The IPL draft, which had to be held since former champions Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have been suspended in connection with corruption-related charges, took place yesterday. The two new teams who have replaced CSK and KKR, Pune and Rajkot, got a chance to pick the players in the draft. And, while a couple of choices were quite clear, and rather predictable, the most interesting aspect of the auction was the contrasting approaches of the two franchises. This point will become clearer as we discuss the players chosen by the respective franchises in detail.
Pune first. They were lucky as they got the first chance to choose players, and least surprisingly, went for MS Dhoni. The Indian limited overs captain remains hot property in the T20 format. After all, he is the most successful leader in the league, and led Chennai with aplomb. Without doubt, Dhoni will go for a hefty price. And, while Pune would definitely be pleased with having him, not only as player, but also as the first choice for skipper, one wonders if they will be slightly worried with Dhoni's sinking fortunes. His batting has dipped steadily in recent times, and his leadership also has lost its midas touch. Dhoni won't have it easy even in the IPL.
The other players that Pune opted for also boast of impressive names. Ajinkya Rahane has been chosen. The Mumbai cricketer, who played for Rajasthan Royals with reasonable success, will most probably open the innings for Pune as well. It will help that he has been in excellent form. Aussie skipper Steven Smith and South African Faf du Plessis are the other two batsmen picked by Pune. Smith hasn't tasted a lot of success in this format, but given his talent, it seems only a matter of time. As for du Plessis, he may have had a horrid time in the Tests, but that would count for little in the IPL. Among the bowlers, Pune have picked R Ashwin, a no brainer really.
Now, looking at Rajkot, with Dhoni gone, it was obvious that they would hunt for the next big fish -- Suresh Raina. The left-hander is the most successful batsman in the tournament, and Rajkot would be elated with the pick. Of course, the fans would be in unfamiliar territory as Raina and Dhoni will now feature in separate teams. Apart from Raina, Rajkot have gone for homeboy Ravindra Jadeja. The left-arm spinner has excelled in Tests as well as the domestic scene recently. His confidence will be on an all-time high as when he steps on to the field for Rajkot. The team will have an advantage with him when playing at home.
If Pune have Dhoni, Rajkot have New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum. Like Dhoni, McCullum is also on the wrong side of 30s. But, he is in much better shape compared to the Indian competitor. James Faulkner and Dwayne Bravo complete the list for Rajkot. Both are high-quality cricketers, capable of turning games both with bat and the ball. They have excellent variations in their medium pace bowling, and are big-hitters of the cricket ball as well.
Conclusion: A closer look at the sides will reveal that while Pune have packed their side with hard-hitting batsmen, Rajkot have given preference to all-rounders.
-- By A Cricket Analyst