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KKR's unusual approach, and a wake-up call for West Indies

The first major move for IPL 2023 has been made, with franchises releasing players ahead of the auction on December 23. Here are the biggest talking points from the IPL's retention day

Nagraj Gollapudi
KKR: second-smallest squad, smallest purse
Franchises sometimes use trades to increase their purse for the auction. It's what Delhi Capitals did when they offloaded India allrounder Shardul Thakur, whom they had bought for INR 10.75 crore, to Kolkata Knight Riders.
Knight Riders, however, used the trade window differently. Thakur was the third player they got via a trade, having already procured New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson (INR 10 crore) and Afghanistan wicketkeeper-opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz (INR 50 lakh) from Gujarat Titans. So Knight Riders dropped INR 21.25 crore during the trading window to acquire three players, a decision that might seem debatable to some given they could have potentially bought more players for less at the auction.
Here's why Knight Riders will disagree. They already knew that Pat Cummins, Sam Billings and Alex Hales were going to be unavailable for IPL 2023, so they had to fill those three gaps. And they went after three players likely to feature in their starting XI. In Ferguson, they got a quick capable of bowling in all phases of the game and someone who has already had some success with them. In Gurbaz, they brought in firepower at the top of the order, something they sorely missed last season. In Thakur, they saw a replacement for Cummins - a wicket-taking bowler who can bat in the lower order. During the previous mega auction, Thakur had been bid for by several franchises, so there was no guarantee that Knight Riders would have got him for this price had he gone into the upcoming auction.
The auction, however, is going to be tricky for Knight Riders. They have only 14 players in their current squad - so they certainly need to bolster their bench - but only have INR 7.05 crore. They don't have deep pockets to outbid their competition, so they will have to be strategic about whom they want and how they are going to buy them.
A wake-up call for West Indies?
West Indies' disappointing performances in the previous two T20 World Cups have not gone unnoticed, and the stocks of their players seem to have fallen in the format they were better at than most not so long ago. On Tuesday, ten West Indian players were released from the IPL franchise rosters [the number of South Africans released, for perspective, was two]: Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Jason Holder, Odean Smith, Evin Lewis, Fabian Allen, Romario Shepherd, Sherfane Rutherford and Dominic Drakes.
A lot of these players were bought at inflated prices last year, a by-product of the mega-auction dynamics, and the teams could look to buy some of them back at lower costs. However, is this also a reflection of the state of West Indies cricket? Is it a wake-up call to their players that IPL franchises are not just looking at muscular batting, but are keen to see a wider array of skills and peak fitness?
What next for Mayank Agarwal?
Even before they appointed Shikhar Dhawan as their new captain, Punjab Kings were clear they needed to release Mayank Agarwal, who led the franchise in IPL 2022. Agarwal had been retained for INR 12 crore last season but scored only 196 runs at a strike rate of 122.5. And, under his captaincy, a team full of explosive batters finished sixth. With Kings going in another direction for their captain next year, it was only prudent to release Agarwal and perhaps try and buy him back at a lower price.
The catch, however, is that established Indian batters are always in high demand and usually in short supply at a smaller auction like the one next month. Even though his returns in the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy were modest - 165 runs, strike rate 154.2 - he has been prolific in recent IPL seasons and is superb in the field. With several teams in the market for an Indian top-order batter, Agarwal could just be in for another big payday.
Different roads to recovery
Sunrisers Hyderabad, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians finished eighth, ninth and tenth respectively last season, and each team has adopted a different retention strategy.
Sunrisers have dismantled most of their class of 2022, releasing their captain Kane Williamson and star batter Pooran, who could have been a potential leader in the future. Williamson's drastic dip in batting form coincided with Sunrisers finishing last in 2021 and third last in 2022. And Pooran's 306 runs at a strike rate of 144.34 last season did not justify his price tag of INR 10.75 crore, the highest for a West Indian player at an auction.
ESPNcricinfo has learned that Brian Lara, Sunrisers' new head coach, wanted a fresh start and was not shy of dropping big names while retaining a (mostly) younger group of players who have shown promise of developing fast. It is a pragmatic approach, but Sunrisers also have the cushion of the largest purse to aggressively pursue high-profile players at the auction.
Like Sunrisers, Mumbai have also failed to make the playoffs in the last two seasons. Their strategy at the previous mega auction was questionable: they spent massively on a couple of players, which forced them to bulk-buy lesser-known names to fill up the squad. Now Mumbai have released 13 players - one more than Sunrisers - letting go of several bowlers, most of whom did not create enough impact or did not have the opportunities to do so. Their core, however, remains intact. They expect Jofra Archer to be fit and form a formidable pace attack with Jasprit Bumrah with Jason Behrendorff, whom they traded in from Royal Challengers Bangalore. Mumbai, however, are still without a quality allrounder and a lead spinner, and those remain significant holes to fill for their extensive coaching staff as well as their famed scouts.
The Super Kings, on the other hand, released only eight players, including Robin Uthappa, who had retired, the injury-prone Adam Milne, who played just one game last season, and Chris Jordan, who featured in four matches in IPL 2022. Bravo was the only regular first XI player that they released, and it remains to be seen if they buy back the 39-year-old allrounder.
While Bravo could still be bought back for a lower price, Super Kings' leadership group has enough faith in their new bowling core that played consistently last year: Mukesh Choudhary, Matheesha Pathirana, Simarjeet Singh and Dwaine Pretorius. And Deepak Chahar, who missed last season with an injury, is with them too. Also, with Ravindra Jadeja declaring that he was ready for a "restart" at Super Kings, MS Dhoni's men have a formidable attack led by Sri Lanka's Maheesh Theekshana for the spin-friendly home conditions at Chepauk.
So while Sunrisers have gone in for a revamp, Mumbai and Super Kings have retained the backbone of their squads. All three franchises will have a lot to do to fill gaps at the auction on December 23.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo