Why teams broke the bank for Morris, Jamieson, Gowtham and Meredith

At the 2021 IPL auction, why did franchises break the bank to buy Chris Morris, Kyle Jamieson, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson and to an extent the uncapped pair of K Gowtham and Riley Meredith? ESPNcricinfo analyses the reasons.

Chris Morris for INR 16.25 crore (USD 2.23 million approx.) to Rajasthan Royals

It is not a common skillset for a bowler to fire up speeds in the 140kph region consistently, have enough variations at the same time, and simultaneously play cameos in the lower order. And that is a big reason why South Africa allrounder Chris Morris has ended up being a millionaire more than once at IPL auctions.

In 2018, Morris fetched INR 11 crore (USD 1.5 million approx.) from then Delhi Daredevils. Two years later, in 2020, Royal Challengers Bangalore bought him for INR 10 crore (USD 1.37 million approx.). In the six matches he played for the Royal Challengers last IPL before being sidelined by an injury, Morris’ economy was 6.26 in the powerplay and 7.03 in the death overs. And even though his numbers with the bat are a bit weak in the last two IPL seasons, Morris had a 30-plus average and 160-plus strike rate in four consecutive IPLs between 2015-18.

The debate about why the Royal Challengers released Morris is for another day. But on Thursday afternoon, they wrestled with Mumbai Indians initially, then lost out to the Rajasthan Royals, who were gasping by the time they raised the paddle for one last time to silence Punjab Kings’ rival bid late in the play, to buy Morris at INR 16.25 crore, the highest price paid for a player in an auction in addition to being the second-highest salary behind Virat Kohli, the Royal Challengers’ captain who gets paid INR 17 crore (USD 2.34 million approx.).

All the teams that bid for Morris were on the lookout for at least one overseas fast bowler as well as an allrounder who could provide the firepower with ball and bat. Both the Royal Challengers and Kings did not have a quality allrounder in their ranks. Mumbai needed a replacement for James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile; both were released after the 2020 IPL. They also needed a back-up for Pollard, and therefore were not shy to go big for Morris as they could have hit two targets with one stone.

Kyle Jamieson for INR 15 crore (USD 2.06 million approx.) to Royal Challengers Bangalore

Coming into the auction Jamieson, towering at over 6’8″, was expected to be picked for a lot of money, but 15 crores for a bowler who has played just 38 T20 matches does raise eyebrows.

Jameison’s height, pace and batting ability all worked in his favour, making him the second-most expensive player of this mini-auction. Although he has never played in India, the perceived value was high. He also benefited from the low supply-high demand dynamics.

For the Royal Challengers, Jamieson was the final bet after they had lost Morris and Jhye Richardson to the Royals and Punjab Kings respectively. Jamieson is likely to perform the same role for the Royal Challengers Morris was assigned last IPL. The New Zealander is likely to bat at No. 7 while being the strike bowler. It remains to be seen whether he can match his towering price with high-impact performances.

Glenn Maxwell for INR 14.25 crore (USD 1.96 million approx.) to Royal Challengers Bangalore

Maxwell and millions is no more a headline. As Mike Hesson, the Royal Challengers’ team director, said Maxwell has that “X-factor” teams are desperate to have. So it was no surprise when five teams contested fiercely for the Australian allrounder.

The bidding race began with Kolkata Knight Riders and the Royals but both fell out of the race quite early. Then Royal Challengers and Chennai Super Kings entered into a paddle-raising contest. The Super Kings showed uncharacteristic aggression at the auction table, bidding up to INR 14 crore, which is just one crore lesser than their most expensive player, MS Dhoni who was retained in 2018 at INR 15 crore. The Royal Challengers, no strangers to splurging, did not blink though.

Both Royal Challengers and Super Kings were on the lookout for a power-hitting allrounder. The Super Kings wanted an able replacement for Shane Watson while the Royal Challengers wanted someone that could reduce the burden on AB de Villiers, who Maxwell recently said is his “idol”. Imagine the mayhem de Villiers and Maxwell can cause together at the crease.

Jhye Richardson for INR 14 crore (USD 1.92 million approx.) to Punjab Kings

Currently in New Zealand for the T20I series, the slightly built Jhye Richardson had impressed franchises with not just his speed, but importantly with how he kept the scoring rate in check while bowling for Perth Scorchers in the 2021 Big Bash League – where he finished as the tournament’s highest wicket-taker. Jhye made an impact especially in the powerplay and the Power Surge segments, indicating he can bowl under pressure.

Although the Kings have the Indian pair of Mohammed Shami and Arshdeep Singh in the fast bowling department, they had released West Indies’ left-arm fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell after just one season, so had a gap to fill.

The Kings had to stave off rival bids firstly from the Capitals, who were probably looking for a back-up for the South African pair of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, both of whom could miss the initial games because of their home series against Pakistan.

But after the Capitals exited the race at the INR 9-crore mark, the Royal Challengers picked up the baton. Despite the presence of two other Australian fast bowlers in Kane Richardson and Daniel Sams, the Royal Challengers wanted another fast man, both as a back-up and as a compensation for losing out on Morris. However, the Kings benefited from having the biggest purse at this auction and bagged Jhye.

K Gowtham for INR 9.25 crore (USD 1.27 million approx.) to Chennai Super Kings

Harbhajan Singh’s absence in the 2020 IPL was felt hard by the Super Kings who were desperate for a finger spinner to create pressure. The scarcity of quality offspinners with IPL experience in the Indian domestic circuit meant that Gowtham was on the radar for more than one team.

Having released Harbhajan, who had been bought in 2018 auction for INR 2 crore (USD 275,000 approx.), the Super Kings’ two main options were Gowtham and Jalaj Saxena. Gowtham can be a handful on spin-friendly pitches apart from being destructive with the bat.

The Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad were also looking for spinning all-rounders and therefore entered the fray for Gowtham, which played a role in driving his price upwards drastically. The fact that the Super Kings had a much bigger purse than other two teams played to their advantage.

Riley Meredith for INR 8 crore (USD 1.1 million approx.) to Punjab Kings

Meredith became the most expensive uncapped overseas player signed at an auction when the Kings paid INR 8 crore for his services. Shane Warne had spoken about his potential and he will have the chance to show his ability ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup in India. As Anil Kumble, the Kings’ head coach, said, Meredith’s raw pace impressed the management and he would be handy to plug a hole they had from last season.

Meredith strikes once every 18 balls in T20s and along with fellow Australian Jhye, the pair could play a similar role to what Rabada and Nortje do for the Capitals. The idea to play two overseas fast bowlers in the playing XI is a trick successfully carried out by five-time IPL champions Mumbai, and now other franchises are catching on to as well.

In fact, the Capitals, coached by former Australia captain Ricky Ponting, were the other team that bid heavily for Meredith, resulting in a higher price. With the BBL being the only major competition that was held between last season’s IPL and the auction, teams had to fall back on more Australian bowlers and Meredith was a beneficiary.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo. Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo.