Coaches unfazed at Australian exodus
Despite having to release Australian players for the ODI series against Pakistan, the affected IPL franchises are not breaking any sweat yet. Seven IPL-contracted stars - Nathan Bracken, James Hopes, David Hussey, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson - were on Wednesday named in the 14-man squad to play five ODIs and a Twenty20 international in the UAE, which runs from April 22 to May 7.
Tom Moody's Kings XI Punjab is the worst-hit team in terms of numbers, having to operate without Lee, Marsh and Hopes. Moody said he expected Marsh and Hopes to be summoned for national duty for the first half of the IPL, while he has not entirely given up hope of playing Lee.
"We were aware that we were going to be losing players for the series against Pakistan," Moody said from Port Elizabeth, where the Punjab team is having its pre-tournament camp. "We knew that particularly James Hopes and Shaun Marsh were going to be missing for the first part of the tournament."
Marsh became an overnight hero last season, leading all comers in the IPL with 616 runs. That performance helped him earn selection on Australia's subsequent tour of the Caribbean, but a hamstring injury ruled him out for a couple of months in February.
As for the loss of his premier strike bowler, Lee, who was fast-tracked into the Australian squad after undergoing surgery to his ankle and foot, Moody said he would wait for a final assessment from Australia. The national selectors made it clear Lee and Marsh would only be called into the one-day squad subject to fitness.
"Brett is still unsure about what his fitness position is and whether he would be playing any part in the beginning in the IPL or not," Moody said. "The Australian team management is going to meet with Brett over the next few days and assess exactly where he is at with his fitness and consider which would be the best way for him to come back into any sort of match play, whether it would be the 50-over or Twenty20 format. Those discussions are yet to be had, but Brett would be sitting down with the team management in Port Elizabeth, where they are arriving in a couple of days."
With new signing Jerome Taylor injured in a car accident recently and Sreesanth recovering from a back injury, Punjab have effectively lost five of their frontline players. Moody, though, was unperturbed. "With only four foreigners allowed, if anything this makes my job a little bit easier not having to speak to six international players and tell them they are not playing."
Moody wants each of the remaining squad members to step up and seize the opportunity. He has immense faith in England batsman Ravi Bopara, who was bought for US$450,000 at the auction in February. Bopara has been in form and scored a classy century against the West Indies in Barbados last month.
"The likes of Ravi Bopara certainly come into contention," he said. "He is very exciting in any form of game, and Simon Katich with his terrific form and experience is going to add value to the batting. Obviously the Sri Lankan pair of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will play an important role."
Moody also had no qualms about his bowling, which he felt has enough depth. Irfan Pathan, according to Moody, will once again take the new ball and will be the leader of the pack if Lee is absent.
He is also happy with Taylor's replacement, Yusuf Abdulla, who made his debut for South Africa during the Twenty20 game against Australia, where he got rid of Ricky Ponting. Moody predicts Abdulla's local knowledge - the left-arm fast bowler plays for Dolphins - will come in handy. "His experience in the home conditions will be good particularly in Durban, where we play six games, and he could be a good factor," Moody said.
Darren Lehmann, coach of the Deccan Chargers, the franchise which Symonds represents, was pleased by the allrounder's return to the national side. "I am happy for him," Lehmann said. "I am also happy for us to have one player in the Australian squad."
It was a case of putting up a brave face on Lehmann's part as he had pinpointed the allrounder's importance for Hyderabad doing well. "Obviously, he is one of the best Twenty20 players in the world," Lehmann said last week. "He is very important to us and will play a big part in the team going forward."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo