Prudent Royals thrive on 'moneyball' strategy in IPL auction

Paddy Upton, head coach of Rajasthan Royals, has credited "thorough planning by the smartest money-ball operators" as the key factor for the franchise's ability to save money during the IPL auction

Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Rahul Dravid was bowled cheaply by Chris Morris, Rajasthan Royals v Chennai Super Kings, 1st semi-final, Champions League 2013, Jaipur, October 4, 2013

Chris Morris' success in his debut IPL season in 2013 made him a key pick for Royals in this year's auction  •  BCCI

Paddy Upton, head coach of Rajasthan Royals, has credited "thorough planning by the smartest moneyball operators" as the key factor for the franchise's ability to save money during the IPL auction. Upton has also revealed that barring Gurinder Sandhu, Royals managed to have on board every player who was on their wishlist ahead of Monday's auction.
The inaugural IPL champions added six players, including two overseas pace bowlers, to their roster during the 2015 player auction. Despite expanding their squad size to 25, just two short of the limit of 27, Royals finished the auction with the most funds - they had not utilised Rs 10.65 crore [approx. $1.77 million] of the total purse of Rs 63 crore set for each team.
The case was no different in 2014. While all other teams were struggling to meet budgets, Royals ended the full auction last year with spare funds in excess of Rs 5 crore (approx. $833,000). The joke in the IPL fraternity about Royals being the misers of the auction notwithstanding, Upton stressed that thorough planning by their back-room staff, led by mentor Rahul Dravid, was the key reason for their ability to get the best bargains.
"Rahul, Zubin Bharucha [director of cricket] and Panish Shetty [team analyst] in particular did excellent and thorough planning, so we knew exactly what players we wanted," Upton told ESPNcricinfo. "And we got them. I think we still had over Rs 10 crore unspent, but we have a very strong and balanced line-up that we're excited about.
"Rahul, Zubin, Panish are possibly the smartest 'moneyball' operators I've seen in the cricket world. Not only smart, but they put in the preparation, research and planning that most are not prepared to do. Rahul left no stone unturned in preparing for international cricket, which led him to be Mr Reliable. This leopard hasn't changed his spots. He remains equally dedicated, prepared and professional in his role with Royals. It's a privilege to still be working with and learning from him."
Royals' biggest signing was the South African pace-bowling allrounder Chris Morris, who had impressed for Chennai Super Kings during his debut IPL season, scalping 15 wickets in 2013. Morris was sidelined last season due to an injury but once he was available for IPL 2015, he became a prime target for Royals in the auction.
"The plan was to get Chris Morris, an allrounder," Upton said. "As a bowler, he gets good bounce and swing with the new ball, and is aggressive, so he will be a factor in the early overs. He has shown some good skill in the death, and has the ability to clear the ropes as a No 7 or 8 batsman. This means there is scope to play him and James Faulkner in our starting XI, and with allrounders [Shane] Watson and [Stuart] Binny, and a keeper-batsman in [Sanju] Samson, it leaves us with lots of options."
Upton, however, was slightly disappointed at having missed out on adding Sandhu to the squad. The Australia fast bowler was eventually purchased by Delhi Daredevils.
"Sandhu was a keen choice. I worked with him at Sydney Thunder in the last Big Bash League and was impressed with his variations and skill, his thinking when strategising an over, and with his composure under pressure," Upton said. "I think he is a star in the making, and this IPL is another opportunity to show this. It's a pity that Delhi bettered the budget we allocated to him, but I'm happy that he'll get to work with my good mate Gazza [Gary Kirsten]."
While Kolkata Knight Riders stole the limelight for adding an unknown entity in KC Cariappa to their fleet of mystery spinners, Royals doubled the count of legspinners in their squad. In addition to Pravin Tambe and Rahul Tewatia, Royals signed Dinesh Salunkhe and Pardeep Sahu. Salunkhe was a part of the Royals set-up for the first two years, while Sahu is a former Haryana player who has now shifted to Mumbai. Tambe, a club veteran who was handpicked by Royals two years ago, will lead their spin pack.
"Legspinners are becoming more and more of a valuable asset in this format," Upton said. "Adding to Tambe and Tewatia, we got Sahu and Salunkhe who are different types of bowlers - one bowls flatter and tighter lines, the other more classic over-the-top turner of the ball. They will be able to benefit by learning from Tambe, who came from relative obscurity and went on to be very effective at the IPL level."

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo