IPL Auction 2020: Planning, preparation, performance - How Rajasthan Royals build their squad
As another IPL auction looms, what are the Royals planning to achieve? They already have big names in their squad but there are gaps that need to be filled. Jake Lush McCrum, Chief Operating Officer at Rajasthan Royals, shed some light on the franchise’s strategy ahead of the big day in Kolkata on December 19.Updated: Dec 19, 2019 12:44 IST
“...If we win, on our budget with this team, we’ll change the game. And that’s what I want, I want it to mean something,” says Billy Beane in Michael Lewis’ storied Moneyball. In sport, winning matters more than the means by which you attain victory sometimes. Any triumph, achieved against the odds, makes for an even greater story. India’s heroics in the 1983 World Cup, a success unprecedented in its cricketing history, changed the way the sport was seen and played in the country forever. Not just because it was an outstanding achievement, but because it was unexpected.
Something similar happened in the maiden season of the Indian Premier League. The era of ‘cricketainment’ began with big ticket franchises like Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore being tipped to take home the coveted trophy. But at the end of a month-and-a-half long battle, the honours went to Rajasthan Royals. A team full of utility players under the guidance of a retired Australian spin wizard shocked everyone with an unlikely triumph.
The Royals have since had a chequered journey. They managed to enter the play-offs with a young team on a few occasions but are yet to make a second appearance in the final. From being a team that spent carefully, Royals have turned into a team which doesn’t blink before shelling out crores to get a player they believe in. They have broken the bank in the past to get players like Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat to wear the royal blue jersey. But the desired results are yet to come.
As another IPL auction looms, what are the Royals planning to achieve? They already have big names in their squad but there are gaps that need to be filled. Jake Lush McCrum, Chief Operating Officer at Rajasthan Royals, shed some light on the franchise’s strategy ahead of the big day in Kolkata on December 19. Here are excerpts:
Q) What will be your strategy at this year’s IPL auction, what are the spots the you are targetting to fill?
We believe we have a quality set of players in our squad already, but of course we will be looking to secure both known and unknown talent. Every player we look to buy in the auction, we must believe can be a match winner for us. It is the 3rd year of the auction cycle, so it’s extremely important we sign players who are ready to step up to the biggest cricketing stage.
Q) How does the franchise plan for an auction, if you could divulge some details?
Preparation begins immediately after the IPL season. Player performances are continuously monitored. Our Head of Cricket receives videos into his Dropbox of players performing well around the world. If he thinks they have the technical ability to perform in the IPL, they are then tracked in more detail.
We review all other teams and make estimations of their release/retention strategy. Our data science teams work on several areas including independent player valuations to uncover undervalued players for specific roles.
We then move on to physical trials for players (both Indian and international), which we hold at our facility in Nagpur. The trials take place in a 75m radius pitch on private property to enable us to trial players in a confidential manner. Previously we had to use public grounds, which led to scouts from other teams turning up! Around thirty players are trialled using match scenarios to test them under high pressure, with players often only getting twelve balls to perform, as would be the case in the IPL.
Post the trials, we run simulations with our analytics team in Chennai which is where I am this week. These go on for five days to help us generate estimated values players will be acquired for in the auction, in addition to our final decision tree. This decision tree is the key piece of information for our auction execution. Helping us judge how much we can pay for certain players, players that other teams want that we can push up and opportunities to take advantage of undervalued players.
Q) When a big buy like Jaydev Unadkat does not yield the desired results, how do you look to compensate for it?
Jaydev didn’t have the season that we know he has the ability to have, but what I would highlight is his bounce back ability. He had a challenging start to IPL 2019, however, after having a few games off, he came back and performed exceptionally well. He was Man of the Match in our win against SRH with a fantastic performance.
There is so much cricketing talent available, that you always have quality squad depth in the IPL. We had the ability to rotate our fast bowlers to take the pressure off them on occasion and enable them to come back firing in the next match. We always look to have 3 options for a certain role so we have the flexibility required during the intense tournament which is the IPL.
Q) What was the rationale behind trading Ajinkya Rahane?
Ajinkya Rahane is a Royals legend and will always be a member of our family. He is an exceptionally talented cricketer, who’s century last year was one of the best performances of IPL 2019, and we wish him all the best at Delhi. The reason for the trade was due to our excess number of quality openers, compared to our lack of depth in the leg spin department, which we have all seen is incredibly important. Both Markande and Tewatia have performed in the IPL and we believe they can add significant value to the team this year. Tewatia also has the ability to bat big late on in an innings which is very valuable.
Q) Have you earmarked any players for this auction, whom you will go all out to buy?
Absolutely. I’ll let you know after the auction how many we get. Last year we managed to successfully execute our plan for every role and I hope we can replicate that.
Q) How did the franchise zero in on Andrew McDonald for the head coach’s job?
Andrew McDonald is a young, driven coach, who has developed across various coaching roles and proven himself with the improvements in the performance of all his teams.
Andrew took the Renegades from 7th to winning the BBL which is a fantastic achievement and we believe his match preparation and day to day management of a team is extremely impressive. He has a great reputation among players and coaches in the industry and he also has a strong relationship with our captain, Steve Smith, which is extremely important.
We will look to help Andrew continue to develop as we believe the Head Coach role in cricket will become more and more important.
We have entered into a long term agreement as we believe Andrew will take us to consistent success. We want to move from being the underdog team to being a team which consistently reaches the play offs and competes for the IPL trophy.
Q) What according to you has been the biggest strength and biggest weakness of the franchise?
Our biggest strength has been our continued innovation, whether that be in the auction (and our preparation for it), through player technology, in on field strategies or through our investment in grassroots cricket. That has led to us having the highest points per dollar spend total in the IPL.
We have also launched numerous Indian players onto the international stage like Jadeja and Rahane, while relaunching international players like Watson and Faulkner.
Talking about weakness, we didn’t take as many wickets through the middle overs last year which then put pressure on our death bowlers. This is why we have looked to deepen our leg spin options.
Q) One player you would want to see in a Rajasthan Royals jersey at some point and why?
Personally, I think I’d have to say Bumrah. He is such an incredible talent and a combination of him and Jofra would just be scary! Also, whenever I speak to players, they say what a great guy he is on and off the field.