The 2018 IPL begins next weekend,with the Mumbai Indians the defending champions
Each IPL team spent 80 Crore on players (about £8.7m) across a weekend of draft bidding. It often wasn’t clear whether teams had an auction strategy. Kings XI Punjab bid on every single one of the first 16 names called.
Even now, there is no clear favourite among the eight IPL teams. The beauty of such a chaotic auction process and the hard salary cap is that it makes it extremely difficult for one team to stand out from the crowd.
Perhaps it is easier to identify teams who had a relatively poor weekend. The Chennai Super Kings have acquired a squad of fading stars and unproven hopefuls. They bid for old hands like Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson and Harbhahjan Singh. The average age of players they acquired on the first day of the auction was 33.5. Chennai are gambling that these players still have plenty of juice left in the tank
Another aging commodity, Chris Gayle, was the second last player to be sold, finally finding a home at the third time of asking. With him, Kings XI Punjab look to have a formidable batting line-up, but they failed to acquire a strong bowling unit. Andrew Tye and Ben Dwarshuis have impressed recently in the Australian Big Bash but they don’t compare to overseas options on other teams. Ravichandran Aswin has produced match-winning performances for Chennai in the past but Punjab have little domestic talent beyond that. Every year teams realise that the bowlers are key to winning the title and every year some teams fail to react.
The Kolkata Knight Riders have an impressive first XI. Chris Lynn will open the batting supported by experienced IPL batsmen, Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik. They have one of the best all-rounders in the world in Andre Russell. They have Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Mitchell Starc leading the bowlers. But with one or two injuries, and only 19 players in the squad, Kolkata’s season could unravel quickly
Sunrisers Hyderabad snatched arguably the greatest bargain of the weekend when they retained Rashid Khan for 9 Crore using their RTM card (this allows teams to skip the bidding process and simply match the price of winning bid). Despite the relatively high price tag, Rashid Khan offers huge value above and beyond as the premier T20 bowler in the world
Krunal Pandya was also acquired for 9 Crore by the Mumbai Indians using their RTM card. He offers both excellent slow left-arm bowling and is one of the best finisher batsmen in the IPL. But Mumbai’s best deal was grabbing Evin Lewis for 3.8 Crore. He is arguably the most valuable batsman in the auction and the heir apparent to Chris Gayle.
Finally, Royal Challengers Bangalore found Quinton de Kock available at just 2.8 Crore. De Kock is a brilliant opening batsman and perhaps the best wicketkeeper in the world. He gives RCB a great deal of flexibility by filling multiple roles simultaneously. Bangalore have one of the deepest squads in the league and acquiring such a cheap keeping option certainly helped to achieve that depth.
Ben Stokes was the most expensive purchase (12.5 Crore) at the Rajasthan Royals. On the bowling side, they also took the second most expensive player in Indian pace bowler, Jaydev Unadkat (11.5 Crore). With little money left after their big buys they did a good job finding cheaper players to fill out the squad
Glenn Maxwell was another player who attracted big bids. He was eventually won by the Delhi Daredevils after an intense bidding war with RCB. They have fast scoring options with the bat but perhaps their weakness is in the spin bowling department. Amit Mishra and Shahbaz Nadeem are decent first team players but there is little else to support them
Bowling is always the most overlooked aspect of T20 cricket. By retaining Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar Sunrisers have arguably the best overseas bowler and the best domestic bowler in the IPL. Supported by up-and-coming Siddharth Kaul and Basil Thampi they lead the most intimidating bowling unit. If there is one weakness in the team, it is that they have some slower scoring batsmen and of course the absence of David Warner will hurt
Odds are as follows with Bet365,each way terms of 1/3 two places are available
Mumbai Indians 4/1
Kolkota Knight Riders 11/2
Sunrisers Hyderabad 13/2
Chennai Super Kings 13/2
Rajasthan Royals 7/1
Delhi Daredevils 8/1
Kings XI Punjab 17/2
Realistically, any team can win it. Four teams make the playoffs and in T20 anybody can win any given match. But with the best bowling and a deep squad, Sunrisers Hyderabad are my pick to take the title, backing each way at 13/2.