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IPL auction offers lessons to Indian selectors

Amrit Mathur feels that the IPL selectors have a more scientific approach and subject players to rigorous examination.

cricket Updated: Feb 01, 2018 09:02 IST
The IPL 2018 players’ auction was held in Bangalore on January 27 and 28.
The IPL 2018 players’ auction was held in Bangalore on January 27 and 28.(BCCI)

The two most important words in cricket used to be ‘out’ and ‘not out’. After the IPL auction they have changed to ‘sold’ and ‘unsold’. Come to think of it, a player auction is a team selection process, only magnificently scaled up.

When India play, MSK Prasad sits with two colleagues behind closed doors to decide who represents the country. When franchises play, proceedings unfold before a live television audience and Preity Zinta has Virender Sehwag and half a dozen others by her side. Together they buy players to form a squad.

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In both cases, the basics of player selection are the same. Every team needs a certain balance, the right mix of batsmen and bowlers with different skill sets. For T20 cricket, you shop carefully for all-rounders, finishers and death-over experts. Considering IPL involves 14 matches, you factor in injuries, fatigue, loss of form and player availability. Also ensure adequate supply of Indian talent to satisfy the 7 in 11 rule.

The objective always is to have a combination capable of winning. Indian selectors are driven by national glory, franchises do it for a positive balance sheet and creating value that can be monetized. Indian selectors may take a long-term view and build a team for the future. Franchises have short-term goals --- make the knockouts, then think ahead.

Yet, there are fundamental differences not limited to the staged drama of rising financial bids and whispered consultations on mobiles before raising the paddle.

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The difference is the process behind player selection. To assess players, Indian selectors depend on gut feeling, judgement, performance and stats. IPL selectors have a more scientific approach and subject players to rigorous examination. Scouts scour the cricket landscape searching for fresh talent, senior players are solidly researched and everyone is put through strict filters.

The outward focus of auctions is player price but this is a matter of market forces, of demand and supply. There is merit in the way the IPL does DNA checks on players. Videos are analysed to detect strengths and technical flaws, stats stripped down to minutest detail. For batsmen, strike rates are not enough, what matters is context, state of game, conditions, response under pressure, ability versus pace, capacity to strike big and hit long. Bowling is not only economy rates but variations, bowling yorkers, slow-ball bouncers, back of the hand stuff, disguised spin and raw pace. In IPL’s market, death-over specialists are priceless.

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Coaches and players talk about processes, of following a routine and preparing well. The same logic should apply to Indian team selection and MSK’s committee could do with IPL style backend support. Just as the Indian team has a dedicated video analyst, selectors too must be assisted by a research team giving them inputs. Equipped with a 360-degree idea of players, selectors could then make more informed choices.

The IPL auction also flags other important selection issues. Clearly, in this space emotions play no part and harsh treatment to aging senior stars confirms this game is only about results. There is zero tolerance for non-performers.

The IPL has changed Indian cricket in many ways --- about time its impact is also felt on the selection process.

(Amrit Mathur is a senior cricket writer and has been with the Indian cricket team as manager. The opinions expressed in this article are personal)