of belonging in the local fans as they`ve seen him don India colours successfully and are likely to get behind him. The pitfalls of appointing a foreign captain comes up if and when he goes through a lean patch during the season with the bat or ball.

Kumar Sangakkara twice made the selfless choice of dropping himself while leading an IPL side (for Deccan Chargers in 2012 and Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2013) after enduring a barren run with the bat, but that`s the sort of call that not all players are capable of making. If the decision isn`t made, one out of the four foreign player slot is blocked and can have a big impact of results. Of the four teams that already have captains, Sunrisers Hyderabad is the only one with a foreign skipper and one who has already led them to IPL glory - David Warner.

Among the other four, Rajasthan Royals might still appoint Steven Smith - their only retention - as the skipper after he guided Rising Pune Supergiant to the final last year. But the likes of Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils could look at their options from the auction pool. In the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, they have some interesting options.

The In Thing Wrist spinners have hogged the limelight in the year gone by, and owners and coaches will look to have one of their own for the IPL seasons ahead. Expect aggressive bidding for the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav - who have become the regular features in India`s limited-overs structure. With every passing day at the Big Bash League, Sunrisers Hyderabad`s decision to not retain Rashid Khan is starting to appear like a bad move.

The spinner had fetched INR 4 crore in the previous season and would have cost INR 7 crore had SRH decided to retain him. It is likely that they`ve decided to take the risk of letting him go into the auction pool and then secure him again with the RTM for a cheaper price (than the INR 7 crore), which might not be possible should teams go out aggressively for him. There`s a host of other options too.

Imran Tahir made teams appear foolish for not bidding for him (he went unsold in the first round of auctions last year, before RPS snapped him) with 18 scalps in the season. He should get more attention this time around. Wrist spinners could spark bidding wars and take away a big chunk of the salary cap, but since so many teams have the RTM card to flash, other franchises will arrive with a secondary list of options.

The likes of Adam Zampa, Karn Sharma (Mumbai Indians cannot use RTM on a capped Indian player) and Tabraiz Shamsi could also have takers. Unknown entities IPL is not just about all that glitters. The auction has also thrown up many-an-endearing tale.

Take for instance, KXIP`s big-money acquisition of fast bowler T Natarajan, who claimed that he`d have followed his father and become a coolie, if not for cricket. There`s SRH`s local boy Mohammed Siraj, the son of an autorickshaw driver. Remember Paul Valthaty who scored a fiery century and a couple of fifties in a season he played for KXIP? or Kamran Khan - the fast bowler from Azamgarh who Shane Warne called `tornado`? Or the IPL version of the frog-in-a-blender Shivil Kaushik from last season? And KKR`s well-researched acquisition of KC Cariappa? Or Basil Thampi for Gujarat Lions, who turned quite a few heads with his express pace.

At a time when entire squads need to be built, the ability of franchises to unearth unknown commodities in uncapped players will be as crucial as getting their No. 1 targets. Franchises have scouts all over the country, particularly during the Zonal T20 league, where unfamiliar names are out to impress.

On the RTM radar RTM will play a big role in determining how many of the franchises are indeed aiming for a reunion and how many are willing to start afresh. For instance, MS Dhoni has been vocal about assembling stars of their last season together in 2015 - and has openly said that the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis and Brendon McCullum are a few names in their radar. Whether they can have each of those back or not, remains to be seen.

Even the SRH camp is said to be keen on having the core of their last two seasons back, but remain realistic as far as prices are concerned. Raising the retention baton for Rashid and Dhawan might be the way to go, based on the prices. KKR also have a decision to make.

They were bold and ballsy in 2011 when they replaced local hero Sourav Ganguly with Gautam Gambhir, the biggest buy of that auction. Gambhir has led the side to two title wins, and has been consistent, but wasn`t retained this time around. The RTM could yet be used for the opener, unless KKR are out to rework their top-order strategies.

Sides like Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils, who`ve endured a barren decade in the tournament, might have to be far more decisive on whether they revert to players of the previous season or go all out for new targets who they feel have a better chance of driving them to glory. From around the world Key to a successful IPL auction could also lie in how well the scouts and analyst have reported about lesser-known but very effective players from T20 tournaments around the world. You could tell if teams have done their homework, based on how many of them go in for the likes of Evin Lewis - a swashbuckling Windies opener starting to put Chris Gayle in the shade, Jofra Archer and D`Arcy Short - a duo that has lit up the ongoing BBL.

There will also be lesser-known names that might attract attention, based on how deep-rooted the scouts of the franchises are. Rashid Khan`s expensive acquisition - while the No. 1 T20 bowler Imran Tahir went unsold in the first round - in last year`s auction wasn`t a random bidding war led by Sunrisers Hyderabad.

It came after their video analyst Shrinivas had viewed the Afghanistan leggie intently at the Bangladesh Premier League. There is a constant search for players that are capable of bringing a hint of unpredictability about them, and many such are likely to emerge from leagues around the world. Local flavour Teams often talk up the need to have local players in the mix.

It gives fans a chance to relate to players with geographical similarity, and gives teams an identity. It allows teams to integrate players that may not be established, but those that come with a lot to prove and the knowledge of home surfaces. Expect RCB to go after a player like Krishnappa Gowtham, who has not just been amongst the wickets but also brings a sense of familiarity for the crowds.

CSK too, might look to make Washington Sundar one of the poster boys of the new decade, while a side like Kings XI Punjab could look at a player like Barinder Sran - who already has an India cap and an IPL winners medal to his name. ShareTweetShare