Wrist-spin alone not enough to win big IPL contracts

Published on Feb 14, 2022 08:23 PM IST

The recently-concluded IPL mega auction suggests that wrist-spinners, a T20 hot property not long back, may not be in vogue anymore unless they back their primary trait with batting skills.

Rahul Tewatia PREMIUM
Rahul Tewatia
By, Mumbai

Remember the dizzying levels of excitement Rahul Tewatia created, two years back at Sharjah in that Sheldon Cottrell over by reducing Rajasthan Royals’ (RR) target from 51 off 18 to 21 off 12 balls? It helped RR chase down Punjab Kings’ 223 runs, with three balls to spare. Tewatia wouldn’t ever forget those five sixes. Cottrell wouldn’t. More importantly, the IPL auction room didn’t. Tewatia’s bid sky-rocketed last weekend and Gujarat Titans shelled out 9 crore to get the Haryana leg-spin all-rounder on board.

There is also an underlying message that Tewatia’s high bid threw up that held true, after 204 players were sold for over 551.7 crores. That franchises are willing to invest heavily in what Tewatia and his ilk present as a package, but not keen to break their purse over standalone wrist spinners, who were in vogue, not too long ago.

Tewatia’s six-hitting talent may have been unearthed by RR, but his batting returns outside that dreamy night in UAE remain modest, to say the least. His strike-rate in the 2020 IPL season had jumped up to 139, but was down to 104 in the follow-up season. His career IPL strike-rate is 124. With the ball, he delivers 2.4 balls per match for his 32 wickets at an economy rate of 7.7 and a bowling SR of 24. Those are not spectacular numbers, in either of the skill-sets.

“CSK were very keen on him. We also were because we needed an Indian player who was a left-hander,” Gujarat Titans assistant coach Gary Kirsten told NDTV. “When you get to that stage, a lot of the high-profile Indian players are gone. You need to pick someone, otherwise, you are going to lose out. That’s the nature of the auction.” Kirsten bracketed Tewatia as a lower-order left-handed batting option, not highlighting his primary skill-set of leg-spin.

So, does Tewatia’s high bid boil down entirely to auction dynamics? Or is there another message that IPL teams are sending across? That spinners need to be multi-skilled in T20s, unless you are Rashid Khan. The Afghanistan leg-spinner, widely touted as the best in the business, is the only spinner who commands a prize of R 15 crores across the list of retained players and those sold in the auction. He is no mug with the bat either.

Before Tewatia’s bid came up on Day 1 of the auction, several India spinners had to be content with a much smaller reward for their services. Leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, who was in India’s T20 World Cup squad, went for 5.25 crores. Yuzvendra Chahal, who is ninth in the list of all-time IPL wicket-takers and strikes every 17 balls at an economy of 7.59, took home 6.5 crores. The only left-arm wrist spinner of quality in India, Kuldeep Yadav had to be content with 2 crores.

None of these wrist spinners can do any damage with the bat. “We wanted to go for spinners, multi-utility spinners,” said Sanjeev Goenka, owner of Lucknow Super Giants, umpteen number of times. It reflected in his squad strength where he had to pay 8.25 crores to secure the services of Krunal Pandya. LSG also went for off-spin all-rounder Krishnappa Gowtham, but he came even cheaper.

Equally intriguing was Wanindu Hasaranga’s bid. The Sri Lankan leg-spinner went for 10.75 crores. That RCB were willing to pay so much for an overseas leg-spinner – overseas players make only 35 percent of an IPL playing eleven – rather than winning back Chahal was telling. “Hasaranga is a wrist-spinning all-rounder who can bat at 7, and we were looking closely at picking a quality leggie in the spin department. The fact that he can contribute with the bat as well is a great value add,” said Sanjay Bangar, head coach, RCB.

It may also have helped Hasaranga’s case, that he has a sharp googly – 15 of his 16 wickets came off googlies in the last T20 World Cup. “For some reason, modern batters don’t pick googlies too well. It has become a weapon in T20 cricket because batters have to attack all the time which results in wickets,” said former PK batting coach Wasim Jaffer. That’s young leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi’s strength too. He and mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy were the only two spin-only Indian bowlers to be retained pre-auction.

While an auction and its eccentric ways can’t be a barometer to indicate trends, it’s evident from a large sample size that in the ever-evolving world of T20 cricket, merely being a wrist-spinner and thus possessing the natural variation, no longer pushes one into the top draw. Batting skills or having an air of mystery or distinctive bowling style have become equally necessary. Adam Zampa and Adil Rashid, two other leading overseas leg-spinners, went unsold in the mega auction.

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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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