Three things in modern day cricket can never be predicted – toss, pitch and the IPL auction. Toss can be either heads or tails; pitch can assist pace or spin; but the latest auction of the IPL created an unprecedented trend from the word go when Steve Smith was bought by Delhi Capitals.
All-rounders stole the show at the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) auction claiming four of the top five spots. Chris Morris of South Africa – Kyle Jamieson, Glenn Maxwell, K Gowtham being the other three – landed an incredible price of Rs 16.25 crore, the most expensive buy in the history of the tournament. Yuvraj Singh, at Rs 16 crore, had earlier held that much-coveted tag. Jhye Richardson was a surprise buy by Punjab Kings at Rs 14 crore.
Coming to the table with a base price of Rs 75 lakh, Morris was bought by Rajasthan Royals at the end of a fierce bidding battle. Royals’ smart bidding makes it a formidable side with Morris joining Jofra Archer to become an impactful fast bowling pair. With Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Mustafizur Rehman in its ranks, Royals emerged as one of the most balanced teams in the IPL.
The list of all-rounders making it big included Moeen Ali, Daniel Christian, James Neesham, Shivam Dube and Shahrukh Khan.
Maxwell must have surprised himself with a jackpot of RS 14.25 crore from a base price of Rs 2 crore. He was picked by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), which had obviously done its home work well. Coach Simon Katich had admitted to conducting some “mock” auction to prepare for the event and Maxwell was a good catch for a team, which has sorely wanted an all-rounder. RCB seemingly sank Rs 15 crore in choosing New Zealand’s Jamieson to bolster the overall balance of the team.
The Australians were the most sought after with Maxwell, Richardson (Rs 14 crore), Nathan Coulter-Nile (Rs 5 crore) and Steve Smith (Rs 2.20 crore) collectively accounting for Rs 35.45 crore at an auction,which was driven by tactical requirements of the think tanks. Just as Shakib Al Hasan, who returned to Kolkata Knight Riders for Rs 3.2 crore, to lend balance to the team with his all-round abilities.
The essence of the auction was driven home by England wicketkeeper Sam Billings who tweeted, “My girlfriend Sarah just turns to me and goes… ‘why aren’t you a bowler?” as he went unsold in the first round of the auction. He managed a slot in Delhi Capitals for Rs 2 crore.
That all-rounders were going to be the premier commodity was evident in the fight to snatch Morris, Maxwell, Richardson and Moeen Ali. At all times there were four franchises locked in bidding for these foreign recruits even as a few Indians too sneaked into different teams at impressive prices. Tom Curran of England joined the list of all-rounders making merry when he was bought by Delhi Capitals for Rs 5.25 crore.
The exciting Australian fast bowler Riley Meredith and Umesh Yadav got in for their raw pace. Umesh was picked by Delhi Capitals for Rs 1 crore but Meredith, bought by Punjab Kings, took home Rs 8 crore, once again showing the unpredictable side of the auction.
Apart from fast bowlers, the off-spinners too were in demand. Ali’s move was well-thought by Chennai Super Kings as they concentrated on strengthening the middle order seven as Karnataka all-rounder Krishnappa Gowtham’s Rs 9.75 crore catch became the highest ever bid for an uncapped player in IPL Auction. The previous high was Rs 8.80 crore for Krunal Pandya in the 2018 edition of the IPL.
Gowtham’s ability to bowl tidily on any surface won him the battle in this auction. He is known to strike big blows with the bat but what won the day for him is his comfort on the pitches in India. Kedar Jadhav was saved embarrassment when he was picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 2 crores.
Similarly, veteran Piyush Chawla, who was mocked for his physical slackness at the previous IPL, laughed his way to the bank with money to the tune of Rs 2.4 crore showered by Mumbai Indians. On the slow pitches in the second half of the tournament a bowler like Chawla often comes in handy and MI clearly kept this aspect of the leg-spinner in mind.
The IPL success story of lighting up lives of players from a humble background was once again highlighted by Saurashtra left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya. For an aspirant with a base price of Rs 20 lakh, Sakariya was snapped by Rajasthan Royals for Rs 1.2 crore, a dream sum for the son of a tempo driver.
Equally delightful was the journey of Shahrukh Khan, the Tamil Nadu cricketer who can swing the bat and also chip in with off-spin. His selection for Rs 5.25 crore was in keeping with the dynamics of team combination that drove Punjab Kings to invest in this exciting batsman.
Good news came in the shape of a Test specialist finding space in T20 brand when CSK picked Cheteshwar Pujara at Rs 50 lakh to end his seven-year exile from the tournament. Harbhajan Singh will make his maiden appearance for KKR, which bought him for his base price of Rs 2 crore.
With Isuru Udana going unsold, it will be the first occasion in IPL that not a single Sri Lankan player will be in action.
The auction concluded with Arjun Tendulkar joining Mumbai Indians at his base price of Rs 20 lakh.
The author is an independent sports commentator