In the blue corner, wearing the colours being brought back by Rajasthan Royals, stand Ajinkya Rahane, Ankit Sharma, Dhawal Kulkarni, Rajat Bhatia and Steven Smith. In the yellow corner, the blazing yellow that will come back to life via Chennai Super Kings, stand Andrew Tye, Ankush Bains, B Aparajith, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Faf du Plessis, Irfan Pathan, Ishwar Pandey, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina.
Personally, I would have preferred a draft system for the two returning franchises, conducted from among the available players who were part of Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiant – but you can sort of see the logic behind making players who were part of the Chennai or Rajasthan previously only being eligible for retention. Both franchises had spent eight years building up distinct brands, with powerful associations between players and franchise. Where the plan has gone awry, is in how each of the team’s players were distributed in the 2016 auction.
Chennai had built a team of superstars, aided by some great foresight and scouting in auctions and rules that aided teams with deeper pockets such as silent tie-breaks in mini-auctions and retentions with no clear-cut purse deductions. One of the lesser commented-on regulations for this auction, but one which has made the process much fairer, is the codicil added that: “The deduction from salary purse in case of retention will be determined on the basis of guideline price or actual price (whichever is higher).” Effectively, if you spend upwards of Rs 20 crore to hold back a Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, that’s how much you lose from your auction purse. You lose Rs 15 crore (or Rs 12.5 crore if only three players are retained) only if you pay the player less than that amount.
Rajasthan, on the other hand, followed almost the opposite model in terms of actively looking for players who might not have been big names but who could potentially have big games. The result of these differing strategies was markedly different teams. Which meant that when they were both disbanded, the way each franchise’s players were going to be distributed would always be unequal. Having most of the superstars, it was natural that most of Chennai’s players would go to the two new franchises, who not only got plenty of them in the pre-auction draft, but also had budget left over to make bids for other players. Rajasthan’s players, less high-profile in comparison, were always more likely to be spread across various teams. That the Rajasthan think-tank shifted to Delhi Daredevils meant a fair few ended up there. So when the time comes to pick from ‘past players’, Chennai have a surfeit to choose from and Rajasthan can realistically go for only Smith and Rahane. Of course if some of Rajasthan’s players are released before the auction, they could add to their roster of retentions, but Delhi – for example – have little incentive to let someone like Chris Morris go back in the auction.
Which combination of players the franchises might want to retain, keeping the restrictions in mind, will be interesting. To my mind, these could be the possible candidates for each franchise:
Delhi Daredevils: Given that a maximum of only two overseas players can be retained, the most likely for Delhi should be Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris. Among the Indians, the front-runners should be Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer. Which still leaves room for one more retention, and that could be Karun Nair or Sanju Samson.
Kings XI Punjab: Normally, if you have Glenn Maxwell in a team, it should be a given that you retain him. But circumstances between Maxwell and Punjab are probably not normal. At the end of last season, Maxwell came under fairly scathing criticism from Virender Sehwag. At the start of the season, the Maxwell-Sehwag match seemed to be one made in heaven. At the end, no one was quite sure where it was. At the end of the day, though, it’s the player who will win you matches, so Punjab might want to hang on to Maxwell at least. Among Indians, their most likely candidates should be Axar Patel and Wriddhiman Saha.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir may be in the evening of his career, but now the Gambhir-Kolkata association is almost as entrenched in minds as Kohli-Bangalore, Rohit-Mumbai or Dhoni-Chennai. So Gambhir is most likely to be retained. Picking two other Indian players will be tough, though, when there is Manish Pandey, Umesh Yadav, Robin Uthappa or even Kuldeep Yadav to choose from. If Sunil Narine’s action is without trouble and Chris Lynn’s shoulder fine, then those two might well be the topmost overseas candidates to retain.
Mumbai Indians: Retentions wise, Mumbai undoubtedly have the toughest choices to make. Weighing everything, the three Indians they might most want to hold back would be Rohit, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya. Since only capped players are part of this quota, Mumbai could conceivably hold on to Krunal Pandya too, along with someone like Nitish Rana, and spend the big bucks on overseas talent in the auction. Ben Stokes should be available by then.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: This is straightforward. Three Indians would mean Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal should make it. Kedar Jadhav is a dark horse, but you would expect him to miss out against Rahul or Chahal. AB de Villiers will seal one overseas spot, and Bangalore can decide whether the connect Chris Gayle has built with the fans and the city is worth it to retain him or not.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Again, three of the picks are straightforward: Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The Rashid Khan punt in 2017 was spectacular, so he’s certainly a candidate for retention, not to speak of Kane Williamson, and if fully fit, Mustafizur Rahman. Among the Indians, there is the young spark provided by Deepak Hooda, who might not remain an uncapped player for too long.
That leaves the duo of Chennai and Rajasthan. Chennai will have a much easier time of it, in the sense they’ll have to decide whom to exclude.
Chennai Super Kings: They can’t pick all four of Dhoni, Raina, Jadeja and Ashwin, and the third spot is likely to come down to one of the spin twins. The front-runners for the overseas spots should be Dwayne Bravo and Faf du Plessis, though who can discount the chances of Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith?
Rajasthan Royals: If, as it appears likely, Delhi can’t hang on to both Samson and Nair, Rajasthan could possibly get at least one of those two back, in addition to Rahane and Smith. For the rest, they might find themselves in the unfamiliar position of plenty of budget to spend at the auction and a core that’s not in place.