Daredevils defend 'strategic shift' towards youngsters
One of the biggest talking points of the IPL auction was how Delhi Daredevils spent their money and who they spent it on. They acquired the as yet uncapped Pawan Negi for INR 8.5 crore, the highest billing for an Indian player this year. They paid 40 times Karun Nair's base price of INR 10 lakh; he too is yet to play international cricket but will earn more than Kevin Pietersen's INR 3.5 crore this IPL season.
Then they went after Carlos Brathwaite, who has played only 2 T20Is for West Indies and 37 T20s overall, to the tune of INR 4.2 crores, and picked up Sanju Samson for the same amount to eventually end up with as many as four wicketkeepers.
Overall, Daredevils were responsible for five of the top 13 buys in the auction and are the only team to reach the maximum stipulated squad strength of 27. It could be that a number of these players may not even get a game. But Hemant Dua, the Daredevils CEO, mounted a sturdy defence of what he called a "strategic shift."
"We have invested definitely in younger talent. We have bought the bigger names in the past and you know what has happened," he told ESPNcricinfo.
After much deliberation over the last year, Dua said the Daredevils franchise, which has never won the IPL, decided to do away with the star system and put youth first. This shift in thinking has had a lot to do with the success they had with Shreyas Iyer last year.
"We have banked on stars in the past and it has not paid off. We banked on a guy like Shreyas Iyer, and he was proving us right by being the emerging player [of the tournament]. Gave us a lot of confidence.
"We spent a lot of time analysing various players and scouting. In the past we have done everything and we haven't gone where we should have."
Dua also said Daredevils weren't entirely devoid of a core of senior players. "You look at seniors in a different way. We look at them differently," he said. "I think Quinton de Kock is a senior player. He has done well for South Africa, especially in Indian conditions. JP Duminy, Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami are very senior players. What we have done is we now have performers."
He also justified the price paid for Negi and the other young players as decisions based on their knowledge of local conditions, and also as an investment for the future. "Even the Indian selectors have seen something in Pawan Negi to pick him in the World T20 squad. We were not the only team bidding for him. Obviously we spent what we did also because the other team had bid for him up to a point.
"The youngsters we have taken, a lot of them are youngsters with IPL experience like a Samson or a Karun Nair. They know what they have to do. Like a Negi or a Rishabh Pant, they are Delhi boys. [Pawan] Suyal again is a Delhi boy. It gives us a Delhi story. They know and understand the field they play on."
Dua was unconcerned about the possibility that most of these players may be stuck warming the bench, and that with the big auction in 2018 only a handful of them would be retained. "A couple of years is far away. I don't know what the rules will be. We don't know what is going to happen," he said. "I need to perform in the next few years. You think why I have picked a [Mahipal] Lomror or a Khaleel [Ahmed]? The reason is very simple: they will learn from masters like Zaheer Khan.
"We might end up retaining guys like them. A Mahipal Lomror knows he will never get to play. They don't get frustrated at 16 years. People who get frustrated are the 30-40 year olds."
There is a strong imprint of Rajasthan Royals in Daredevils' choice of players - Samson, Nair and Chris Morris have, in fact, played for Royals in the past. Added to that were rumours of Rahul Dravid being roped in as the team's mentor, but Dua categorically denied Dravid's hand in their auction strategy.
"If you think there is an RR influence, yes we had hired Zubin Bharucha, who has worked with the Royals in the past," he said. "So he has brought this influence. But this is a collective influence. There was Sunil Valson, Zubin, [Sridharan] Sriram, [TA] Sekhar and [Pravin] Amre who scouted extensively for talent.
"All sorts of speculation has been going on [about the appointment of Dravid as mentor]. But I can tell you that there are three or four coaches we are evaluating and they are all in the mix. We will make a decision by the end of the month."
Dua said he was satisfied with the way the auction had panned out, and was confident that the results would justify their approach. "Simple catch: youngsters are more hungry than older players. In the past, Moneyball has worked for a lot of teams. I am confident it will work for us. Not a single boy we didn't get except Nathu Singh, for whom we went up to Rs 2 crore.
"When we spent Rs 16 crore [on Yuvraj Singh] were we asked why we did it? Now, when I spend Rs 8.5 crore on Negi, again there is the same question. In the past, our thought process has been different. At the end of the day, when the boys do well on the field, people will understand [our decisions]. Everything will fall in place."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo