IPL Auction Pre-Auction Analysis: Hunting For Gold

21st January, 2018.

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One of the many dynamics about recruiting a T20 team is that a successful team doesn't need to have superstars to win matches, or get to the business end of tournaments.  

As my recent article 'How to win a T20 league' illustrated, overseas players tend to be the icing on the cake and the main driver for team success should be more focused towards recruiting the best bowlers, particularly domestic ones.  Very few teams who were extremely strong at batting have been able to overcome large weaknesses in their bowling in recent years, so it's still truly bizarre that teams often focus their efforts at the start of drafts and auctions on expensive overseas batsmen - the total opposite of what they should be doing (with the exception of the BPL, where conditions and aptitude of domestic bowlers in home conditions, and general ineptitude of domestic batsmen make this a much better strategy).

Understanding the reasons for this bias towards batsmen is to some extent speculation, but there are three main reasons as to why I think this occurs:-

1) Marquee overseas batsmen get a lot of publicity.  Publicity = marketing revenue, and guaranteed full stadiums.  Worrying about attendances in the IPL isn't a particularly big issue, but in other franchise leagues perhaps it might be.

2) Franchise owners often treat their franchises like a plaything.  Therefore they want the highest profile players, to inflate their ego further.

3) Ignorance.  We have seen numerous times with auctions and drafts around the world that teams frequently exhibit poor strategies, both regarding recruitment and selection.  Without doubt, if you asked decision makers of franchise who they'd rather spend their money on, a high profile overseas batsman would be close to the top of their list.  

With the IPL auction around the corner, I'm envisaging that these dynamics will continue to persist.  

As you might already realise from reading this, or some previous articles that I've written, I'd be keener on looking at spending a high proportion of a budget on quality domestic players first and foremost, and then latterly picking up some lower profile overseas players that would then compliment an array of domestic talent.  

To do this successfully, focusing efforts on 'under the radar' players is essential.  In effect, we are hunting for gold.  With this in mind, here is a list of some of the lower profile overseas players that I'd be considering at a lower price than most.  I'm not necessarily suggesting that some would be at the top of my shortlist, but according to our numbers, these are the lower profile players who are better than average and are likely to be less costly than many of the bigger names from around the world.

Joe Denly (Batsman, England) - Denly has a rare talent among English batsmen, being equally adept at both spin and pace bowling, striking at around 135 against both bowling types in the last two years, making it difficult for opposition teams to find a plan to combat  him.

When you also factor in that Denly has an expected IPL batting average of 32.02 and strike rate 138.54, as well as a boundary hitting percentage of around 18%, it is clear that he is a batsman considerably better than average in this format, and also offers variety with the ball, bowling useful spin as well.

Joe Denly has performed well for Kent, Dhaka Dynamites and Sydney Sixers in the last year...

D'Arcy Short (Batsman, Australia) - Has burst onto the scene in the last two Big Bash editions, with a speciality for batting against pace bowling.  Our algorithms give short an expected IPL average of 44.52, striking at 157.93, and this obviously makes him out as one of the best batsmen in the competition.  

However, teams may try and stifle Short with spin, and it will be interesting to see how he copes with this.  Also bowls a bit as well.

Najibullah Zadran (Batsman, Afghanistan) - Criminally under-used by the Chittagong Vikings in the recent BPL, Zadran's batting is explosive, scoring almost 19% of boundaries for Afghanistan in associate T20 matches in the last two years, and our algorithm gives him an expected IPL average of around 40, and strike rate in excess of 150.  

Yes, he can really be this good, if only he was given the chance.

Cristiaan Jonker (Batsman, South Africa) - I've not seen a lot of Jonker, but that's not important.  More important are his numbers, which show that he's a boundary hitter, hitting an incredible 26% of deliveries for boundaries in the last two years in South Africa, and over 8% for the maximum.  

This prowess is reflected in strong batting expectation numbers for the IPL, with an expected average of 35.43, and strike rate 146.18.

Dawid Malan (Batsman, England) - Malan has had an up and down year for England in the Test arena, but that's not important to me.  I've already mentioned in previous articles that he's a much better white-ball batsman and that his inclusion in red-ball over white-ball for England illustrates how much muddled thinking occurs in the England selectors' minds.

With our algorithm giving Malan an expected batting average of 30.20 for this year's IPL and strike rate 147.02, he's another above-average batsman, and yes, you've guessed it - also bowls some spin as well.

Luke Ronchi (Wicket-keeper/Batsman, New Zealand) - An incredible boundary hitter, Ronchi hit an incredible 9.56% of deliveries for six across the recent T20 Blast, CPL and BPL, and hit boundaries in almost 30% of balls faced in these competitions.  

Quite simply, you'd struggle to find any batsman in world cricket who can beat these percentages, and Ronchi's superb expected IPL strike rate of 169.10 reflects such ability to find the boundary.

Luke Ronchi's boundary hitting is unrivalled in T20...

Cameron Delport (Batting all-rounder, South Africa) - I'm not entirely sure why Delport is under-rated in T20, but perhaps it's to do with a lack of international exposure, with Delport seemingly happy to play franchise T20 instead.

