In the first part of my interview with data analyst Dan Weston, who works with Birmingham Phoenix and Leicestershire CCC, read about his views on teams' IPL auctions, why they make so many errors, and young players to watch in the IPL...
Make sure to follow Dan on Twitter @SAAdvantage
I started by asking Dan who he thought had a good auction, to refresh our memories ahead of the IPL's start this Friday.
"The Punjab Kings had an alright auction-but they had over 50 crore to spend so you'd like to think they would have done! They needed pace bowlers and bowlers in general, and got that to some degree."
Jhye Richardson is the prime example here, who cost the Kings 14 crore. Although, as with lots of overseas bowlers, he was slightly overpriced, Dan rates the Aussie.
"He's got a very strong skillset in that he can bowl in the powerplay and at the death, which is really useful. Plus he's a good lower order hitter, and hopefully that'll negate the problem from last year, when Chris Jordan or Mujeeb ur Rahman were batting at 7, which was just awful."
The other big overseas bowler signed was Riley Meredith.
"Meredith benefited from recency bias with the Big Bash, but, again, is better than what they had last year."
However, it was not a totally good auction for the Kings, as Dan explains.
"I still think they needed an elite leg-spinner and spin hitters with the bat. Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran and Mayank Agawral are all good hitters of spin, but the rest, in terms of intent and strike-rate (SR), have been quite poor against spin, which is a bit of a hole."
And while Dan believes Dawid Malan would have been right for a couple of teams, he wasn't needed for the Kings. Overall then?
"The Punjab Kings did decent, a seven out of ten auction-which is better than most!"
"The Rajasthan Royals were okay" for Dan. While "Chris Morris took a chunk out of their budget, and was overpriced, he was still needed. However, they probably should have picked up Richardson over Morris, as Jhye offers longer term upside with the mega auction next year, and given his fitness issues, Morris is less likely to be on the park every game, compared to Richardson. And they had 14 crore left, so they could have afforded Richardson!"
Another key name picked up was Liam Livingstone, the fourth Englishman for the Royals.
"Considering his cheap price [he cost just 75 lakh], he is good, a nice upgrade over Steve Smith as well, given Livingstone's intent and six hitting. Plus, he's a really useful bowling option out of your top six as well."
Of course, the key issue for the Royals is Jofra Archer's fitness.
"The Royals have had the worst bowling numbers in most areas last year, along with the Punjab Kings, and if they don’t have their the best bowler in their squad then that’s an insurmountable hurdle."
What about the Royal Challengers Bangalore?
"They did okay, but I still think there's a lot of holes in their overall strategy. They're quite hamstrung by the amount the pay Virat Kohli, given his low boundary output."
However, making up for that is New Zealand youngster Finn Allen, whose intent is popular with Dan. But, back to pace bowlers we go...
"Kyle Jamieson was a weird one. We see bowlers who can bat a bit paid tons, but he hasn’t played a lot of t20. I try and avoid those cross-format players, personally I wouldn't look at his red ball numbers with any depth for t20. And, he’s not like for like for Morris either, given Morris was a death bowler, and Jamieson the powerplay."
"Player recruitment is nuanced, but both are described as pace-bowling allrounders, when they're quite different players."
A key positive for RCB though is their youngsters.
"They've got some good young, lesser-known players out of the local market with good boundary percentages, in Mohammed Azharuddeen, Rajat Patidar and KS Bharat. Azharuddeen has hit 29% boundaries, including 13% sixes in the last Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy [the domestic Indian t20 league], but at 11 balls per dismissal in the last two seasons, he's not going to be a guy that just hangs around!"
"In t20, conditions and opposition altered selection are better than a general eleven, but broadly speaking, for RCB, a top six could be:
Devdutt Padikkal (although he'll miss the first game/s due to Covid),
AB de Villiers,
"You’ve got Kohli who can anchor, taking more balls out of of pace, which he has a favourable bias to, as we saw when he opened for India [Kohli made 80* off 52 opening in the final T20I v England]. Then he's got five hitters following, so getting toward the Mumbai Indians template."
However, it's not all good for RCB.
"There's a massive question mark over the death bowling, which could be a considerable problem. RCB are batting heavy, with 35% of the budget on two players [Kohli and de Villiers], and then Maxwell as well, you're looking at 50% of the budget on three players, two of which are overseas."
"That’s a big problem, spending a lot of money on overseas players. It's also the opposite dynamic to Mumbai, who spend cheaper on overseas players and more on domestic. That's really good strategy, which works well in competitions worldwide. As a rough guide, if Mumbai do it, you should as well!"
So there's some sides who improved, albeit not perfectly.
Mumbai Indians made some changes, but nothing major, and the Delhi Capitals will likely have a similar XI as well.
Less good though, are the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
"Weird picks for them, they didn’t identify the areas they need to improve. The death hitting has been poor for years, but they bought Kedar Jadhav [he strikes at 129.01, and a lot worse in recent years]. And they remain too top heavy with overseas picks. Pandey at 11 crore is a big issue, and they're hamstrung by that cost as don’t need him and Kane Williamson, with Williamson a better version of Pandey!"
"Sunrisers do still have a good bowling line-up, which gets them out of a load of trouble. However, the fifth bowler is a bit of a problem. I wouldn’t play Jason Holder that much, and while they've got 14-16 banker overs out of Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma and T Natarajan, their other option is an issue."
