After the hype on the film “Moneyball”, which had Brad Pitt as its face in 2011, Clint Eastwood fronted (as an actor) the 2012 film “Trouble with the Curve” – about an ageing old-world baseball scout who gets much more right than the stats guys (“they should probably be telling us when the players should scratch their arse”) – perhaps a Republican response to the more liberal worldview that “Moneyball” brought in.
This is the default point-of-view perhaps – look, feel and gut transcend reason and black-and-white-evidence. Nate Silver’s analytics contribution to the US Presidential Election in 2012 and Obama’s pointed acknowledgement of that is dismissed by many such as perpetuating a dubious myth.
Nowhere is this mindset more in evidence than in the Indian Premier League, considered by many to be the revolutionary force in modern-day cricket. There is no doubt that it did make that kind of impact in 2008 when it began – but now, as the sixth edition gets underway shortly, the kind of arbitrariness it has injected in cricket thinking (which has been ailing from diffused romanticism for the most part, in any case) is embarrassing.
It is wrongly assumed that the corporate mindset that runs the franchises permeates the thought-processes in IPL. That would be true if 1-year-old entrants to the corporate world were routinely getting higher salaries than proven solid experienced performers. Or if a candidate’s success in a certain line of work in the past led to a job in a different category of work where he did not have success previously, at a disproportionately high salary.
This year’s IPL Auction has been no exception. If anything, logic has been defied even more than in previous editions (an entire list of this year’s auction players with their impact in T20 cricket, both domestic and internationals, is detailed here and provides some interesting insights). The automated system of Impact Index can help in precisely identifying in many of those anomalies but frankly, some of it is even visible with the naked eye, by looking at even conventional analysis.
Like the inclusion of Michael Clarke (Pune) and Ricky Ponting (Mumbai) to the auction list at the highest base-prices amongst all players ($400K), which borders on the absurd. These are players who have never done particularly well in T20 cricket (Wasim Jaffer has the same impact in T20 domestic cricket as they do, at 1/8th their base cost; Jaffer remained unsold, of course) – moreover a famously injury-prone Clarke has his hands full with Test cricket pressure as the captain of a somewhat fragile team (with a tour of India coming up before the IPL and an Ashes tour after). Ponting’s decent performance in the last Big Bash (7 matches) cannot make up for his middling T20 career record (30 matches is not a small sample size in this format) – with his hunger questionable after retirement anyway (not to even get into his average record in Indian conditions). He would have been an interesting addition for a much lower price, but at this price it was a strange buy that probably does not have all to do with playing in the middle.
Glenn Maxwell’s eventual price of $1 million (Mumbai) is the most absurd one of all. In cricketing circles, Maxwell is rated very highly and considered a bit of a prodigy – but his T20 numbers (40 matches is certainly a very good sample size) reveal that he is quite simply an average T20 batsman – not bad with strike rate and chasing, but with a very high failure rate (of 68% as per Impact Index). His good performances in ODI and first-class cricket camouflage his mediocrity in this format of the game.
This is anyway the biggest mistake made in T20 selection across the world – the performances of players in other formats are brought into the mix (50-over, 4-day, even 5-day). But it is very clear from the list of players who perform consistently in T20 cricket that this process is completely wrong – there is considerable evidence of this now, given the amount of T20 cricket that ends up getting played these days around the world. Clearly, the hustle of T20 cricket has a distinctive demand – talent is just one part of the mix, a certain mindset also plays a big part.
Abhishek Nayar, the most expensive Indian player in this auction, was another big beneficiary of this myopia. His extremely mediocre T20 record (in fact, he was amongst the ten lowest impact T20 players in this auction-list of 108) cannot even be justified to lack of opportunity – 52 matches brings considerable evidence with it. What brought him this high profile during this auction was his recent first-class season – where he performed outstandingly. But, hello? That is 4-day cricket. Again, this excellent first class-season could have seen him get a modest IPL contract (instead of being discarded which is actually what his T20 numbers demand) but to be amongst the 5 most expensive buys of this IPL – well, that is, at it were, priceless. Only a unique brand of modern Indian hype causes this.
Kane Richardson – the 21-year-old medium pacer from Australia also, to turn the phrase, went for plenty. His 700K (Pune) was grossly unjustified for his T20 impact – even his conventional T20 bowling average of 23 and economy rate of 7.6 tells a good part of that story. Impact Index adds the input of a 47% failure rate which is high for a bowler. He doesn’t even have a great record in other formats, so this can only mean a punt on the part of the management based on somebody’s recommendation.
It is not that we grudge these players their lottery. What bothers us is that many other players who have had a higher impact for their teams get sidelined for no fault of theirs. And it also brings down the overall standard of the sport eventually.
That genuinely high impact T20 players like Martin Guptill (very consistent T20 batsman; the highest impact chaser in all T20 Internationals) remained unsold is shocking. As are the exclusions of players like Steve O’Keefe (a high impact spinner all-rounder and a big match player), Aaron Finch (had an outstanding Big Bash lately, high impact on all batting counts – runs tally, strike rate, absorbing pressure and chasing), Dinesh Chandimal (a high impact batsman because of his consistency making him an excellent wicketkeeper-batsman option), Darren Bravo (proficient at absorbing pressure and chasing; had a stellar Caribbean T20 League recently), Joe Burns (short career but signs of quality – produced a significant big match innings in the last Big Bash), Josh Hazlewood (excellent restrictive bowler and a big match player), Rangana Herath (outstanding economy impact), Dane Vilas (high impact wicketkeeper batsman, notable for strike rate and ability to absorb pressure; at his base price was a steal) and Devendra Bishoo (consistent and economical – he perhaps suffered for his mediocrity in other formats but in T20 he has been very effective).
Players like Jandre Coetzee, Herschelle Gibbs and Scott Styris could have provided good value deals but were ignored. When the auction list was announced it was odd to see several high impact players being ignored altogether – international players like Rayad Emrit, WD Perkins, GE Mathurin, CJ Liddle, Alex Hales, Hamilton Masakadza, LMP Simmons and Krishmar Santokie and Indian names like SK Kamat, S Kanwar, C Ganapathy and P Parameswaran (and many more) should have been there on the auction list.
It was particularly odd to see high impact West Indian T20 players being ignored by all the teams, often in favour of lower impact Australia players. Maybe they forgot the West Indians are current T20 World Champions (in a tournament where Australia barely reached the semis). One only hopes this did not come from the same place from where the decision to hire an Indian hostess with a British accent to accompany Harsha Bhogle for the live coverage of the auction on Indian television purely for Indian audiences might have been taken.
By far, the smartest player decisions were made by Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders – it is not a coincidence that they were the two finalists of the last edition, and the two most recent champions. However, they both spent a little more than they should have in getting those players.
Quinton de Kock (Hyderabad, 20K), Ryan Mclaren (Kolkata, 50K) and particularly Akila Dananjaya (Chennai, 20K) were excellent buys for their price.
Here is a breakdown of what the various teams did.
The last column connotes the amount (in multiples of 1000 US$) it cost to purchase 1 unit of Impact.
The table above needs to be seen in the right context. While it suggests that Rajasthan and Hyderabad made the smartest decisions, it is only within the context of how smartly they spent their money. It doesn’t mean they bought the right players or even the right players at the right price.
Rajasthan Royals could have done better on choice of players, especially with the wicketkeepers available (which is a problem area for them). But, given that they inexplicably released Chandimal previously (who is one of the highest impact players in this auction), they could have considered Denesh Ramdin or Dane Vilas, but instead chose Kushal Perera, ultimately not a bad buy at all at his base price. They spent a bit on James Faulkner and Fidel Edwards, not very high impact T20 bowlers (though Faulkner has done well recently) – the key reason seems to be their death bowling, and on that count, they were good choices – given the high Economy Impact of both bowlers.
