Thoughts on the Auction

Feb 20, 2017

After the Auction..

It had all the makings of a classic business school case. Auction and Game theory. We could even call out parallels from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” the way it played out initially.

Teams waited for someone to make a move on the first pool of batsmen only. It was only when Diana Eduljee picked out the allrounders that the franchises seemed to warm up to the occasion. It was fascinating watching the exchange when Ben Stokes’ name came up for bidding. Mumbai didn’t care about disguising their intent – they kept their card high whoever the rival bidder was. It was only after the bid reached beyond ₹ 12 lakh that they withdrew. Pune seemed to have come up from behind – I didn’t expect them to go so far.  For a passage where no balls were bowled and no shots were hit – it was tense and exciting. At least now it means that Brathwaite and Stokes might face off again in a T20 match – isn’t that a delicious prospect.

I see lots of analyses in different websites. Stokes’ above is the one that seems to come up most often but it was also the day of uncapped Indian players.

One of the reasons I was keen on watching the Mushtaq Ali zonal T20 tournament was to build a sense of familiarity with the names that showed up at the auction.  Most names that came up in the auction were not surprising mainly because the amount of time scouts have spent digging up records and dissecting performances in various tournaments. Ishank Jaggi was a surprising name to be omitted earlier and it was great to see him reinstated in the auction first and later picked up by his Eastern Zone franchise.

I alluded to the IPL being the stage for unknown performers to step up and demand their time in the spotlight. Looks like we have too many contenders from the “unknown” side of the house. Would be watching them keenly. If I were to bet I think Ishan Kishen, the Sri Lankan Gunaratne, Nathu Singh and Natrarajan might be the ones who put their hand up.

There was also a lot of analysis on the players who went unsold. It’s not great for the players who were left out but it looks like franchises were very clear and focused on their goals. I was a bit surprised to see Ishaant coming in at a base price of ₹2 crore.

There were quiet comebacks also seen yesterday. Only yesterday I alluded to Manpreet Gony as being one of the guys who had a fleeting moment in  the IPL sun only to fade away quickly.  Apparently the scouts at Gujarat Lions think he still has the fire burning. Hopefully they are right. No better sight in sport than a resurgence and redemption.

I think the auction provided just enough of a teaser to whet my appetite for the real action. But before that there is the other clash of the summer – India vs Australia.

10 years on ….

02/19/2017

I can feel a buzz in my head – and I haven’t had a drink in three years. It’s literally minutes before the auction for the IPL and I guess it takes a special kind of a nut to be excited by an auction – something that some derogatorily call a place where cricketers are treated like cattle.

I still remember the first edition vividly. I was laid low by a spinal injury that limited my movement. I had one of those cervical collars that make your neck stand out.  A sure fire way to catch attention but you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. I remember I would sleep in a sitting position for 2 weeks – it was just too painful to lie down.  The makeshift office at my home was to be my world for those few painful days. Luckily there was cricket.

But wait – this seemed a different kind of cricket. Cheerleaders, Bollywood stars, celebrity team owners and “Maximums” – was I dreaming? Delusional with all the pain killers? It was like when multiple dreams come together and you wake up trying to figure out what it all meant.

Propped up on my chair with feet on the table wasn’t the best way to watch but the alternative was too painful.  In that situation even the endless strategic timeouts did not seem jarring. I timed those with timing of the painkillers.  Kids, don’t try this at home. Leave it to the experts. But take it from me that painkillers and T20 make a heady combination.

I was wondering how this would all turn out. But out came McCullum and after that all was right with the T20 world. This was a mix that couldn’t and wouldn’t go wrong. And we were off on a whirlwind ride.

I always thought that a typical baseball season in the US was interminable with 167 matches in the league stages. IPL schedules seemed intent on giving the MLB a run for their money with about half of the matches in a third of the time. The fact that it still remained a viable product proves that this was an idea whose time had come.

With the nature of blink and miss T20 games its hard to think of many matches as being truly memorable. There are still moments and vignettes. Hitherto unknown players coming to the fore and becoming headline news has become a healthy habit with this tournament. Swapnil Asnodkar, Paul Valthaty, Manpreet Gony to name just a few – were players who had their five minutes of fame at the IPL stage. It was great while it lasted but unfortunately it could be measured in a T20 minute.  But these guys dared to be brave on the biggest stage and for that they deserve our adulation. Great going boys – nobody would be happier if you could prove there is some spark left in the seemingly dying embers.

