IPL Auction: Not everyone has a ‘Stoke’ of luck

Ben Stokes, facing affray charges, goes to Rajasthan Royals for Rs 12.5 crore on first Day of IPL Auction; no takers for Chris Gayle, Lasith Malinga

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Updated: January 28, 2018 10:50:40 am
IPL Auction are taking place in Bengaluru. Ben Stokes was bought by Rajasthan Royals once again at a huge price. (Express Archive)

ON THE first day of the 2018 IPL auction, the crore became the new lakh. Out of the 78 players bought on Saturday, only 9 ended up with paycheques less than eight-digit figures—that constitute a Crore— with three finishing with nine-digit bonanzas. Teenaged cricketers scored bid amounts that many of those who played for India in the past wouldn’t have seen in an entire career, a bunch of uncapped players from India and overseas were snaffled up by franchises for more than 20 times their base price. And in the midst of the frenzy, a 19-year-old Afghani spinner earned a contract that will pay him nearly 8 times of what was the Afghanistan President’s take-home salary till recently.

The paddle and the hammer kept going up and down furiously throughout the action-packed day as some teams retained their core but got nothing more and others started from scratch and built a new core. It was also a day where the eight franchises not only were prepared to dish out a lot cash but also forced the hands of their competitors to do the same. Here’s a low-down of the trends and themes of one of the most spend-thrift days in IPL auction history.

Paddles Up for KXIP
In the first two hours of the auction, Preity Zinta probably made more money for cricketers—even those who won’t end up playing for her team—than most cricket boards put together could imagine doing for theirs. Sat next to Virender Sehwag, an opener who never believed in the theory of giving the early half of a day to his opponents, the Kings XI Punjab co-owner created a new record in raising the paddle at an auction. Punjab bid for 10 out of the 14 marquee players who went on sale, were successful on 6 of those occasions and lost out on four of them to the dreaded Right To Match card, starting with the very first buy of the day in Shikhar Dhawan. Their trigger-happy strategy did, however, pay off as they amassed a power-packed batting line-up, spending Rs 11 crore on KL Rahul, and also getting in the likes of Aaron Finch, Karun Nair, David Miller and the returning Yuvraj Singh. And with the purchase of R Ashwin, they also now have the two most economical Indian spinners in the IPL on their roster.

The real rockstar
The term rockstar keeps getting thrown around a lot, and very loosely so, in the cricket world. Neither Ravindra Jadeja nor Hardik Pandya truly fit that bill. Ben Stokes if anything is the only contemporary cricketer that qualifies. His life after all is so quintessentially rock-and-roll—the eternal problem child who with his talent somehow makes the world overlook his mix-ups, at least while he’s performing. Though he presently faces with a criminal charge of affray, which is not the first instance of misdemeanour in his career, Stokes finished with the highest buying price for the second time running as Rajasthan Royals snared him at the final whistle for Rs 12.5 crore after KKR and Punjab, who else, had gone hammer and tongs.

Return of the prodigals
Speaking of the Royals, it was an ironic return to the IPL stage for the so-called moneyball outfit as they scored the costliest buy of the day. That wasn’t the only time they splurged as they roped in Sanju Samson for 8 crore and Jos Buttler for 4.4 crore, which set off a happy payday for wicket-keepers with Dinesh Karthik, who’s used to these, and Ishan Kishan going for upwards of 6 and 7 crore. They also didn’t mind going for highly-billed new faces like BBL stars Jofra Archer and D’Arcy Short, for whom they paid a total exceeding Rs 11 crore. They were also in the running for a number of other high-profile names, which seemed totally out of nature.

CSK are a team known for somehow finding a way to stay alive till the business end of the competition despite not always looking at their best. They’re also known to be very self-assured at auctions. But somehow they dropped out of bidding wars more often than any other franchise on Saturday. They did kind of get back some of their core in the form of Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo through the RTM method but they were too cautious to go for the jugular when it came to other big names. In the early-half they seemed very keen on the all-rounders but dropped out around the Rs 6.6 crore mark for Stokes, at a similar stage for Pat Cummins and Archer, and at the very end for Chris Woakes. The sight of coach Stephen Fleming pursing his lips and shaking his head in disappointment was a recurring theme for them. They’ll be among the busiest of teams on Sunday to ensure they have the kind of all-bases-covered line-up they are renowned for, especially with their squad presently without a single fast bowler.

When RTM = Right To Mess
Akash Ambani started flashing the RTM card repeatedly like he had just chanced upon that one card in a trump card set as soon as David Madley announced that Krunal Pandya had been sold to RCB for 8.8 crore. So inevitable was it that Mumbai would go for the all-rounder who was man of the final in 2017 that the RCB didn’t even react to their “purchase” and instead like their Sunrisers and Rajasthan counterparts smiled sheepishly. This tactic of ratcheting up the price for a player, who was certainly going to be retained by his former franchise was used expertly by all franchises against each other. RCB themselves had been victims when Rajasthan and Punjab pushed Yuzvendra Chahal’s price near 5 crore before Delhi, the most mischievous of the lot, joined in to enhance it further. The same was the case with the likes of Rashid Khan (who will now earn 75 lakh a month which is a lot higher than the 9 lakh in Indian currency that his country’s head of state was being paid till a few years ago) and Robin Uthappa being the beneficiaries.

This is the End?
Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga have been so synonymous with their superstar presence in the IPL that their performances here — and they have been spectacular — often overshadow what they’ve achieved for their respective nations. But Saturday might well have signalled the end of their decade-defining run. The two behemoths of T20 cricket, who still remain active around the world, went unsold and though there is an outside chance of them sneaking in on Sunday, it remains unlikely. The first day of the auction did, however, signal the end of a number of long-standing team loyalties as Harbhajan Singh was picked up by Chennai after a 10-year stint with Mumbai, Gautam Gambhir returned to Delhi after 7 successful years with Kolkata and R Ashwin went from being a Super King to just one among 11 Kings.

Hyderabad rise as the sun sets
The Sunrisers had gone about the auction rather unassumingly despite being the first team to get a player on board. Though they spent Rs 11 crore for Manish Pandey—who like many domestic batsmen including Karun Nair, Rahul Tripathi and Suryakumar Yadav saw his base price burgeon significantly — they quietly laid the basis of what could well be their regular playing XI come April. They started by reuniting Dhawan with David Warner, got back Kane Williamson and Deepak Hooda, made bargain buys in Carlos Brathwaite, Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan, and capped off the day with a flurry of domestic fast bowling purchases. RCB were the only other team to make the most of the fast bowling talent on offer getting Navdeep Saini and Aniket Choudhary to aid Umesh Yadav. Delhi, when they weren’t indulging in gamesmanship, too went the same way adding a lot of firepower in their fast bowling to complement a power-packed batting line-up.

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