In Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 revolution, Freddie Wilde and Tim Wigmore observe, “in many ways the league [IPL] was not won or lost on the field of play but in the air-conditioned function rooms of glitzy hotels where the annual player auction would be held.”
Over the years, RCB’s main folly at the auction table has been falling victim to recency bias and shelling out a fortune on massive overseas names in the hopes that they, along with Kohli, can carry the rest of the team.
With the exception of their appearance in the IPL 2016 final, this tactic hasn’t worked for the glitzy franchise. Even then, they were undone by a Player-of-the-Match performance from Ben Cutting, who cost a mere 50 lakhs.
In recent times RCB has splurged 14 crores on Yuvraj Singh in 2014, 12 crores on Tymal Mills in 2017, and 7.4 crores on Chris Woakes in 2018.
Woakes leaked 10.36 runs in his only season for Bangalore, Tymal Mills a comparatively better 8.57, whereas Yuvraj averaged in the mid 30s with a strike rate in the mid 130s.
Yuvraj’s numbers aren’t too bad at all. In fact, that was his best IPL season ever. Yet, his hefty price tag combined with the sums paid to retain Kohli, de Villiers, and Gayle, meant that RCB could not afford to assemble a strong Indian core; the bedrock for CSK’s consistency throughout the history of the IPL.
By the end of IPL 2019, CSK had five Indians (Raina, Dhoni, Ashwin, Jadeja, and Badrinath) with over 100 caps and eight with more than 50. RCB, in contrast, had just one Indian (Kohli) with more than 100 caps and five with over 50.
Cause for Optimism?
With the appointments of Simon Katich as Head Coach and Mike Hesson as the Director of Cricket Operations, there is hope that RCB are looking to turn a corner and embrace Moneyball tactics. They’ve also roped in ex-Tamil Nadu off spinner, Manalon Rangarajan as the Head of Scouting. Rangarajan will be focusing on scouting local talent, while also partnering Hesson as they scout overseas.
When asked about RCB’s scouting auction strategy, Hesson said, “The key is finding payers not everyone knows about. We can think about names that have been bought for not much…but in three years, they are pretty good.”
With a mega auction planned ahead of the 2021 season, RCB—like many franchises—will be focused on identifying high-growth bargain buys that they can retain in the future for less than their market value.
Top Auction Priorities
We need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: RCB’s death bowling. They need an overseas quick that can close out an innings.
Unfortunately, with a mere 27.9 crores to spend on 6 local players and 6 overseas professionals, and a bidding war likely for the belle of the ball Pat Cummins, RCB may have to look at less obvious options. Chris Jordan or Worcestershire’s Pat Brown, both of whom are known for their death bowling, could be good role-specific budget buys.
In addition, Captain Kohli may look at moving down to number 3, where he is likely to bat for India at the T20 World Cup, which opens up a slot at the top of the order.
Rookie Devdutt Padikkal, who topped the run charts in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with 580 runs at 64.44 and a strike rate of 176, is a strong contender to bat in his favored opening position. However, with Parthiv Patel opening in the last few seasons for the franchise, they would be hesitant to have two left-handers at the top.
In an ideal world, and with a larger purse, Somerset swashbuckler Tom Banton—who can also keep wicket—would be the perfect upgrade on Parthiv Patel. However, with more established names like Jason Roy and Aaron Finch also in the auction pool, there is an argument that supply will outstrip demand.
There is every chance that Banton won’t attract as much interest as many have predicted. Even if he does, that could bring down the market rate for Roy and Finch. In any case, there is every chance that RCB could snap up a gun opener for less than 4 crores.
Backups and Indian Core
Even with the emergence of Shivam Dube and Washington Sundar’s batting going from strength to strength, RCB may bid for a hard-hitting overseas finisher as a backup. Any one of Jimmy Neesham, Fabian Allen, Lewis Gregory, Daryl Mitchell, and Rovman Powell—all with a base price of 50 Lakhs—could fit the bill.
Janneman Malan, who has impressed at the top for the Cape Town Blitz in the last two seasons of the Mzansi Super League, is another player whose stock is rising. At 50 lakhs (evidently a popular figure) he could be an absolute steal.
U-19 stars Yashasvi Jaiswal and Priyam Garg are likely to attract interest from multiple franchises. Despite being left-field picks, Chandigarh opener Arjun Azad or aggressive Hyderabad middle-order bat Tilak Varma could be worth an investment.
As far as Indian bowlers are concerned, Bengal seamer Ishan Porel has been talked about since his U19 days. Along with current India U19 pace spearhead Kartik Tyagi, he could provide insurance against the mercurial duo of Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Siraj.
The problem with scouting is that not every player you identify will turn into a superstar. After all, success in the lower rungs of the professional system—whether that’s domestic or age group cricket—does not guarantee success in the world’s toughest franchise T20 league.
However, with so many potential bargains on offer, RCB will be well served to think of players as stocks that can rise in value. Much like a stock portfolio, developing young Indian talent is often a volume game, and it can take a few seasons to notice any benefits.
RCB might be late to the Moneyball party, but if they finally embrace data-driven player recruitment, they could set the tone for the 2020 season and beyond.