In the past few months there have been quite a few words written about big data and how that could be used in T20 format. A Moneyball type analysis with terabytes of data available on performances in T20 leagues the world over. That might be an interesting exercise to see if one could predict what the franchise owners think based on number crunching possible ahead of the auction.  Would definitely be an interesting thought experiment to come up with hypothesis and watch those either being validated or blown to bits.

Past 10 years have made household names of some of the participating players. They also have seen teams go from household names to oblivion. Allegations of corruption have surfaced, teams have been forced out of the league, new teams have come in. What has not changed is the excitement around it and almost undivided attention it commands across the cricketing world. . IPL for all of its flaws has not lost its relevance and that it saying a lot – since the flaws have been significant.

Cricket has been a part of my life – all important events have a cricketing memory to go along with it. While it’s true IPL will always bring back memories of physical pain I had endured it’s also true that I keep coming back to it every year for the sheer pleasure of performances and personalities.

While I wait

One more test. One more series. Maybe not the most glamorous but wasn’t quite the cakewalk some had anticipated.

Followed the game live off and on while India was batting. Was hoping for a Pujara ton but got three others one of which was a double to boot. I want to describe Kohli’s batting and one of these days I might be able to find some words to do just that. At this point though it leaves me speechless.

I did not want to write Bangladesh off just because of the enormity of the task in front of them. I was watching their series with New Zealand on the watchESPN app. My hopes were raised after the first innings of the first test when Shakib finally seemed to have come of age as a test batsman. Reality hit in the second innings and continued through the second test. I do think there is some merit to the things said in Bangladesh defense – they don’t play too many tests, they are still improving, they occupied the crease for a long time etc. I did not realize they had played 98 tests already.  The entire nation must be hoping they come of age as a team – I hope so too.

And so we wait. The hottest series of the summer – with the men from Down Under visiting.

The filler games during the wait were uninspiring to say the least. The South Africa Sri Lanka series was one of the more one-sided affairs in recent memory. The silver lining for me was the emergence of some good bowlers on SL side – Kumara seemed to be a good prospect. But the sight of a hobbling Angelo Matthews and an underperforming Chandimal must have lent a sense of déjà vu to the fans. How long must they wait to see these stars add consistency and resilience to their resume?

An upcoming series between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka would inspire interests only from the most die-hard of neutral observers given the past few performances. I think I will be among those sadistic die-hards. Just because it’s a game of cricket – and the guys playing it will still be doing a better job than I can ever hope for.

Eat my words? Not quite yet …

Feb 1, 2017

Were 4 shots enough to make me eat my words? I would say not just yet.

Another good game for the Indians. One I couldn’t watch live due to a pesky little matter of going to work to earn a living. Watched the highlights and on a flat Bangalore pitch the Indian batsmen who struggled in the earlier matches came into their own.

It was not surprising that Pant got a look in. And I wasn’t surprised that Pandey was the one who had to make way. There is something about selecting seniors in the team – they seem to enjoy the patience of the team selectors a bit longer. So Yuvraj stayed and in a 6,6,4,6 routine made me question if he was back to his T20 best after all. The slower ball that deceived him so completely may have done the same to better batsmen but it still was not a pretty sight.

Raina coming back to form was much more pleasing to the eye. In the highlights package there seemed to be no discomfort against pace although its hard to imagine him not getting into a tangle with the short ball at least once during an innings. Dhoni and Raina were together and it seemed all was right with the world.

Joe Root plays so effortlessly that sometimes you are afraid he may go the David Gower route rather than the Graham Gooch way. Elegant but not always effective enough for the team cause over a long periods. I hope I am wrong since he carries the hopes of the whole of England. His dismissal along with Morgan’s started the nine-pin fall that I haven’t seem for a while. Weakness against leg spin – check, panic in a chase – check. Seemed all too easy at the end which is a pity since this England team has the promise to go a long way.

So at the end England go back empty handed.

As for me things seem to have come full circle since that first post in 2011 when I resolved to stay away from the game. I am back baby!!! Does not look like cricket will be far awy from my thoughts again for the rest of my life. Might as well accept it.

Not quite the heist

01/30/2017

Followed the match until the most dramatic session. This was just like every other instance where you as fans give up and the game pulls a fast one on you. The Kaif and Yuvraj heist comes to mind. I gave up when the 5th wicket fell and left the live telecast only to desperately scour for the highlights later in the day.

NZ innings was reasonably decent. Guptill provided evidence of one of the reasons he wasn’t chosen at the IPL last year. He tends to give it away after getting set – and while better batsmen have been guilty of it most of them have better scores and averages to boast of. This was attractive while it lasted. So were the brief flurries by Neesham and Broom towards the end. The Aussie bowling was what I was most interested in – with a same attack coming to India in a few days. Starc and Hazelwood were threatening although not for sustained periods. Pat Cummins might be the surprise package. The pitch had bounce and seemed like he was trying too hard to make it work to his advantage. Stoinis seemed like an honest trier – one that would once in a while get you wickets in bunches. Better than Mitch Marsh at sustaining pressure but not one to cause sleepless nights to Indian batsmen.

