IPL Auction Preview- part one

Jack Hope and Ross Legg bring you part one of our IPL auction preview, featuring: Royals, CSK, Kings XI, and KKR

The 2021 IPL is on the horizon, the teams have announced their retentions, and we are just a few weeks away from this year’s mini-auction, which will take place on 18 February. Now that we know who each team is retaining, we’ve written a couple of articles outlining our expectations for this year’s auction. Starting with Jack and Ross, on the four teams who missed the play-offs in 2020:

Rajasthan Royals

Jack Hope: The Rajasthan Royals, the team followed by many England fans, failed to make the play-offs for the second consecutive year in 2020 and appear to have laid the blame for that at the door of their ex-Captain, Steve Smith, who has been released. Unfortunately for them, Smith wasn’t the only problem. The Royals have too many batters who want to bat in the top three, an over-reliance on Jofra Archer and underperforming spinners. To try and fix these issues they have a 35 crore (£3.5mil approx.) purse. 

The Royals are one of the many teams who may look to Mitchell Starc as a potential saviour; breaking the bank to pair him with Jofra Archer must be tempting. They could also opt for Glenn Maxwell, who would address the balance problem they have in their batting line-up, as well as providing an auxiliary spin option. Another overseas option, Mujeeb is also an obvious target, offering them further quality in the spin department, should they require it. 

The fundamental issue for the Royals, though, is their lack of top class Indian talent. Whether they will be able to address that at a mini-auction is questionable, as this pool is largely filled with other team’s rejects. Having said that, they could do a lot worse than Shivam Dube as a lower order hitter who can bowl a couple of overs, and they will surely bid for him. 

Top targets: Mitchell Starc, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Shivam Dube

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Chennai Super Kings

By their own standards CSK had a torrid IPL20, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history (let’s forget about the ones they were banned for shall we?). At some franchises, this failure would result in ripping up the squad sheet and starting again, but that was never going to be CSK’s style. Demigod MS Dhoni’s on and off the field influence is one of calmness, looking after your own, and trusting experience over youthful exuberance, which is evident in their conservative release of five underperformers/retirees and a retention of their core talent. To rectify last year’s disappointment, CSK must evolve their T20 strategy and not only inject new ideas into a squad whose average age is above 31, but also add match winners in both the batting and bowling departments.

Unfortunately, they’re off to a terrible start as they’ve taken 35 year old Robin Uthappa - who averaged 16 at a strike rate of 119 in IPL20, and 21 @ 115 in IPL19 - from the Royals who must be laughing all the way to the virtual auction house. With Raina coming back, they’ve added top order fire power to supplement Gaikwad and Faf, but the second all-time IPL run scorer hasn’t played in over a year. With a lack of Indian batsmen in the auction pool, they are likely to target someone from the Aussie duo of Steve Smith or Aaron Finch, or English trio Dawid Malan, Alex Hales or Jason Roy. However, with only one overseas spot left in the squad, they’ve left themselves open to being squeezed for every last Rupee on auction day by their competitors. 

With Kiwi Stephen Fleming coaching the side, an outside pick of one of his fellow countrymen could well be wicket-keeper batsman Glenn Phillips, the current shining star after New Zealand’s T20 victories over the West Indies, who’d offer a middle-order bang that eluded CSK last year.

On the bowling front, CSK value spinners over pacers so are unlikely to add to their existing battery of quicks and medium dobbers. They have, however, rid themselves of Piyush Chawla, the man who made it look possible for any podgy leggie to get an IPL deal. After taking only 6 wickets, and with an economy of over 9, he is free to return to his own workout plan of fridge, sit down, repeat, without dragging the rest of his team down around him. They’ve retained Ravi Jadeja, Mitchell Santner, Karn Sharma and the evergreen Imran Tahir (42 by the time the tournament starts), so you could argue they are covered on the spin front. But the limit of four overseas slots per game will mean a good quality Indian spinner should be high-up on their list of auction priorities to offer some much needed selection flexibility. Alternatively, they could try a two-in-one bonanza and fill that final overseas spot with a middle order bat who is adept at throwing down some twirlers such as Moeen Ali, the in-demand Glenn Maxwell or even a certain England captain by the name of Joe Root, as he looks to force his way into a World Cup spot. 

