The IPL franchises are set to release several high-profile players ahead of the 2013 season, to meet the October 31 deadline for finalising the players they would like to retain ahead of the trading window and player auction. Mumbai Indians captain Harbhajan Singh and Kings XI Punjab's Stuart Broad could be on that list. Johan Botha, the South African offspinner who was bought by Rajasthan Royals for $950,000 in 2011, was one of the big names released.
The trading window, when the names of the released players will have to be made public opens on November 19, but they can only be bought during the auction in 2013.
Harbhajan had led Mumbai Indians during the 2012 IPL and two Champions League Twenty20 editions - including their victorious campaign in 2011 - and though the franchise officially denied the news, a source told ESPNcricinfo that Harbhajan could be "released first and then bid for during the player auction".
Apart from Botha, Royals also let go of former England captain Paul Collingwood ($250,000), Sri Lanka batsman Dinesh Chandimal ($50,000) and the young Australian fast bowler Alister McDermott, who had joined the franchise as a replacement player last season. In all, the Royals released 15 names and the strength of their present squad is 16.
According to the franchise, a big reason for Botha's release was that he did not feature consistently in the fifth IPL. "We had to rationalise the costs," a Royals official said. "A lot is going to change after the 2013 season so we are gearing up for that and are having a re-look at the structure and the composition of the team."
Royals decided to retain two other replacement players they had recruited last season: West Indies leg spinner Sameul Badree and England batsman Owais Shah.
England's Twenty20 captain, Broad, has not yet played an IPL game and that wait could be extended. Broad was bought by Kings XI ahead of IPL 2011 but missed both subsequent seasons. A franchise official said the decision to offload Broad was primarily because he would be on England duty for most of IPL 2013.
Besides Broad, Kings XI released six more cricketers, including Abhishek Nayar and Ramesh Powar. Nayar, who was bought for $800,000 at the 2011 auction, was considered "overpriced". Australia's Nathan Rimmington and James Faulkner and the Himachal Pradesh duo of Paras Dogra and Vikramjeet Malik were also let go by Kings XI.
Kings XI will now have nine slots vacant ahead of the trading window and player auction, since Abhinav Bali and Shalabh Srivastava were suspended till May 15 due to their alleged misdeeds during a TV sting operation.
Pune Warriors, whose captain in 2011, Sourav Ganguly, announced his decision to withdraw from the next IPL, is set to release five more cricketers, with New Zealand's Jesse Ryder being the most prominent. Though all the names could not be confirmed, it was learnt that Warriors will release three overseas players, including Ryder, and two domestic players, including Sachin Rana.
Kolkata Knight Riders, who had one of the smallest squads with 26 players in 2012, released four players. Jayadev Unadkat, the left-arm seamer from Saurashtra, was left out because the team management thought they were under utilising him. "We have three Indian medium-pacers in L Balaji, Pradeep Sangwan and Shami Ahmed. Last year Jaydev did not get a game and we felt he might get a chance somewhere else," a Knight Riders official said.
Chiraj Jaani (Saurashtra), Iresh Saxena (Bengal) and Sanju Samson (Kerala) were the three other domestic players released by Knight Riders.
Some of the franchises questioned the timing of the October 31 deadline. "If you are asking to me take a decision, this should have happened after the trading window because then the franchises could have had the chance of trading them instead of releasing them," a franchise official said.
Another official from a different franchise agreed with the view, saying he had told his bosses that it was better to wait for the window to open. "I feel I can retain the players now and trade when the window opens. This deadline only offers some franchises whose squad strength is a little too big and an opportunity to have a re-look. I think all the franchises would look at reducing a certain amount (of players) and then look forward to the trading window."
However, all the franchises were not on the same page. "It's a double-edged sword and we would prefer such a deadline before the trading window since it allows to get rid of a player if we just do not want him," an official said. "No franchise can be sure whether they would be able to trade a player whom they wish to, and if they cannot they will have to retain him. This deadline helps us in avoiding it."