Monday, January 18, 2010

Looking ahead to the great Mumbai sale

The buzz is building again, with as many as 66 players ready to go under the hammer in the auction for the third edition of the IPL on Tuesday.

The stakes will be high, as high as they have ever been. Twenty20 cricket has changed its complexion since the lucrative Indian Premier League was first played two years back.

The ICC World Twenty20 has gripped the imagination of cricket followers across the globe, while the emergence of the Airtel Champions League Twenty20 also highlighted the immense charisma the latest format of the game has. It is here to stay.

Teams are slowly but surely learning the art of how to win T20 games, and innovations have become the buzz word for captains and coaches alike.

The IPL team owners, most of them top notch business captains and super stars in the film industry, are, for their part, coming to terms with the needs of their squads.

Glamour and fashion have been incidental to the high quality of cricket played over the last two years in the IPL and not the other way round - players sought after more for their skills than their fan following.

One franchise that has learnt their lessons the hard way has to the Kolkata Knight Riders. The team was, in theory, a dream come true for the faithful cricket buffs in the eastern Indian city.

A Bollywood superstar combined with India’s most successful captain to produce a lean, mean, fighting machine that would not relent until they won. Shah Rukh Khan’s charm and Sourav Ganguly’s doggedness have, however, not paid dividends yet. So far, the side have looked ordinary with every game they have played.

The time for change is now. With a completely new coaching staff (that includes former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram and star coach Dav Whatmore), KKR have a lot to look for in Tuesday’s auctions.

Their batting woes have been compounded by the lack of a stable middle order batsman. Ricky Ponting did precious little in the first year before opting out in the next. Chris Gayle has been good at best. The mantle fell on Victorian ace Brad Hodge, whose blade was wider than most in Cricket Australia ever thought.

With the likes of Kieron Pollard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Darren Ganga and Umar Akmal up for grabs, KKR have a lot to choose from. With a purse of 750,000 USD attached to each team. SRK’s Riders will be banking on sealing a deal with Pollard and at least a stable all-rounder in Bangladesh skipper Shakib-al-Hasan.

Considering the furious 20 minutes of bidding over Moshrafe Mortaza last year, Shakib would not be a surprise choice in the Kolkata camp.
The most keenly watched biddings will be of the Australians. Phillip Hughes has been on fire for the New South Wales Blues and was a treat to watch in the Airtel CL T20 in India last year.

Luke Pomersbach, who had a successful stint with the Kings’ XI Punjab in 2008, is back under the hammer, while Brad Haddin, Doug Bolliner and Clint McKay are also among some prominent stars from Down Under.

With the Shiv Sena’s threat to Australian cricketers, Mumbai Indians might just feel a little crippled when they need to think of bagging a Baggy Green. Irrespective of how far Mumbai go in this edition, they will need to play seven matches at home and that might be a cause of concern for Mukesh Ambani’s team.

What they will be looking for, though, is a quality seamer to partner Zaheer Khan with the new ball. Kemar Roach of the West Indies, Umar Gul of Pakistan and Shane Bond of New Zealand will go like hot cakes once the hammer comes down at the Trident. Mumbai Indians should settle for either Bond or Roach given their ability to keep it fast and furious.

The King’s XI Punjab might have to take some tricky calls. Simon Katich, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Yuvraj Singh make a dream batting line-up but that was not enough to avoid a nightmare in South Africa last year.

Punjab, much like Mumbai, would want to bolster their pace attack if you look at Sreesanth and Brett Lee’s poor fitness records. Again, for the northern giants, Gul might not be a bad idea with a good back up stacked up in Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla.

The Chennai Super Kings will be ruing Andrew Flintoff’s continued absence from the IPL after he pulled out with an injury last year. With reports of the dashing England all-rounder sure to miss the 2010 razzmatazz trickling in, skipper MS Dhoni will have already pressed his bosses for a solid replacement.

Lendl Simmons of the West Indies should be high on Chennai’s radar and so should Pakistan T20 all-rounder Shahid Afridi, who missed out on all the punch in 2009.

The Deccan Chargers might not want to make too many changes to their winning outfit but would not mind shelling out a few extra dollars for a fine bowling all-rounder that Abdul Razzaq is.

Kamran Akmal will be desperate to make it back to his old franchise, the Rajasthan Royals and get back to keeping wickets for skipper Shane Warne ,and repeat the aura of the 2008, when the rank underdogs stunned the nation by winning the championship.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore turned it around in South Africa under an inspirational Anil Kumble and team owner Vijay Mallya will leave no stone unturned to find a formidable all-rounder just in case Jacques Kallis runs into poor form in India after a fine show at home.

The Delhi Daredevils have little to worry about. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Tillekaratne Dilshan and David Warner make a formidable batting line-up while New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori will be relishing the prospect of bowling in India again.

Team owners and directors have been obviously non-committal about their strategies and moves going into the auctions.

However, there is reason to believe that the Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals will be more pumped up than any other team to bring in some firepower.

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