If you had to describe the 2017 Indian Premier League auctions like an innings, it would be a shorter, more crisp affair than other knocks, but packing in enough massive shots and history-making moments to be memorable nonetheless. You know, exactly like a Virender Sehwag innings. The man himself was a key part of the proceedings, sitting at the Kings XI Punjab table and taking the lead in his franchise’s strategy. Although Sehwag now sports the rather ponderous title of Head of Cricket Operations and Strategy, the maverick genius in the former India opener is alive and well as he showed in this email interview with Wisden India, where he discussed Punjab’s auction strategy, which pick pleased him in particular and whether the new role would cause any change to his Twitter persona. Excerpts:
What made you decide to take up this role with Kings XI Punjab, which sounds more hands-on than being only the team mentor, which you were last year?
Essentially I was doing the same role last year. But with the exit of Sanjay Bangar – and we haven’t hired a new head coach – so my responsibility has increased. I had always given my inputs last year, but now I’m solely responsible for everything. Earlier, I was not the sole person, that is the difference now. With Sanjay leaving, it was the natural next step to take.
You bought Matt Henry, Varun Aaron and T Natarajan in the auctions and also bid for Kagiso Rabada and Tymal Mills. There seemed to be a clear strategy of going for pacers …
We had a certain budget and we had certain gaps in our team. So we were just looking to fill those up. We had a very clear strategy on how to do that. What we wanted to do is create a robust team, so that we have enough combinations and back-up in case certain things don’t work out. We needed the flexibility of being able to have different combinations to see what works best.
We wanted a good combination of Indians and foreigners to have for different roles. For example, we wanted some middle-order back-up, fast bowlers. There wasn’t more focus on fast bowlers as such, it was just that we identified that as one of the gaps in the team and that’s why we wanted a few pacers.
We’re very happy with the team composition now, and we have enough back-up also in case any player becomes unavailable for whatever reason.
Sehwag on Natarajan: “He was one of the only domestic bowlers with very versatile bowling qualities. I know that lots of other people also wanted him, but we got lucky.”
I want to ask about the Natarajan bid in particular. You beat out bids from Pune first, then Kolkata and finally Hyderabad. And all through you were smiling… it was like watching you take on Muralitharan and Mendis in 2008 when you were one man against the odds …
I can only control my smile. I can’t control what the other franchises do. All I could do was smile and lift the bat (paddle), so that’s what I did until I won the bid.
Every franchise goes into the auction knowing that they won’t get 100% of what they had planned. How closely did the auction go as per plan for you? Any player you were particularly happy to get?
We knew that we wanted to get one fast bowler, which is why we also bid for Rabada and Mills. It’s true that nobody can get 100% of what they have anticipated considering the nature of the auction. Ego is what makes the difference (in the auction room). We were happy and satisfied with whom we got. Obviously you can’t get everyone you bid for, but I was very clear where I wanted to cap the bids. Agar ye nahin mil rahen hain, then let them go. If we can’t get them, we can’t get them, it’s fine. Ego is what makes it difficult (to let go of a player and end the bidding from your side), and that’s what I didn’t want to do. That’s when you have one player and bids just keep going on. But there was no ego involved for us, I was very clear on my caps, that this is what I want to do, this is what I don’t want to do – and leave it at that.
But overall, I’m very happy with the players we have got.
Who do you think was your smartest buy?
We wanted two Indian fast bowlers, and we got them: Varun and Natarajan. We have people who can bowl at 135, 140kph-plus. We were very keen on getting both of these players so we are very pleased.
It’s rare for Kings XI Punjab to go all out in the auctions. But this time, not only were you prepared to spend more money, you also ended up with a full-size squad of 27 players and nine overseas. Was it a conscious decision that ‘We will spend more and cover all options’?
We weren’t looking at filling up numbers at all. It was a result of what was needed for the squad, filling up those combinations that I spoke about. It was not a decision taken that ‘We’re going to spend more’, but it was a requirement for the team. It just happened to work out that we have a full-size squad.
I had to draw a balance between saving money for the franchise but also buying all those we wanted to buy. It’s not like I went all out and said, ‘Mujhe ye chahiye’. So I did take care of the budget too, while still getting those whom I wanted.
Which franchise do you think performed best at the auctions?
Obviously Kings XI Punjab.
Ben Stokes and Tymal Mills went for record prices (Rs 14.5 crore and 12 crore). Did it make you think ‘Wow’ for a moment, that if this sort of bidding was allowed in 2008, you could have fetched that sum or higher?
Coming back to Natarajan, what do you see in him that’s special? Many franchises wanted him and you were clearly willing to go quite high for him?
He was one of the only domestic bowlers with very versatile bowling qualities. I know that lots of other people also wanted him, but we got lucky.
Punjab have had some bad luck in the last two IPLs – any specific plans to turn things around?
We’re at the bottom of the league, at the eighth spot. Whatever happens will happen, I can’t control what happens on the field. We can’t do any worse from where we were. The only room for us is to go up, because we can’t go further down.
Finally – will we see you still be yourself on Twitter, even during the IPL given your new role? Or will you be adopting a more formal tone now?
I’m going to be myself on Twitter. Virender Sehwag will always be Virender Sehwag.