"But, as with Delhi, they should do well this year, having retained enough quality from last year, and from other teams having bad auctions as well."
And, speaking of bad auctions, we go to the Chennai Super Kings next!
"They needed an opener after Shane Watson retired, and had poor powerplay batting metrics last year, but didn’t buy one! Moeen Ali is a good pick; they needed an offspinner for matchups and a boundary hitter, and Mo fits this. Where they use him will be really interesting, as it could be anywhere in top six."
"Though they overpaid massively for Krishnappa Gowtham, I understand, to some extent, as of the scarce resource argument [a lack of Indian offspinners who can bat]. Plus they might want to structure up in some matches without Mo as an overseas, and Gowtham is a relatively similar player, which means they don’t have to change team structure even though changing players."
"They lacked left handers last year, which is rectified in kind with Mo, Suresh Raina coming back, even if he is dramatically overpaid based on his declining performance output in previous years, and they might use Sam Curran up the order, so they might have solved that issue."
"But Chennai retained too many players to start with. Raina at 11 crore, Dwyane Bravo at 6.4 crore, represent declining output, and are getting old, as does Karn Sharma at 5 crore. They could have been a bit more brutal with overseas players being ditched, and could have shuffled the pack like that."
Dan is also "unenthused by KKR".
"Ben Cutting is a good cheap buy, and he's better than Moises Henriques/Dan Christian. But Shakib al Hasan I'm not sure about, because he hasn’t played much recently, having been injured as well, and has a low S/R. Harbhajan Singh is an unnecessary signing, as he's only needed in a non-Sunil Narine team, as there is no point playing two offspinners."
"They needed better death bowling, and last year the boundary hitting was good, but they had awful stability, partially produced by Narine opening. I'm uninspired by the potential top four of Narine, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi, and they have three players who want to be at six in Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Kathrik and Andre Russell, will have to be 5-7."
So with no team really having a brilliant auction, often overpaying, and failing to fix gaps in their XI, let alone squad, why is it that these rich franchises lack auction success? Is it the panic of the event, or something else? Dan sees poor planning to blame.
"Sides lack understanding as to what they need for a successful squad. While some get it right (mainly Mumbai) they often have too many other factors in recruiting. A data driven strategy needs to be foundation, then other factors, but if a player doesn’t have good data in specific areas, then forget about it."
"There's no two ways about that, but a lot of teams don’t get it, as a lot of recruitment is players that don’t have the data based on any metrics! Sides struggle with recency bias, they struggle to understand the difference in standards between tournaments, such as overvaluing performances in the Big Bash, which is not as strong as it used to be."
So given the poor standard of recruiting, will it be Mumbai's year again?
"They're absolutely the team to beat, no doubt about that. I'd be extremely shocked if they're not in top four, but after that, in the knockout stages, it's not quite a lottery, but even if a side is 60/40 to win each match, there's no guarantee of winning the trophy. Mumbai are the best team in it. But doesn’t mean that they win it, even if they would five times out of ten."
I then asked Dan about any young players we should watch out for.
"Padikkal, if recovered from Covid, will be future superstar, with his numbers at a lower level in t20 and 50 over incredible [Padikkal has 14 50+ scores in 20 list A games]."
"Abdul Samad at the Sunrisers is an intent machine as a finisher, and he showed glimpses last year. I'd like to see with more prominent role for them this year."
"Dehli have picked some really interesting young players. Lots of the 20 lakh picks normally don't play, but Delhi have got quite a few good players from lower levels at really cheap prices who could easily do good jobs."
"Ripal Patel hits almost 30% boundaries in the last two years of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. While he offers no stability, he does fireworks, a similar player to Azharuddeen."
Also at Delhi, "Lalit Yadav is a hitter with strong boundary percentages as an offspinning allrounder. Whether they need him in the team given Ashwin is another matter though."
"And while a bit older at 29, Lukman Meriwala has never played IPL, and at just 20 lakh is the only left arm pacer in Delhi's entire group. He took 31 wickets at 12 in the last two years at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy"
"I'm interested to see Marco Jansen at Mumbai. I don't think he'll play, but he has high potential, and maybe he's been bought cheaply to retain next year if he breaks through for South Africa."
"At KKR, I'd like to see Kamlesh Nagarkoti realise his protentional after previous injury setback. And Varun Chakravarthy, who is on the fringes of the India team, could have another good year."
"Punjab kings have Ishan Porel, who didn’t play last year, but has 20 wickets at 14 in the last two years of the Syed Mushtaq Ali. He could really improve their group as local pacer, as their numbers last year for pace and death bowling were poor."
Prabhsimran Singh [now 20], made his debut at 18, and has numbers to suggest that he should be ready now. The Kings have Agarwal, KL Rahul, Gayle and Pooran fairly established, which leaves them with a choice of Mandeep Singh and Deepak Hooda, or Prabhsimran Singh and Shahrukh Khan, and I'd rather have the aggressive younger two players than constrained hitters in Mandeep and Hooda."
"The Punjab Kings are dark horse for the tournament, assuming they make the right decisions. If the pick well and strategize well, they could be in with a shout."
Here ends part one of my interview with Dan. My thanks to him for his time, and make sure you follow him on Twitter @SAAdvantage, and check out his website as well. Tomorrow will see part two posted, as I ask Dan about his work with Birmingham Phoenix, and he tells me about some interesting stats in t20.