The thing that keeps us glued to the IPL, is the drama it adds to the already unpredictable spectacle of our beloved game, cricket. Be it the on-field action, the off-field camaraderie between international cricket stars which we otherwise wouldn’t see, the off-field controversies, the IPL broke new barriers when it comes to attracting new audiences, by adding different dimensions to the sport. One such event is the IPL auction, where every year each team is afforded an opportunity to improve on their existing squads, to possibly address any chinks in their armour, or possibly even upgrade on their current pool of players.
The auction for the 2019 edition of the IPL is expected to attract the eyeballs of it’s millions of fans, when the owners of the eight franchises, the brains behind the curtains – the support staff of the teams, are presented with a wide array of players who hope to make the grade for the biggest T20 carnival of any calendar year.
This year, upon the behest of the franchises, 346 players are expected to go under the hammer, although there are only 70 slots available to be filled across the eight teams. Out of these 70 slots, our team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, have 10 available, with two of them being overseas slots, with a salary purse of 18.15 crores to budget in.
In this article, we analyse five key areas in which RCB, needs to strengthen, the players who could potentially fit into these roles, and fallback options, given the uncertain nature of the auction.
- Indian middle-order batsman
During the trading window, the team management decided to let go of two long-serving middle order batsmen in Sarfraz Khan, and Mandeep Singh, the former released into the auction pool, and the latter moving to Kings XI Punjab, in a trade for Marcus Stoinis. This move has left a vacancy in the middle order, which is crying out for an Indian batsman, who can share the run- scoring burden with the superstars of the team, Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers. The team management should also be looking at players who can play spin well in the middle overs, as the lack of technique in the middle order against spin, turned out to be the achilles heel against Rajasthan Royals in the final league game last season(A game if won could’ve taken us through the the playoffs).
In the current auction pool, the best available player to fulfil this role seems to be Hanuma Vihari. The Hyderabadi middle order batsman, who was first seen during the historic Under-19 world cup in 2012, had fallen off the radar a bit, but has since staked a claim in the Indian test team in the middle order. The talented right hander, who has previously represented Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, will lend solidity to the middle order, and can roll his arm for a couple of overs of off-break if need be.
In case the bidding war intensifies, and the team management is forced into looking for a Plan B, Manoj Tiwary would be a welcome addition. The veteran who has represented four different franchises in 11 seasons, Kings XI Punjab being the latest, will be a good fallback option to have in case of unexpected developments at the auction table.
- Top order overseas batsman
The strategy of the management was clear during the transfer window, in which the focus was on clearing up the spots taken up by overseas batsmen, and bringing in overseas all-rounders instead. That being said, the top order lacks a bit of bite – a batsman who the bowlers will fear in the powerplay, someone who can set the tone for the middle order to follow. Given the limit of four overseas players in the final playing eleven, much will depend on the combination the captain and support staff want, but having a top order overseas batsman, who can also act as an understudy to the legend AB De Villiers, fill out one of the overseas quota is not a bad idea at all.
The player who caught the eyeballs of the cricketing world with his big-hitting prowess during the recent tour of India for the Windies, the effervescent Shimron Hetmyer should be a primary target. Hetmyer came in as a relatively unknown player during the recently concluded ODI series against India, but ended the series having scored 259 runs, at an average of 51.8, scoring at an incredible strike rate of 140 runs per 100 balls. He was also the third highest run-scorer in the Caribbean Premier League 2018, having scored 440 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of 148.1. What was most impressive about the youngster, was his ability to hit the ball big and clean against the much-famed Indian spinners. Be assured, Yuzvendra Chahal would not want to be bowling against him.
Having said that, his performances would’ve caught the attention of other franchises as well, and could be a hot commodity, forcing the management to look elsewhere, especially if the player is not guaranteed to find a place for a majority of the matches. Alex Hales, can be a welcome addition to the top order, if the bidding war for Hetmyer intensifies. The English international is an attacking batsman, and partnered Shikhar Dhawan in IPL 2018 for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, in the absence of their captain David Warner. The hard hitting Hales, although could be a liability against spin, and might not be available for the entire tournament, given the ECB plans to recall players for the World Cup 2019 training camp.
- Indian Wicket-keeper/batsman
One of the first things that catches the eye when one looks at the squad currently is the lack of wicket-keeping options. Club that necessity with the dearth of Indian batsman, the answer seems to be obvious – go after an Indian wicket-keeper! Looking at the options available in the auction pool, Wriddhiman Saha is the first name that strikes the chord. A veteran in domestic cricket, and IPL having played every season since it’s inception, Saha offers a middle order batting option, and a safe pair of hands behind the stumps. After all, who can forget his century for Kings XI Punjab in the finals of the IPL in 2014, batting at No.4 at the Chinnaswamy?
Naman Ojha also offers a compelling skill set, in case Wriddhiman Saha ends up with a different team. An attack-minded batsman, who can open the batting or play in the middle order, Ojha can also keep wickets if need be.
- Overseas spinner
With only two overseas slots left in the squad, one of the only two slots which needs filling out is that of an overseas spinner. Although whoever gets picked will not be a regular in the playing eleven, having an option of playing an overseas spinner in the squad is necessary to lend the captain every possible combination for the final eleven. Given that the squad already boasts of the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar and Pawan Negi, the team management should be looking at a player who wouldn’t tie up much of the auction purse. Adam Zampa, who was very impressive in the recently competed T20 series against India would have caught the eye of the Indian skipper, having given away only 44 runs in the 8 overs he bowled in the 3-match series, picking up 3 wickets along the way. The cunning Aussie tweaker, varied his pace, his line and length cleverly to keep the super powerful Indian batting lineup at bay.
Fabian Allen would be an ideal fit, as a second option behind Zampa. The West Indian left-arm spinner who could also swing his bat down the order, can be a viable alternative. A live-wire on the field, Allen would add a lot of value to the team in all three departments, and bring the Caribbean flair to the RCB side.
- A Karnataka local
For any franchise to have a connect with it’s fans, having a player who understands the land, and it’s people is a must-have. A player who can stake a claim in the playing eleven based on his merits and abilities, and not just in the squad to make up the numbers. Given that Karnataka has a rich history of producing players who have gone on to represent India, the likes of KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa, Vinay Kumar, S Aravind being the most noteworthy in recent years during the IPL era, finding a talented youngster should not be a tall proposition. Be it R
Samarth who can take up one of the vacant Indian batsman slots, J Suchith who can produce four economic overs and provide batting depth down the order, or K Cariappa with his mystery spin, the team management has quite a few options to chose from for various roles.
The team management has done well to concentrate on strengthening the core of the team, and cutting out what they felt was deadwood from the squad during the trading window. Having said that, there are a couple of first team places up for grabs, and a few reinforcement and backup slots needed to be filled up. With a salary cap of 18.15 crores available in their kitty, expect the team management to splurge on a couple of players who will be the key for the first team, and the rest of the money to be spent on upgrading or filling up the backup slots to round off the squad. As has been the norm, the IPL auction throws up quite a few surprises, and expect nothing different this year. At the end of the day, let us all hope that the players who get picked will live and die by the RCB mantra of playing bold, and take the team to new heights!