That's fine by me, and his batting numbers (expected IPL average of 27.95, strike rate 143.77) are also strong, hitting around 20% of balls faced for boundaries in 2017.  

When you consider Delport also offers useful medium-pace bowling too, it is evident that a lot of people are missing a trick with him.  Should be much more in demand with franchises around the world.  

Jon-Jon Smuts (Batting all-rounder, South Africa) - So good they named him twice, Smuts' batting is destructive for an opener (expected IPL strike rate of around 140, with an expected average of 30) and a boundary percentage in the last three years of around 19%, Smuts is everything that a T20 opener should be.

That's without considering his spin bowling, which is much better than the average batsman who bowls spin, particularly from an economy basis (expected IPL economy of 8.01).  As you may have gathered already, I like batsmen who bowl reliable spin, as it offers great options for getting cheap overs in for match-ups against batsmen who don't score quickly against spin.  Smuts offers teams this option.

Mohammad Nabi (All-rounder, Afghanistan) - Here is a player that I really like.  With a batting bias towards pace bowling, Nabi's expected IPL strike rate is around 160, and superbly complements his strong bowling numbers, which are better than average.  

Nabi's expected bowling average in this year's IPL is 27.43, and economy, 7.55.  Looks a real gun all-rounder.

Jofra Archer (Bowling All-Rounder, England/West Indies) - Where do we start?  Archer's batting, where he's averaging in the low 20s this year, striking at over 140 with almost 18% of balls hit for boundaries - excellent data for a lower order hitter - or his bowling, which has seen him improve in every T20 league that he's played in this year?

It's incredible to consider that Archer had bowled just 15 overs in T20 prior to this year's T20 Blast, and his death over data is strong as well, going for single figure runs in a death over well over 50% of the time.

Could well be in demand if franchises are astute, but given that he's yet to play international cricket, makes it into the lower-profile player list.

Ish Sodhi (Bowler, New Zealand) - Perhaps an unfashionable bowler, I'm surprised Sodhi hasn't been more in demand among T20 franchises currently, with our algorithm giving him an expected IPL bowling average of 25.10, at an economy of 8.07.  

Sodhi has taken wickets wherever he has played in T20 - the Big Bash, T20 Blast, New Zealand and in T20 internationals, so why isn't he higher profile - particularly when he has better IPL expected data than Imran Tahir?

Zahir Khan (Bowler, Afghanistan) - Not to be confused with the similarly named Indian paceman, Zahir Khan is a 19 year old left arm spin bowler from Afghanistan.  

Less high profile than his superstar countryman, Rashid Khan, and seemingly overtaken by Mujeeb Zadran in the national team too (numbers disagree on this, but also make Mujeeb a serious talent), our alrgorithm gives Zahir an expected IPL bowling average of 18.00, with economy a little worse than average at 8.65.  

A real wicket-taking threat, and I'd be absolutely amazed if he doesn't develop into another potential world-class Afghan spinner.

Ben Laughlin (Bowler, Australia) - An under-rated bowler who has had little exposure outside his native Australia, Laughlin has consistently taken wickets in the Big Bash, and has much better numbers than other Australian pace bowlers who have been drafted previously (Scott Boland and Billy Stanlake being just two examples). 

Laughlin is a real wicket-taking threat, with our algorithm giving him an expected average of just over 20 for this year's IPL, but with his death bowling figures not being great, I'd be looking to get his overs bowled earlier in an innings than he does currently.

Adam Milne (Bowler, New Zealand) - Two things worth considering before we discuss Milne's numbers in detail.  The first is his injury record - you'd want to make sure he's fit before signing him - and secondly, is that his basic numbers, from an economy perspective, don't particularly flatter him.  Playing for RCB and Kent, who have high scoring home venues, mean that he will look more expensive than if he played more matches at an average venue.

Luckily, our algorithm factors this type of information in, and Milne's expected average for this year's IPL is 23.81, with economy at 7.87.  That's considerably better than average, and good enough for me.

AJ Tye (Bowler, Australia) - Did well in the IPL last time but isn't a bowler that is particularly high profile, given that he is only on the fringes of the Australian national side.

Tye has taken wickets wherever he has gone in T20, and probably suffers a little from those who scout aesthetically, and the fact that he's more of a T20 specialist.  To make matters clear, I couldn't care less if a player isn't strong in red ball cricket if he's a gun in T20, and that's one of the many flaws of more traditional player evaluation.

Often bowling in the death overs, Tye's expected economy of 8.28 was never going to be particularly low, but his expected average of around 20 is world class.

Lungi Ngidi (Bowler, South Africa) - After his heroics against India in the recent test, he may not be quite as much under the radar as a week or two ago, but Ngidi is a real wicket-taking threat, with an expected average of 24.35 for this year's IPL, and he's taken wickets every 2.43 overs in the last two years in T20 - excellent figures.

Not so strong is his expected economy of 8.91, but at 21 years of age has an absolute ton of upside to continue to improve.

With such an array of talent under the radar, it is clear that bargains will be able to be sourced at the upcoming IPL auction.  Our bespoke auction and draft service helps teams to find these bargains (there are plenty in the Indian domestic market also), and to identify players who are under-valued by the market - for more information, please contact sportsanalyticsadvantage@gmail.com.