The key for any new franchise in the IPL is players – the higher the profile, the better their chance creating a fanbase. The Gujarat Lions – formerly known as Team Rajkot – will know the importance of buying a few marquee names in the IPL 2016 Player Auction on Saturday.
Wanting to buy and being able to are completely different things, of course, so the most important aspect for the Gujarat Lions in these auctions will be to outsmart the teams who have been doing this for the past eight years.
Here is a look at the players the Gujarat Lions might target (remember, they have already signed five players from the Player Draft – Suresh Raina, who was also named the captain, Ravindra Jadeja, Brendon McCullum, James Faulkner and Dwayne Bravo).
Yuvraj Singh: With three all-rounders in the team, and arguably bowling ones – Bravo and Jadeja are certainly those – the Gujarat Lions need a batting all-rounder. Enter Yuvraj, who showed he still has his bowling mojo in spades, while also sparkling enough with the bat to prove he will be a big asset to any team that shells out all that money for him – and it will be a lot of money; not Rs 16 crore maybe, but a lot nonetheless.
What Yuvraj, apart from being a valuable T20 batsman, also brings is marketability. And with the Gujarat Lions having just two years in the IPL to bring in as much moolah as possible, a big name like Yuvraj will help considerably.
Openers: While McCullum is there at the top to maul the bowling lineup, the Gujarat Lions will want to give the New Zealander a fitting partner. There are three top options in the marquee players list – Martin Guptill, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith – and one a rung below – Usman Khawaja. All four batsmen can be destructive at the top, with Finch, Khawaja and Guptill in top form at the moment. Smith, though, has the better IPL pedigree, and you feel the Gujarat Lions cannot go wrong with any of the four batsmen. Another opening option to ponder might be Hashim Amla, who is quite underrated in the shortest format of the game.
Experience: A calm head in the middle order is vital in T20 matches, so putting a bit of money on one of Michael Hussey, Mahela Jayawardene, both of whom can also open, and George Bailey might not be a bad idea. Bailey was in tremendous form for Australia in the ODI series against India, and Kings XI Punjab, if they cannot buy him back, might regret letting the Australian go.
Indian fast bowler(s): While Jadeja can play the role of lead spinner, a good Indian fast bowler is also essential. Ishant Sharma is an option, albeit a slightly expensive one at a base price of Rs 2 crore. Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Dhawal Kulkarni and Barinder Sran are also options to consider for the Gujarat Lions, who will need more than one Indian fast bowler in their squad.
Travis Head: With Raina expected to bat at No.3, the Gujarat Lions will need a player who can go to tonk-town at will towards the end, and while they have Faulkner, Bravo and Jadeja to do that, getting Head, in ridiculous form at the Big Bash League, might be a good idea. There will be plenty of interest for the Australian, though, so getting the batting tyro will not be easy.
Sanju Samson: While McCullum can keep wickets, he hasn't done so for quite a while. So, the Gujarat Lions will be on the lookout for a wicketkeeper, and Samson fits the bill perfectly. Didn't have the greatest of IPL seasons last year, but has the potential to be an India regular in the future. Samson is definitely someone the Gujarat Lions should bid for. The fanbase that Samson will get from Kerala will be an added bonus as well, especially considering the supporters from the state are starved of an IPL team to support.