IPL Auction 2021: With bigger wallets, Rajasthan Royals and Punjab hope to make right changes

ipl-auction-2021:-with-bigger-wallets,-rajasthan-royals-and-punjab-hope-to-make-right-changes

Which two teams topped the table in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League?

For anyone who hopped aboard the IPL bandwagon after 2010, this is a sure shot banana-peel question from the history of this fascinating tournament.

The answer? Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab. And they were well clear of the field, mind you: second-placed Punjab were four points ahead of third-placed Chennai Super Kings, and table-toppers Rajasthan were two further points north.

Yet, 13 seasons into the IPL, the two teams, combined, have only two appearances in the final between them.

One of the two franchises will enter Thursday’s IPL 2021 Auction with a changed name. For a realistic crack at IPL 2021, both Rajasthan and Punjab will require a changed game. They arrive at the auction with the two heftiest purses to do the same.

Rajasthan Royals

In 2020, Rajasthan Royals ended eighth – their first bottom-placed finish in 11 IPL appearances. It didn’t, sadly, come entirely as a one-off.

That wooden spoon followed from a seventh-placed finish in 2019, with only net run rate keeping them from the bottom; this after having had only one bottom-two finish in their first nine seasons competing in the IPL.

For the second straight year, the Royals will enter an IPL campaign with a new man at the helm – Ajinkya Rahane’s somewhat-surprising release in a transfer to Delhi Capitals ahead of IPL 2020 saw Steven Smith take charge of the Royals; after a lacklustre season, as player and captain, Smith finds himself out of the setup, with the reign now handed over to Sanju Samson.

That call might yet free up Rajasthan to renew themselves, in more ways than one.

Players retained: Sanju Samson, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, David Miller, Andrew Tye, Jaydev Unadkat, Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Kartik Tyagi, Mahipal Lomror, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Mayank Markande, Manan Vohra, Anuj Rawat

Players released: Steven Smith, Tom Curran, Varun Aaron, Oshane Thomas, Akash Singh, Aniruddha Joshi, Ankit Rajpoot, Shashank Singh

Transfers: IN – None; OUT – Robin Uthappa to Chennai Super Kings (all-cash deal, INR 3 crore)

How they shape up: INR 37.85 crore, maximum nine spots to fill (three overseas)

Smith ended IPL 2020 with a strike rate just above 130, and a return of 22 runs per innings. Exclude his season-opening burst, when everything looked so rosy for the Royals in their first two outings at Sharjah, and the Australian’s average innings was 16 runs off 14 balls.

Tom Curran offered hitting ability from the lower-middle order but couldn’t rise to expectations in his primary suit, taking only three wickets in his five outings while leaking 11.44 runs per over. Only three bowlers to bowl more than 15 overs in IPL 2020 proved more expensive – two of those three were Ankit Rajpoot and Varun Aaron, fellow fast-bowling rejects from the Rajasthan setup.

West Indian Oshane Thomas and U-19 World Cup star Akash Singh, too, find themselves without an IPL team, with the Royals belatedly realising they might have stocked too much in the pace department – Rajasthan had nine out-and-out fast bowlers, outside of Ben Stokes, in their 2020 squad.

David Miller was arguably the most surprising retention, having been given just one game in the UAE (which ended in a run-out without facing a ball); since the start of 2020, Miller has returned 20 runs per innings in his 18 T20 outings, with a strike rate under 140 – well below expectation for his role as a finisher.

One factor to bear in mind while looking at Rajasthan’s potential additions is that while they have three overseas slots to fill, there is only realistically one overseas spot in the XI, with Stokes, Buttler and Archer guaranteed starters. It could dictate the direction the Royals take at the auction.

Holes to plug

Death bowling/quality support to Archer

Archer was the MVP of IPL 2020, the first time in the history of the competition that the player of the tournament came from the side finishing bottom of the league.

While Archer powered his way to 20 wickets at an average of 18.25, while conceding only 6.55 per over and taking a wicket every 17 balls, the rest of the RR pacers – seven of whom were used through the season – returned 21 wickets at 61.90, going at 10.54 per over and needing 35 balls per wicket.

That simply doesn’t cut it.

The Royals will take comfort from Andrew Tye’s much-needed return to form in the recent Big Bash League, where the Aussie took 21 wickets with an economy under eight.

The best utility of their three remaining overseas slots, arguably, lies here.

Middle-order firepower

Most of the Royals’ batting guns were best suited to a role at the top of the order, a problem of plenty further compounded when Stokes started firing after his promotion. While that was a welcome value-add, it meant that Buttler – arguably among the finest options as a T20 opener – had to be used lower down the order. Try as they might, Rajasthan just couldn’t make the best use of their resources.

To that effect, the release of Smith and Uthappa – two senior pros, neither of whom could ideally be slotted any lower than number three – frees up RR’s batting might.

But while Rahul Tewatia came up with a few dream efforts, and Riyan Parag had one game-changing display, the Royals are going to need more meat beyond their top-four.

In an ideal scenario, that may have come via Miller. But given his lack of runs off late, they could be well served looking elsewhere.

No off-spin options

Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Riyan Parag, Mayank Markande, Mahipal Lomror: four of the five spin-bowling options in the Rajasthan setup are leggies, with the fifth (Lomror) a slow left-armer.

Essentially, all spinners in the squad turn the ball the same way. So throw up an opponent laced with left-handers, and it smells trouble for the Royals.

They find themselves in a similar predicament as the Chennai Super Kings in this regard. Don’t be surprised if the two finalists from IPL 2008 lock horns for some of the marquee buys in the first half of the auction.

Buys to target: Chris Morris, Glenn Maxwell/Moeen Ali, Jalaj Saxena, Jhye Richardson, Sachin Baby

Punjab Kings/Kings XI Punjab

Steve Smith's Rajasthan Royals face an in-form Kings XI Punjab who have won their last five matches. Image: Sportzpics for BCCI

For the last three editions of the IPL, Punjab have come within one win of qualifying for the playoffs – improvement enough, in a sense, for a team that has only one top-four finish post 2008.

The 2020 campaign, however, was the inverse of what happened in the two seasons preceding it; having tailed off from impressive starts in 2018 and 2019, Punjab, this time, made a near-impossible comeback after losing six of their first seven games.

In either of the scenarios, you see a team struggling for consistency. In the UAE, Punjab took far too long to settle on a combination that worked for them, lost one-too-many tight games they had no business losing, and were plagued by the lack of impactful performances from their most consistent resource.

It is commonplace for the Kings to go into every auction with an overhaul in sight. If they have fixed targets in mind, they might never have a likelier chance to obtain them – Punjab enter the 2021 auction with a purse 37 percent greater than that of their closest competitors, Rajasthan.

Players retained: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Mohammed Shami, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Chris Jordan, Mandeep Singh, Prabhsimran Singh, Deepak Hooda, Sarfaraz Khan, Ravi Bishnoi, Murugan Ashwin, Harpreet Brar, Arshdeep Singh, Ishan Porel, Darshan Nalkande

Players released: Glenn Maxwell, Sheldon Cottrell, Mujeeb ur Rahman, James Neesham, Hardus Viljoen, Krishnappa Gowtham, J Suchith, Karun Nair, Tajinder Singh

Transfers: None

How they shape up: INR 53.2 crore, maximum nine spots to fill (five overseas)

In releasing their two biggest buys of the last auction, Punjab opened up a large reservoir of funds for themselves. Glenn Maxwell and Sheldon Cottrell, alone, account for more than a third of the 53-crore kitty Punjab enter this auction with.

They also highlight the plight Punjab have faced in terms of big-ticket resources not turning up.

Maxwell’s no-show was well documented – 108 runs from 106 balls across 11 innings, without a single six – and with James Neesham also flattering to deceive, the Kings had little to follow up the runs from the top-order, which didn’t dry up through the season.

The parched returns of their bowling big-guns, however, cost Punjab equally in the UAE. Cottrell, in his defense, was arguably a case of incorrect utilisation – the West Indian had never been known for his death bowling, and that was where opposition batsmen (one Tewatia, most notably) targetted the left-arm seamer.

Mujeeb and Gowtham’s severe lack of form threatened to leave Punjab bone-dry in the spin department too; 16 overs between the two senior-most spinners in the squad brought just one wicket, for the cost of 167 runs.

It says something that Punjab’s late-season surge was fuelled by the likes of Ravi Bishnoi and Arshdeep Singh – players who, between them, had three IPL appearances prior to 2020.

Holes to plug

Batting beyond the top-order

In Rahul, Agarwal, Gayle and Pooran, Punjab have a top-four that most teams would envy – especially if the skipper rekindles his broken affair with strike rates.

But what after that? Mandeep Singh, Deepak Hooda and Sarfaraz Khan all come with their potential, but are either batting out of position (in Mandeep’s case) or not given enough of a run.

This is where the disappearance of Maxwell hurt Punjab the most. It’s a no-brainer that they will invest big for reliable options at numbers five/six/seven.

Aside from adding much-needed depth, it might also aid the rediscovery of the Rahul of old.

At least one quality pacer

Like Cottrell, Mohammed Shami is also best suited to doing the bulk of his bowling in the Powerplay; the seasoned Indian pacer has a death overs economy of 10.78 in T20s, which shot further up to 11.74 during IPL 2020.

Jordan and Arshdeep tackled some of the death troubles in the second-half of the season, but with Ishan Porel and Darshan Nalkande – the only other seamers in the squad – short on IPL experience, Punjab could benefit with quality additions to the pace department.

Experienced spinner, preferably finger-spin variety

Impressive as Bishnoi and Ashwin were in the UAE, will they be able to sustain their performances? It would be a gamble to assume so, and even if they do, Punjab’s roster features no finger-spinner apart from Harpreet Brar – who has only three appearances in two seasons so far.

There are at least a couple of finger-spin options in the marquee players’ list alone, both of whom come with the added impetus of middle-order batting ability. Given that Punjab also happen to have the most overseas resources available to buy, it would appear to be a likely fit.

Buys to target: Shakib al Hasan, Moeen Ali, Chris Morris, David Willey, Jalaj Saxena

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