What was surprising was the Australian top order – it was undone by decent and not great bowling it seemed. The shot that Shaun Marsh tried left Ian Smith and others in the commentary box at a loss for words. I liked the look of their new bowler Ferguson. Hopefully he can remain injury free with the action he has – it seemed a bit like Pat Cummins’ and we know the struggles he has been having.

At six down for sixty odd I thought the Aussie goose was cooked.  That’s when cricket as a game offered a punch in the face for all the doubting fans. Granted the last four could hang around but to take it to within six runs of the total – no words to describe it. Marcus Stoinis, take a bow.

Dove for the highlights as before – but while I could catch the breathtaking shots I am still ruing the fact that I could not keep awake for a little while longer. What a game and what spirit the Aussies displayed. Trans Tasman rivalry is not something to be dismissed lightly – whatever the format there will always be moments for the cricket fan to cherish.

Nostalgia? Not Good

1/29/17

4 off 12 deliveries. That was vision of my worst fears coming true. It seems like players world over have evolved their games to the demands of rapidly changing T20 games but Yuvraj’s game in this format is stuck in a time warp. It was amusing to listen to commentators with their nostalgia tinted views talk about how it would be better if he came in later when pacers would be operating.  I wonder if the IPL franchises were paying attention or if they would still splurge millions for Yuvraj at the auction only to release him after one season.

It was funny also to hear Siva go after Pandey for not going after the bowling more. This for an innings that almost run a ball and also the second highest.  The gripe was that Dhoni didn’t come out early enough. It fell on Nick Knight to remark dryly that instead of getting hung up on the positions everyone needs to look to score in T20s.

This was one game I was able to watch almost in its entirety.  Evolving their craft seems to be something the Indian commentators haven’t done either. There are one or two good insights from them but it only takes a few sentences from Nasser Hussain to highlight the vast gulf that exists in the standards.  Enough has been said about the individual styles and idiosyncrasies of the Shastris, Gavaskars and Sivaramakrishnans. The fact that I have started finding Manjrekar more than tolerable speaks volumes about this lack of evolution.

Nehra did prove me completely wrong though. Wasn’t sure he still had it in him to come up with the variations needed with batsmen becoming more aware of their game. Credit to him and Bumrah. The latter was fantastic with the slower ones. The pitch did help but he utilized it well.

Another thought related to the IPL auctions came to mind. The franchises seem spoilt for choices this time with almost the entire England team looking to be worthy contenders. Buttler, Billings and Morgan aside, looks like the franchises will definitely be eyeing Jason Roy, Joe Root, Chris Jordan, Ben Stokes,  and Moeen Ali. With a few good players from the Australian BBL also impressing it sets up a mouth watering prospect for IPL.  That is if we can get out of the T20 fatigue post World cup.

Another good game coming up this afternoon – NZ Aus ODI. Would dearly like to follow it live. Lets see if I can.

All izz well?

01/28/2017

Writing after two ODIs and one T20. All against the same opposition but different narratives on each.  I figured I didn’t need to add my own voice to the whole world crying itself hoarse over the night when nostalgia reigned. When Yuvraj and Dhoni seemingly turned back the clock to score centuries. I watched the highlights and there was an unsettling feeling to the whole thing.  Mainly the fear that emotion and nostalgia would color the reporting on this and that seems to be the case.

I think it was a very well paced and measured innings from the two stalwarts and it would bode well for the team in the upcoming Champions Trophy. I still could not escape the feeling that while Yuvraj may be valuable in ODIs in T20s his value might be overstated. As has happened in the World T20s and in many of the IPL innings – he tends to a while to get going and in case he doesn’t stay long enough the number of balls he consumes getting started come back to haunt the team.  It seems churlish to say that about a man who just got his highest ever ODI score and joined the ranks of a select few to have made a score of 150 in ODIs but I am just trying to be wary of one size fits all approach.

Not that the selectors left a lot of choice by selecting a squad for T20s that has a ‘Dad’s army party’ feel to it. I just hope folks like Manish Pandey don’t get demoralized.

I would be watching for the fielding in the next T20 to see if the other fear I have with this selection comes to play. Something like the scene from Dhoni’s biopic where he thinks the seniors are conceding lots of runs on the field relieving pressure from the batting side.