IPL auction: Will the old guard find takers?

By, Kolkata
Dec 21, 2022 11:03 PM IST

In a data-driven age, it remains to be seen if Kane Williamson, Ajinkya Rahane, Joe Root and Tom Latham still stoke IPL interest

Coming to the end of a bedazzling, slightly chaotic year of cricket that has revealed to us several entertaining ways of playing the game, will the more old-school batters find a place in the most demanding and punishing version of them all? Twenty20 has been like a self-purging format, slowly weeding out those who haven’t been able to keep up. And with the 2023 IPL mini auction nearing, an obvious question arises—will the likes of Kane Williamson, Ajinkya Rahane, Tom Latham or Joe Root find takers this time?

 Kane Williamson(BCCI-IPL) PREMIUM
Kane Williamson(BCCI-IPL)

How they score is a growing debate, especially in light of the next generation of strikers like Harry Brook, Phil Salt and Nicholas Pooran who have signed up for this year’s mini-auction. Because if strike rates are a one-stop yardstick of a batter’s ability, the gap is glaring. Take Nicholas Pooran for example. Despite the recent slide in his international form, Pooran has an IPL strike rate of 151.24. Brook, who just had a brilliant Test tour of Pakistan, has an overall T20 strike rate of 148.38. Salt too strikes over 150.

The younger generation doesn't have to think about trying to bat differently because their natural game is a great fit for the format. They come out and play their shots without fear or doubt. The first shot that comes to their mind is a six, then a four and so on. This gives them a huge advantage as they don't need to be coached in a specific way. They don't need to be told how the game needs to be played. The evolution of the game has happened at such a quick pace that what was once revolutionary has become strictly run-of-the-mill now.

On the other hand, Williamson is going through a crisis of faith in T20, striking a dismal 93.51 in the 2022 IPL. It stretched to the T20 World Cup in Australia as well, where Williamson finished as New Zealand’s second-highest run-getter at 178 runs but with a mediocre strike rate of 116.33. Captaincy was never an issue with Williamson, but when a top-order batter can’t be the enforcer of an innings, it starts telling on their performance. No wonder neither Sunrisers Hyderabad nor New Zealand were up to par this year.

Latham, who has batted in every position from No 1 to No 9 in limited overs cricket, wasn’t even part of New Zealand’s T20 World Cup side in the last two editions but has recently hit 145 off 104 balls against India in Auckland. He may be one of the best one-day batters in recent times but it still looks a long shot for Latham in the IPL. Similar is the case for Rahane who was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders for 1 crore but played just seven matches where he scored 133 at a strike rate of 103.

Add to this mix Joe Root whose sole T20 franchise experience outside the UK came in 2018-19 with a stint at Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League. Considering how heavily data-driven IPL auctions usually are, it is difficult to imagine any of them being first picks of the franchises because of their flagging strike rates and relative inexperience, especially with new-age batters flooding the IPL market.

Root presents a separate case, in being a Test great willing to explore and diversify his white-ball game. Batting left-handed in Tests and putting more effort in his bowling are signs of that. But the bone of contention here mainly is the slow starts.

Williamson, for example, had a strike rate of over 100 in five out of 13 innings in the last edition, the best (127.03) coming in his highest score of the season—47 against Chennai Super Kings. The longer he bats, Williamson tends to improve his scoring rate. Rahane too experienced something similar in 2019 when he returned his best strike rate of 137.89. That season, Rahane’s strike rate was in the 120s till the 20-run mark but once he was in the 30s, it never dipped below 142. The only exception was a 34-ball 39 in a successful chase against Sunrisers Hyderabad where Rahane was anchoring one end while Liam Livingstone was going berserk with a 26-ball 44.

When you compare their style of batting, it doesn’t feel any different from that of Jos Buttler (at Rajasthan Royals) or KL Rahul (at Lucknow Super Giants) who have been given the freedom to take their time at the start, the only difference being Buttler or Rahul have been better at converting those starts into hundreds and put the team in a winning position.

When the margins are so fine, it basically boils down to how far franchises are willing to invest and then back that player. In the 1 crore base price category, Rahane or Latham might still stoke some interest while it remains to be seen if Root gets picked. But Williamson has probably already missed a trick by not lowering his base price, giving the franchises the liberty of going for more multi-skilled players like Ben Stokes, Sam Curran, Cameron Green and James Neesham or better hitters like Salt, Pooran and Chris Lynn in the 2 crore band.

But it is important to remember that each auction has its own dynamic. The perceived correct value of a player often changes based on how desperately the franchisee wants to fill a certain kind of gap. Most might Williamson as a has-been in the IPL scheme of things but there might be one team that might still see value in the experience and calm he brings to the table.

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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