IPL franchises target India's generation next
When Shreyas Iyer outshone Kevin Pietersen at the auction last year it was seen as little more than an aberration. This year choosing young, even uncapped Indian players, over big names became de rigeur. Even as the Mike Husseys and Darren Sammys went unsold, the uncapped Pawan Negi and Karun Nair, and Sanju Samson, who has played only one international T20, and even India under-19 wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant attracted high prices. Uncapped players weren't even part of the auction three years ago.
There are several factors that have made young Indian players hot property in the IPL market. Franchises have become increasingly prudent over the years. There is greater emphasis on building teams around Indian players, and there are only so many of them who are part of the national side. WV Raman, who has worked with Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab, feels a good core of local talent was critical to an IPL franchise's success.
"This has been proved by Chennai Super Kings over a long period of time," Raman tells ESPNcricinfo. "You take the teams that have won the titles, starting from RR [Rajasthan Royals] in the first year. You will see a trend of a very good pool of Indian cricketers. Quite obviously the line of thinking is the same with other franchises as well because your foreign players can strategically be used only as impact players."
The most discernible change is that players are no longer picked on reputation. With talent scouts fanning out everywhere, every player's current form is well documented. According to Madhya Pradesh seamer Ishwar Pandey, who was bought by Rising Pune Supergiants, it becomes very difficult to get picked if there is a loss of form. "Aap ko faltu koi paisa nahin dega itna [nobody is going to splurge on you just like that]."
IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla approves of the shift, and told ESPNcricinfo: "Franchises have done their homework on players on the domestic circuit. That has been the USP of this auction. They have picked players who are unknown to many of us. If they become famous or millionaires through IPL, that is good for all of us. It achieves the our basic goal that IPL was launched for."
What has also helped is the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20 tournament, preceding the auction, which was not the case until now. It was a change that had been suggested by captains and coaches at the pre-season enclave for domestic cricket. "I think that is the right way to go," Raman says. "The Australians have shrewdly organised the BBL just before the auction, which led to many uncapped Australians benefiting in the past. Mushtaq Ali has helped the Indian youngsters showcase their talents at the right time."
Tamil Nadu legspinner M Ashwin, who was bought by Pune Supergiants for INR 4.5 crore, says the SMA Trophy was a "life-altering" competition. With 10 wickets from six games and an economy rate of 5.52, Ashwin was one of the tournament's success stories this year. "It was very, very helpful. To have it just before the IPL is a big boost and a great opportunity to come into the limelight."
The scouts, too, don't confine themselves to first-class and under-19 games. Tournaments like the DY Patil and the Karnataka Premier League are fertile ground for spotting freakish talents. Players like Pravin Tambe and KC Cariappa were first discovered in tournaments like these and this time too three players from the KPL have been picked up at the auction. One of them - Kishore Kamath - was fought over so vigorously that he ended up with a contract worth INR 1.4 crore. He had listed his base price as INR 10 lakh.
Former India legspinner L Sivaramakrishnan, who did commentary at the KPL, says taking cricket to the hinterland has led to the creation of a new pipeline of talent. "There is quite a bit of talent here and scouts like Robin Singh and Praveen Amre were there.
"Not too many states have a state-level tournament, so you get to see some good talent from the districts. This Shivil Kaushik [picked for INR 10 lakh by Gujarat Lions], for instance, is a left-arm chinaman bowler with a very funny action so it's difficult to pick him. And teams look for such quirky bowlers all the time."
There has also been a significant number of matches played at the India A and Under-19 level, especially after Rahul Dravid took over as coach. Even before the Under-19 World Cup was underway, a few franchise officials had seen enough of Pant or Ishan Kishan to have them on their radar.
A senior scout believes that the trend of younger Indian cricketers being in demand is here to stay. "The younger lot these days are much more confident than the previous generation," he says. "They are not afraid to go up to senior cricketers or coaches and speak their mind. More often than not franchises don't just go by numbers, but also look at other aspects like how someone demonstrates character and performs at a critical stage."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo