Some of the biggest names in international cricket ply their wares for the eight franchises in the richest cricket league in the world – the IPL. But sometimes having so much talent to choose from becomes a headache for team managements while trying to find the right balance in the playing XI.
It’s true that the team composition will vary from venue to venue, given the nature of the pitch and conditions. But I believe that when you pick players at the auction, especially the overseas cricketers, its imperative to keep in mind their role in the team and whether the player will be a certainty in the XI.
Picking players at auction is quite like effective recruiting done by an HR department of a corporate firm. In simple terms, after identifying the department you want to recruit for – be it batting or bowling or all-rounders, you define the role and KRA’s and accordingly pick the player who fits the bill in a pre-determined budget.
Some teams tend to splurge on top overseas players who are expected to adapt quickly to varying conditions, and pick themselves in the XI without the blink of an eye. Players like David Warner, Rashid Khan, Keiron Pollard, AB de Villiers, Glen Maxwell, Faf Du Plessis, Sam Curran, Steve Smith, Jos Butler, are a few names that come to mind, whom teams will pen down as a certainty unless they are injured or there is a conscious effort to manage their workload.
Then comes the part of recruiting players who give you variety to tinker the line-up in different conditions – like having a utility spinner, left-arm pace bowler, a genuine tear away right-handed fast bowler, an explosive power hitter for batting-friendly conditions.
Each team tries to cover these bases and then looks at also signing back-ups for these roles and one franchise in particular has done this to perfection–Mumbai Indians.
For the opener’s slot they have the option of Quinton De Cock & Chris Lynn, in the all-rounders slot there is Keiron Pollard and James Neesham, for the left arm quick’s there are Trent Boult and Marco Jansen and the right arm quick’s include Adam Milne and Nathan Coulter Nile. They may not have had all results go their way, but that’s not been due to team composition.
CSK seem to have the variety in the squad – from the express Lungi Ngidi, to the deceptively ageless Imran Tahir. The all-rounder or utility players department is well stocked with Moeen Ali, Dwayne Bravo, Sam Curran and Mitchell Santner. Dhoni with his tactical acumen, has picked the right men for the job in each match so far.
RCB relies on Maxwell, ABD and Jamieson as the 3 key players and then its Dan Christian who fills the fourth slot. But they have missed the services of Adam Zampa who has now pulled out due to personal reasons. But the spectacular performance of Indian players has ensured that Kohli hasn’t had much to worry about so far.
It’s a similar story for DC thanks to Shikhar, Shaw & Pant. They do have Steve Smith, Rabada as certainties and rotation continues between Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis, Tom Curran and Chris Woakes. Such is the batting prowess of Indian players that Sam Billings isn’t even getting a look-in.
SRH seem to have got three pegs in the hole with Warner, Bairstow and Rashid Khan. Now with the availability of Williamson, the fourth slot also seems a certainty. Otherwise, it was a musical chair between Nabi, Holder and Mujeeb.
Punjab Kings have the firepower with Gayle, Pooran, but need to use them in the right batting position. Dawid Malan isn’t even getting a look-in thanks to a packed top order, which makes you wonder why they signed him at all. The same is the case with Chris Jordan, who isn’t finding a place in the XI due to Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson. Fabien Allen and Moises Henriques are trading all-rounders slot.
Strapped for options now after the departure of Stokes, Archer, Andrew Tye, and Livingstone, RR only have four overseas players left – Butler, Morris, Miller and Mustafizur. So it’s about play who you have rather than choosing what you want.
A big problem that arises is when as captain, the overseas player does not pull his weight with bat or ball – as is the case with Eoin Morgan this season. Which is why I am always a supporter of having an in-form Indian player as the captain of the side, as it gives the team management the flexibility to ask the overseas player to sit out if he’s not in form. KKR seem to be struggling to get their choice of overseas players right in the XI. There still isn’t clarity over whether to play Sunil Narine or Shakib Al Hassan. Pat Cummins is leader in pace department, that looks overstocked with Lockie Ferguson, bowling all-rounder Ben Cutting and a plethora of young Indian speedsters. Most importantly for KKR, Andre Russell hasn’t done anything spectacular so far in this season to justify his reputation as top all-rounder.
(The writer is a Cricket commentator & Sports Broadcaster who has worked on assignments for leading sports networks in India & Abroad.)