The big questions from the IPL auction

The 2023 IPL auction saw 80 players sold and INR 167 crore (US$ 20 million approx.) spent in a matter of a few hours. Many records were broken, many eyebrows raised and many questions asked when some players earned more and some got less money than was expected. ESPNcricinfo looks at some of the big questions and attempts to answer them.

Who will be Sunrisers Hyderabad’s captain?

Sunrisers themselves don’t know yet, head coach Brian Lara said on Friday, adding that calling Mayank Agarwal, who led Punjab Kings last year, their captain already was “unfair” because of “a couple of senior players in the squad already.”

Their other options with captaincy experience are Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Aiden Markram, but both come with caveats. Bhuvneshwar is very injury-prone and played only four of Sunrisers’ 16 games last season. Markram led South Africa to their Under-19 World Cup title in 2014 and captained South Africa A teams too but his leadership at international level was forgettable; he lost all five ODIs to India as stand-in captain in early 2018, although with a depleted side.

Naming an overseas captain is also always tricky because of the foreign players’ cap in the XI, and many franchises have had to change captains in the middle of IPL seasons when they go through lean patches with the bat.

Why did Pooran’s price go up from INR 10.75 to 16 crore despite his poor recent form?

Some may have thought that Pooran’s IPL stock would have fallen because of his poor recent run: since August this year, Pooran averages only 10.80 from 20 T20 innings with a strike rate of 114.28. Those included his disappointing scores of 13, 7 and 5 in the T20 World Cup after which he resigned as West Indies captain.

But a few things would have worked in Pooran’s favor in the auction on Friday. One, his recent scores. He turned his form around by hammering 345 runs in the Abu Dhabi T10 at a staggering strike rate of 234.69 with the help of 25 sixes and 31 fours in just 10 innings. Second, he has impressive strike rates against both spin (152.20 in 31 innings) and pace (151.42 from 39 innings) in the IPL.

Finally, many teams were looking for a wicketkeeper and Pooran fits into that role. Whether INR 16 crore ($1.95 million) was worth spending on him or not is debatable, but such are the dynamics of a mini-auction.

Why did Curran get more money than Stokes?

That the allrounders were going to fetch the fattest pay checks was obvious but it so happened that the most experienced of the three – Sam Curran, Cameron Green and Ben Stokes – earned the lowest amount among them.

One reason was that Stokes’ name was the last to come up among the three of them. Within a particular set – like allrounders – names were picked randomly, and teams had to bid for the name that came up. Curran came up second, after Shakib Al Hasan, and Kings broke their bank. Green was the next high-profile allrounder and this time Mumbai Indians splurged on him. By the time Stokes appeared, Kings and Mumbai were not going to bid, Sunrisers had already spent INR 21.50 crore ($2.6 million approx.) on Harry Brook and Mayank Agarwal, and some franchises were already running low on money so were out of the race . That reduced the spending power of most franchises but Chennai Super Kings still shelled out nearly $2 million for Stokes.

The second reason is that Curran’s overall utility as a T20 player has overtaken Stokes’ in recent times. For example, in all T20s since the beginning of 2020, Curran’s batting strike rate against spin is 154.69 compared to Stokes’ 137.55. Curran also stepped up his death bowling in England’s victorious T20 World Cup campaign by leaking just 70 runs in his 64 balls whereas Stokes barely bowled in the death overs.

Third is that Curran is just 24, Stokes is 31 and the younger one automatically becomes a longer-term investment in the IPL.

Why did teams pick non-T20 specialists Rahane and Root?

They might be playing domestic T20s but Ajinkya Rahane’s last T20I was back in 2016 and Joe Root’s in 2019. Both batters, however, still found takers in the most competitive T20 league in the world.

Even though Rahane scored at only 118 runs per 100 balls in the last Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Mumbai, what works in his favor is his familiarity with Indian pitches and his technique on slow and turning tracks. Now that Super Kings go back to the slow Chepauk pitches, Rahane’s game could come handy especially as an impact player when wickets fall in clusters, and in low-scoring chases.

Root, contrastingly, is coming to the IPL to gain some experience of Indian pitches before the 50-over World Cup. Ever since he has given up Test captaincy, Root has been vocal about his desire to develop his T20 game and could play the role of an anchor for Rajasthan Royals after an otherwise explosive top order of Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Sanju Samson. An amount of INR 1 crore ($121,000 approx.) was not too much anyway.

