IPL teams with a strong core have led in success

Published on Feb 18, 2022 11:25 PM IST

During last week’s mega Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, most franchises sought to retain players who had previously featured for them in significant ways

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ByArjun Srinivas, howindialives.com

During last week’s mega Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, most franchises sought to retain players who had previously featured for them in significant ways. There seems to be a sound rationale for this. Data for the 14 IPL seasons so far suggests that teams that have been successful consistently have only done so on the basis of a core that has been retained over multiple seasons.

The Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata franchises have lifted 11 of 14 IPL titles between them, and featured in 18 of the 28 final spots. They have also shown relatively greater continuity and stability in their squads, pushing hard to keep a squad together that is unique to the IPL.

Little is more: The secret to success?

The format of the IPL features periodic mega auctions. Franchises can retain only a handful of players, compelling them to reshuffle and rebuild. This was the fourth mega auction, where everyone except up to four retained players per team are freshly sold. Previously, additionally, teams could match the winning bid price of two former players. This “right to match” card was not there this year, reducing the latitude with franchises to preserve their core.

While each franchise is allowed a maximum of 25 players, the number of players that have played a match differs across teams. For instance, 124 players have featured for Rajasthan, while merely 82 have played for Chennai, despite both participating in the same number of seasons – 12. As such, a crude measure of a franchise’s core players would be to divide the total number of players by the total number of seasons the team has played. The lower this number, the lower is the player turnover of said franchise. By this yardstick, Chennai is a cut above all, followed by Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad.

[Chart 1]

The core question

In a squad of 25 players, there’s a core, both during a season and across seasons. These are the players that are the first name on a team sheet, and play a sizeable number of matches. Once again, Chennai is a cut above. Over the years, just 10 players have accounted for half the total spots in the Chennai playing eleven. MS Dhoni (190 matches), Suresh Raina (176), Ravindra Jadeja (132) and Dwayne Bravo (106) have been fixtures for Chennai.

Similarly, 11 players have accounted for half the playing eleven slots for Mumbai, led by Kieron Pollard (178 matches) and Rohit Sharma (168 matches). At the very top, even a franchise like Bengaluru has had fixtures in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, but it has struggled one level below. As a result, it has needed 19 players to account for 50% of its playing 11 selections. Further below it are Punjab (22 players) and Delhi (23 players), neither of which has ever won the IPL.

[Chart 2}

Striking a bat-bowl balance

Ideally, a franchise wants its core group to be spread across both batting and bowling departments. It wants them to shoulder a heavy workload and deliver. How lean, and industrious, this core is to a team can be gauged by metrics like share of team runs scored, overs bowled and wickets taken. Chennai and Mumbai have achieved the best balance.

On the batting side, several franchises have a handful doing the heavy lifting. For Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, just five batsmen have collectively contributed 50% of their runs. The numbers are more scattered on the bowling front. Kolkata is an exception, having five bowlers collectively bowl 50% of its overs, led by the indomitable Sunil Narine, who has bowled 26% of its total overs. Delhi and Punjab, on the other hand, have needed 14 bowlers to account for 50% of overs. In contrast to its batting core, a bowling core has eluded Bengaluru.

[Chart 3]

2022 season, with shades of 2021

Staying true to their tried-and-tested philosophy, Chennai brought back seven players from the open auction – nearly twice as many as other teams. This means out of Chennai’s squad of 24 players, as many as 11 featured for them in the 2021 season. Further, they also placed bids for the likes of Faf du Plessis, their seventh-most capped player who was eventually bought by Bengaluru for 2022.

Chennai was followed by Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, with seven returning players from 2021. With quality Indian players in short supply, all teams sought to sign players whose capabilities they are familiar with, often at a premium. Even uncapped players like Abhishek Sharma and Riyan Parag fetched huge prices as their respective franchises sought to buy them back. For Chennai, the high retention rate also means an ageing squad, and a future question: how old is too old?

[Chart 4]

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