Top Targets: Steve Smith, Alex Hales, Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Glenn Maxwell (but only one, because for some reason they only released one overseas player…)

Kings XI Punjab

JH: Kings XI came from nowhere last year to eventually challenge for the play-offs, a performance they will (obviously) look to build on in 2021. To do that they will need to improve in two areas: fast bowling (especially at the death), and scoring rate (again at the death). To address these problems, Kings XI have an enviably large purse to spend, so we should see them flashing the cash. 

Batting wise, many pundits were shocked that they made the decision to release Glenn Maxwell prior to the 2021 auction. However, this may have been part of a cunning plan - do not be surprised to see Kings XI bidding for Maxwell again, in an attempt to bring him back at a cheaper price in 2021. Maxwell was dreadful in 2020, but has shown his class in the BBL and if his returns are closer to BBL Maxwell, he could solve Kings XI’s middle order issues. 

On the bowling side, we should see Kings XI bid for Mitchell Starc. Aakash Chopra has gone as far as predicting that their determination to pick Starc up will mean he breaks the record as the most expensive IPL player in history. Failing that, it is possible they would settle for Chris Morris. If they do manage to pick up Mitchell Starc they will find themselves in uncharted territory: among the pre-tournament favourites.

Finally, on the topic of fast bowling, whisper it, but there is also an outside chance they will pick up Sreesanth.

Top targets: Mitchell Starc, Chris Morris, Glenn Maxwell

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Kolkata Knight Riders

RL: When you consider that they are led by captain Eoin Morgan and coach Brendon McCullum, two men at the heart of revolution of the game’s shorter format, it is clear KKR were the biggest disappointment of IPL20. The IPL’s pre-tournament spotlight shined brightest on KKR who, with the world’s greatest T20 all-rounder Andre Russell (Dre Russ) already in their ranks, made a big-daddy move to bring in the most expensive player in IPL history, Pat Cummins (Cumdog), promising a season of fireworks and victories. Unfortunately, the fireworks were replaced by children’s sparklers as the team struggled for form. They were constantly imbalanced as their stars were ruled out with suspected bowling actions and niggling injuries, all culminating in an unsuccessful mid-season captaincy switch and a 5th placed finish outside of the playoffs due to their poor net run rate. 

The ice-cool nature of Eoin Morgan draws parallels with MS Dhoni so, unsurprisingly, for IPL21’s release and retention KKR and CSK have followed a similar strategy, with KKR only releasing five players from their squad. Tom Banton may feel hard done by as he was misused throughout the tournament but ultimately didn’t deliver, whilst Tim Seifert, who didn’t play a game, must have really impressed while carrying the water bottles and slicing up the oranges, as he is retained. The KKR futures of USA cricketer Ali Khan, and Harry Gurney, are unclear, with different KKR sources reporting different things: some say both have been retained, another that both have been released and yet others saying one stays but the other goes! We’re assuming they’ve both been released.

KKR at their best are an all action team and they believe they have the talent and strategy that’ll lead them to a title challenge this time around. Lockie Ferguson impressed at the back end of the tournament with his 90mph moustached rockets, so they’ll be able to avoid being priced out of the fight for Mitchell Starc and fill an overseas spot with a cheaper option like left armer Sheldon Cottrell, or find value in a seamer for the middle overs, like Tom Curran or Jimmy Neesham. They’d ideally pick up some higher quality Indian quicks to guide the likes of Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, but there’s limited options to choose from so don’t be surprised to see a Umesh Yadav type picked up. Spin wise, KKR were saved by the blossoming of Chakravarthy who took 17 wickets in IPL20 and they’ll be desperate for both Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine to regain their confidence and form.

On the batting front, they will be hoping Shubman Gill continues to shine at the top of the order and that Nitesh Rana delivers more than he fails. However, they should use the auction to bolster their batting stocks with a more established T20 player as Dinesh Kathik and Rahul Trepathi are more likely to set fire to themselves than the fireworks KKR need. We can rule out Alex Hales joining the KKR franchise with Morgan at the helm (get over it Eoin!), but Dawid Malan or Jason Roy would be fine additions, and maybe even Joe Denly or James Vince were they to put their top hats in the ring. With bio-bubbles in place for the foreseeable future, the players available may not fit the bill for KKR, and with the IPL growing by two teams from 2022 it may be a good time to pick a few high-performers from the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and hope that one or two make a name for themselves. 

Top targets: Dawin Malan, Jason Roy, Tom Curran

Thanks for reading…

We will be talking about the IPL retention lists on this week’s episode of The Cricket Podcast, which you can find via these links: Apple, Spotify, YouTube and on all other podcast providers. Part two of IPL auction preview is coming soon…

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