News Analysis

Pune opt for batting core, Rajkot build around allrounders

The new Pune and Rajkot franchises opted for different strategies during the IPL player draft and came away satisfied with the results

Arun Venugopal
A cursory look at the players picked by the Pune and Rajkot franchises in the IPL draft points to the different approaches the sides adopted to face the challenges of the tournament.
Pune opted for MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Steven Smith and Faf du Plessis and went for a batting-heavy core. Allrounders appeared to be central to Rajkot's strategy, with Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Brendon McCullum, James Faulkner and Dwayne Bravo drafted in.
There was place only for one specialist bowler on either side, and it looks like both teams will spend a sizeable chunk of their remaining purse of Rs 27 crore on acquiring bowlers at the auction on February 6.
Going by what the owners had to say, it's evident they considered a variety of factors - brand-building being an important one - before making the final choices. A common factor in either team's strategy was MS Dhoni: Pune built the rest of their team with him in mind, even as Rajkot worked around his likely unavailability.
For Pune, the opportunity to snap up Dhoni as their first player was a no-brainer after they earned the right to make the opening move by virtue of being the lowest bidder at the recent auction.
"Dhoni was an automatic choice for us because we are a new franchise, we will have to build up a brand," Subroto Talukdar, the Pune franchise's representative, said at a press conference after the draft. "The best person under the circumstances is MS Dhoni. Frankly speaking, we were targeting eight players in order of priority, and we have got players according to our plan."
Keshav Bansal, the Rajkot franchise owner, said Raina had emerged as a "strong [first] option" after they knew Pune would, in all likelihood, opt for Dhoni. Bansal also said his team's emphasis was on all-round balance.
"Obviously we had a strong assumption that Dhoni would be out, so Raina is one strong option," Bansal said. "He is a fantastic batsman and he has been playing some great cricket and [I] have a lot of great expectations from him."
Bansal explained that the decision to go for explosive batsmen like Raina and McCullum was guided as much by the pitch conditions in Rajkot as the format itself. "Rajkot is a high-scoring pitch and if you talk about the IPL, it is a high-scoring game," Bansal said. "So, the idea is to have really aggressive batsmen but, at the same time, you need to have strong bowlers as well."
Jadeja's presence provides Rajkot with the local flavour that IPL teams desire but the franchise had risked losing him to Pune. He was, after all, only their second choice after Raina. Wasn't it a risky gamble?
"I wouldn't call it a gamble. You have to analyse every player's strengths and weaknesses and then pick them up," Bansal told ESPNcricinfo in an interview. "Obviously Suresh is a fantastic batsman and has played very well for India, as his records show. On the other hand, Jadeja is a fantastic allrounder; he has proven himself. Obviously having that local connect adds to that performance for sure, so overall it was a calculated move."
Pune, on the other hand, went with du Plessis ahead of Bravo, who offers all-round options, but Talukdar was clear they got the players who were certain to feature in "the first XI".
However, Shane Watson, who has been attached with Rajasthan Royals for the past eight seasons, was not considered by either franchise, despite his proven record in the IPL. A major emphasis, while it isn't expressly stated, has been on fairly young players at their peak, as the presence of the likes of Rahane and Smith illustrates. Only four of the ten players are over the age of 30.
Both franchises said their draft strategy was conceived in-house, and didn't involve any member from the teams they eventually picked.
"We did not contact any of the players because at the end of the day we do not know whether he will be my player or not," Talukdar said. "Even in case of Dhoni we have not contacted him."
Talukdar said that the Pune franchise owners, the New Rising consortium led by Sanjiv Goenka's RP Group, employed cricketers like Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha and Ashok Dinda, and their inputs were sought. He also said that a couple of "possible contenders" for coaching the team were involved in firming up the strategy.
While Dhoni appears to be the obvious choice to captain Pune, Rajkot have two possible contenders in Raina and McCullum. "I am sure all of you must be aware," was Bansal's cryptic reply, possibly alluding to Raina's candidature. Bansal said knowing what the captain wanted played a big role in the choice of players.
"We have not directly spoken to them but then we understand what are the kind of team they will be comfortable [with] and it's really important for you to understand who is going to be the captain of your team," he said. "Then his comfort and what are the players' comfort... so you need to analyse each and every player and go for your choice."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo