Finally, Priety Zinta raised the paddle and the entire auction room broke into a big round of applause. It felt like no one wanted Chris Gayle to leave the IPL with a whimper, but they weren’t courageous enough to bid for a player, with his best years behind him. Father Time waits for none and Gayle, at 38, is widely considered to be well past his sell-by date, his glorious white-ball cricket record notwithstanding.
Only a little over a month ago, Gayle had broken sixes world record, smashing 18 maximums en route his unbeaten 146 off 69 balls for Rangpur Riders in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) final. But the IPL is a different ball game. It’s T20 cricket’s gold standard. So his sixes and the assertion that followed—“I’m the greatest batsman of all time”—had little effect on the IPL franchises.
Last season attested Gayle’s declining shot-making prowess. He hit only 15 fours and 14 sixes in nine matches, finishing with 200 runs. The Royal Challengers Bangalore snub came along the expected lines.
Even Punjab saw Gayle as a backup. It’s very likely that Aaron Finch and Karun Nair, or Mayank Agarwal, would be their first-choice openers. But something is better than nothing and we might still witness occasional Gayle-storms.
A total 169 players were sold at the IPL auctions on January 27 and 28. Rs 431 crore had been spent. It was the first open auction since 2011 and the franchises picked players with maturity.
Fitness, fielding and youth were given precedence. Kolkata Knight Riders parted ways with Gautam Gambhir, who led the team to two IPL titles. The franchise spent `8 crore on three India U-19 players instead—fast bowlers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi for Rs 3.2 crore and `3 crore, respectively, and batsman Shubman Gill for `1.8 crore. The 36-year-old Gambhir wasn’t considered for retention despite the left-hander being the second-highest run-getter in last year’s IPL. Pace and youth became the buzzword for KKR and they also loaded their squad with T20 specialists.
Delhi Daredevils took the opportunity to bring Gambhir back to his ‘home’. They needed a leader for their young team and received the present as a ready-made choice for captaincy. Gambhir’s role for Delhi could well be akin to what Imran Khan did for Pakistan during their 1992 World Cup-winning campaign. The great all-rounder was in the autumn of his career and became almost bits and pieces. But without his leadership, Pakistan wouldn’t have won the World Cup. Imran was that important.
There’s, however, a school of thought that captaincy in T20 cricket is over-analysed. At least KKR seemed to be a firm believer in that. With limited-overs specialists like Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Kuldeep Yadav and Dinesh Karthik in their ranks, also some tearaway quicks, and the young turks arriving; the Knights should be very exciting to watch.
Chennai Super Kings, back to the fold after serving a two-year ban, have banked on experience. Ten of their top 11 players are over 30 years of age. But when a team has players like MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Kedar Jadhav and Faf du Plessis on their roster, they become title contenders. One good thing about CSK is that the franchise management hardly interferes in cricket matters on the field. Dhoni enjoys absolute command. And it has worked very well for the ‘yellow army’.
Another comeback team, Rajasthan Royals, have built an awesome squad, retaining Steve Smith as their captain and signing Ben Stokes for Rs 12.5 crore to be the X factor. But a question mark still hangs over the England all-rounder’s participation in this year’s IPL after he was charged with affray following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September last year. If Stokes misses the tournament due to legal proceedings, the franchise is allowed to seek a replacement. Royals, however, have already signed a back-up in Jofra Archer, the allrounder who has lit up the Big Bash League. The smart buy for Rajasthan was Jos Buttler. At Rs 4.4 crore, he was a steal, given his all-round ability.
Bangalore, the Royal galacticos but yet to win the title, have made a subtle change in their approach this term. Of course, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers will continue to be their biggest match-winners. But the Bangalore squad this year is well-rounded rather than top-heavy.
Sunrisers Hyderabad, too, have bought well. Once again, their captain, David Warner, is expected to do the bulk of the match-winning job for the team. But picking Shakib Al Hasan for `2 crore could be a masterstroke.
Over to the defending champions, and yet again Mumbai Indians would be the team to beat. In fact, they have become stronger by bringing in the excellent Pat Cummins for Lasith Malinga. The Sri Lanka fast bowler was a Mumbai Indians legend, but all good things must come to an end.
PS: Putting cricket players under the hammer and building squads through auctions is a debatable practice. The New Zealand Cricket Players Association chief executive Heath Mills has reportedly described the process as “archaic and deeply humiliating for the players”. The IPL, however, has a `16,347.5-crore broadcast rights deal for five years and the auction hype is ostensibly part of the package…