The great IPL cull

Written by Raakesh Natraj | Updated: Nov 4 2012, 08:02am hrs
On October 31, deadline day, the nine Indian Premier League franchises released 94 players, retaining the services of 179 for the 2013 season. In other words, one out of three players in the IPL will have to look for new teams next season. The culling can conceivably be termed major, and while the macro factorsa league whose sustainability comes under the scanner each time a club threatens to/is forced to pull out, and a set-up which operates in a larger, recessionary climatecan be held responsible, there may have been other considerations too.

The annual salary cap for each franchise is $12.5 million and a pruning of the squad will mean more cash to spend on the next auction while still retaining a core group of players will ensure a certain degree of continuity. Accordingly, there were two broad strategies that individual franchises adopted in deciding which of the players they would retain in their squads for the forthcoming season. Teams that have enjoyed relatively consistent success, in terms of qualifying for the knockout stages or winning the tournament outright, over the five seasons have clearly been doing something right and have decided not to muck about too much.

All teams that had made the knockout stages last yearChennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indianshave more or less worked along same lines, holding on to their big guns while allowing the contracts of the fringe players to run out. These teams have, over editions, come to settle on their combinations and decide on the right personnel for specific roles. For such teams, the imperative was to cut out the flak, leaving them with enough in the kitty for perhaps one big purchase in next years auction.

Chennai, who have made the final in four out of five editions and won it twice, were possibly one of the first teams that deliberately set to work on retaining a core group across seasons and auctions. This time too they have carried on with the philosophy of stability, retaining nine local and six overseas players, with the result that Chennai, the most successful team in the league, also have one of the smallest squad, at a cost of $9.3 million. But still, the side has struck an astute balance. Chennai has the most cash left over ($3.2 million) of the top five finishers last year, and the excess will probably be spent on bidding for a replacement for Doug Bollinger (salary: $700,000), whose contract was allowed to run out, in the next auctions. Mitchell Starc, who starred for the Sydney Sixers during their CLT20 win last month will be the obvious target, a like-for-like replacement in the left-arm seamer category.

Delhi, who finished on top of the points table last year, have enough reasons to retain their squad (18 players at a cost of $10.8 million) and with the least amount left over among all sides, will be content to have a quiet auction next year. Mumbai, unlike Chennai or Delhi, prefer to have a large-ish squad and again, unlike these sides, rotate frequently during the course of the tournament, and this reflects in their numbers too.

The side has retained the largest squad (27) with the largest Indian contingent (20). Kolkata have been served well by a collection of imports (facing the difficult choice of having to pick four of Sunil Narine Brad Haddin, Brendon McCullum, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, James Pattinson, Shakib Al Hasan, Marchant de Lange and Ryan ten Doeschate) and have retained the largest number of foreign professionals. Overseas players command higher salaries and that leaves Kolkata with little to spend for the auctions next year. Considering, however, that Kolkata won the tournament this year and assembled the current squad at a high price in the last two auctions, will probably not have much of a need to splurge in any case.

As for the teams that struggled in IPL 5 and have begun to develop a history of under-achieving, the need for change showed in their squad sheets. Rajasthan Royals wielded the axe with abandon, and were left with a threadbare squad of 13. Johan Botha and Owais Shah were the surprise omissions from the team list, but after snipping out 14 squad members, Rajasthan will have $8.4 million, the most among all teams, to play around with at the auction. Kings XI Punjab ($7.2 million left) and Hyderabad ($7 million), teams that finished sixth and seventh last year, have gone down the same path as Rajasthan, making a few sacrifices in terms of personnel so as to arm themselves at the auction.

Pune Warriors, the bottom placed team in IPL 5, however, was left hanging, paying for poor team selection and for doling out impractical salaries from their time of inception. Despite getting rid of Australian skipper Michael Clarke, and other big names in Sourav Ganguly, Jesse Ryder, Graeme Smith, Steven Smith, Callum Ferguson, Nathan McCullum and James Hopes, are still left with just $4 million to spend. Royal Challengers Bangalore are a bit of an exception. It is common consensus that their squad is capable, but success has somehow proved elusive. Or that, at least, is what the think-tank seems to believe, deciding to keep faith in their current players.

While the need to freshen things up might have been a major consideration for the underperformers, the impulse to go for wholesale changes would have been tempered by the fact that the next auction will be populated largely by players released by other franchises. The ones that come into the auction pool, having caught the eye at other international tournaments, will of course trigger interest from a lot of quarters, inflating their value. After five seasons, the franchises, it seems, have been forced to become penny wise.