Hyderabad Sun Risers spent more for Thisara Perera than what was advisable; he is not quite as high impact a T20 player as his exploits in other formats suggest, as does his flair (he is not the most consistent either). However, both de Kock and Nathan McCullum are very good value-for-money players. McCullum, in fact, is highly under-rated as a T20 player, it is a format where has truly excelled and prospered. Darren Sammy was an outstanding buy for them – perhaps the best of this auction, in terms of ability (measured by his impact), stature (however unspectacular he may be for romantics) and money spent. However, this team needed a high Strike Rate IMPACT batsman but failed to get one from this auction - Aaron Finch or Dilshan Munaweera would have been an outstanding buy for them.
Delhi Daredevils already has a star-studded batting line-up with Warner, Jayawardene, Pietersen and Taylor as their foreign players. They are already a very high impact batting side so buying Jesse Ryder didn’t make that much sense. Maybe they were covering for injuries and international duty unavailability. Johan Botha was a good buy for them but they may have a problem with whom to choose from the foreign players when the key matches come.
Royal Challengers Bangalore balanced some peculiar decisions with some smart ones. They spent a pretty penny getting bowlers Jaidev Unadkat, RP Singh and Pankaj Singh to complement smart buy Ravi Rampaul. All-rounder Chris Barnwell was a value-for-money buy while Moises Henriques an excellent one. Dan Christian on that count wasn’t bad either. However, given their dependency on Gayle, Kohli and DeVilliers, they could have considered getting a consistent batsman – Guptill or Finch would have been good choices here (and there were many other batsmen they could have looked at too – like Burns, Maddinson and particularly Darren Bravo).
Chennai Super Kings’ capture of Akila Dananjaya was a steal for them (even though it curiously seemed an afterthought). They also had another good buy in the form of Chris Morris, even though they may have overpaid quite a bit, as they might have for Dirk Nannes. But they made up for that to some extent with their other buys.
Kolkata Knight Riders made a smart decision to go after Sachitra Senanayaka (tipped by Impact Index previously as an outstanding buy) but they did end up paying considerably more than what he is perhaps worth at this stage. However, Sunil Narine, Senanayake and Shakib Al Hasan could be quite a lethal trio.
Kings XI Punjab needed a basher during the middle-overs and had a smart buy in Luke Pomersbach at a reasonable price. However, they overspent quite a bit on Manpreet Gony – justifiable to those who believe it is worth paying a little extra for a local player who otherwise fits into the team. This is where the intangibles can affect these equations positively.
Finally, the two profligate franchises.
Mumbai Indians did well with Phil Hughes and Jacob Oram but completely messed up with the amounts they paid for Ricky Ponting, Nathan Coulter-Nile and most notably Glenn Maxwell. Given that all these players will be competing with the likes of Malinga, Pollard and Dwayne Smith for a place, it seems rather poorly thought-out.
But the worst thinking on the day came from Pune Warriors. Ajantha Mendis was their only smart buy, even though they ended up paying quite a bit for him. Michael Clarke and Abhishek Nayar were both paid ridiculous amounts and Kane Richardson’s package, given his relatively mediocre impact, borders on the surreal. They have, in all probability, ended up with the worst team in IPL 6 as well. But since that computation will happen without any money discussions, and purely on player strengths, we’ll leave that for another day.
Suffice to say for now that all the teams could do with some more inputs to make better decisions; some like Pune and Mumbai need more help than others. But to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy - it is easier to explain the most difficult subject to slow witted people who have an open mind than the simplest thing to the most intelligent people who are convinced they already know it all.
Finally, for whatever it is worth, after accounting for the vagaries and variables of the film business, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that “Trouble with the Curve” was neither a critical nor commercial success unlike “Moneyball” on both counts. So, maybe there is still hope.