Another factor that worked for both Rahane and Root is that the tournament now has ten teams which results in more players being bought at the auction.

Why did Sunrisers not keep money aside for star allrounders despite having the biggest purse?
Sunrisers had the fattest purse of INR 42.25 crore heading into the auction and it would have made perfect sense for them to splurge on one of the high-profile allrounders.

But even before they came up, Sunrisers spent more than half their money – INR 21.50 crore ($2.6 million approx.) – on Brook and Agarwal. Brook’s T20 strike rate of 167.43 in Asia combined with current form, and a solid top-order Indian batter in Agarwal made sense to strengthen the squad, but it didn’t leave Sunrisers with much money early on to bag a big allrounder.

Head coach Lara said later that with the new impact rule, they were looking at specialists to have flexibility in their squad. Sunrisers also revealed that they expected Agarwal to go for INR 10-15 crore so were happy to get him for INR 8.25 crore ($1 million approx.) and spent a little extra on Brook, who they also thought would go for around INR 10 crore . They tried to go after Stokes later but had to back out once the bids reached INR 15 crore ($1.8 million approx.) so that they could buy more players later on.

How will Green fit in to Mumbai XI?
That Green comes in as Kieron Pollard’s replacement is clear but where will he bat? He can fit in anywhere in the batting order but is best used at the top, going on current form. Mumbai already have Suryakumar Yadav and Tim David as powerful finishers so Green would best fit either as the explosive opener with Rohit Sharma or even come at No. 3 if Mumbai want a left-right pair at the top with Rohit and Ishan Kishan.

If required, Mumbai could use Green lower down too when they want Suryakumar to bat at No. 3.

Who’s going to be Mumbai’s lead spinner?

Before the auction, Mumbai had only the inexperienced duo of Kumar Kartikeya and Hrithik Shookeen as the main spinners in their line-up. They didn’t go after Shreyas Gopal, they didn’t try to buy back Mayank Markande or M Ashwin, and got back Piyush Chawla instead, who didn’t play the 2022 IPL (unsold) and got just one game in the 2021 edition .

It has resulted in lack of proper spin-bowling options for Mumbai, unless they take the gamble of playing an out-of-favour Chawla regularly, which also goes against what owner Akash Ambani said on Friday that they wanted to buy many young players to build a squad for the future.

Who is CSK’s death bowler after Bravo’s departure?
That Stokes comes straight in for Dwyane Bravo in the XI is a no-brainer but who is going to bowl in the death for Super Kings now? Bravo was a sure shot option for two of the last four overs, especially useful on the slow pitches in Chepauk and could even turn games around single-handedly.

Stokes has bowled just 29 balls in the death overs since the beginning of 2021 which means Super Kings will turn to Maheesh Theekshana, who has been doing the same job for Sri Lanka and for Jaffna Kings in their victorious Lanka Premier League campaign. This year, he has an impressive economy rate of 7.35 in the death overs, ahead of the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh, Sam Curran and others.

Why were spinners in such low demand at this auction?
Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Shreyas Gopal and Tabraiz Shamsi all went unsold, while some others like Adil Rashid, Adam Zampa, M Ashwin and Markande were all sold at their base price, which means they got only one bid each.

Some of the top spinners in the world had already been retained by the franchises ahead of the mini-auction so teams mainly needed back-ups to fill some spots this time. Picking overseas spinners who can’t bat would not make much sense for that because that occupies one overseas slot and even if that player can be subbed in or out with the new impact rule, it must be done within the four-overseas limit rule.

For the Indian names, there weren’t as many takers because most of the teams already had enough spin options in their ranks. Knight Riders added Shakib to support Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy, and Kings also brought an allrounder in Sikandar Raza to add to Rahul Chahar and Harpreet Brar. Royals have Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin. Capitals have Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav. Royal Challengers Bangalore have Wanindu Hasaranga, Shahbaz Ahmed and Karn Sharma in their ranks. Super Kings have Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali, Theekshana and Mitchell Santner. Lucknow Super Giant have Krunal Pandya, Ravi Bishnoi and K Gowtham, and Gujarat Titans have Rashid Khan, R Sai Kishore, Rahul Tewatia and Jayant Yadav.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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