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IPL Auction 2024: KKR Lose Sight of Squad Strength by Splurging on Starc

As #KKR sign #MitchellStarc for Rs 24.75 crore, let’s delve into their strategy for #IPL2024.

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₹24.75 crore. When the Indian Premier League began in 2008, three icons - Sachin Tendulkar for Mumbai, Sourav Ganguly for Kolkata, and Rahul Dravid for Bengaluru - combined went for less money compared to what Kolkata Knight Riders decided to splurge on tearaway Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc at the IPL 2024 Auction today. It is now the most expensive purchase in the history of the IPL, beating the ₹20.50 crore set by teammate and captain Pat Cummins’ sale to Sunrisers Hyderabad, just two hours earlier.

"It's obviously humbling to still, I guess, feel like I'm wanted or, or needed anyway, I guess," Starc told Jio Cinema after his bid. "So hopefully that experience that I've had for a few years now can translate into success in… obviously leading up to the IPL and, hopefully, add some of that to the KKR list. Pat has gone to Sunrisers, but that's where he was at KKR, and I hope to fill his shoes there.”

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Although KKR weren’t part of the bidding process from the very beginning, once they showed their interest from ₹8 crore onwards they seemed hell bent on acquiring the player, no matter the cost, literally. The team had multiple rounds of long discussions at ₹12.5 crore and ₹18 crore but they kept on raising their paddle. So by the end they got their man for ₹24.75 crore, the KKR think tank at the table including co-owner Venky Mysore, mentor Gautam Gambhir, and head coach Chandrakant Pandit broke into celebrations.

Let’s talk about the ₹24.75 crore number for a minute. Provided he’s fit for the entirety of the IPL 2024 campaign and takes part in every league game, Starc will be earning ₹1.76 crore per match. If he completes his quota of four overs every match, that number can further be broken down to ₹7.33 lakhs per delivery!

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The Ifs and The Buts

Going into the auction, KKR had the third-highest budget of ₹32.7 crore. They spent three-fourths of it to acquire just one player. You don’t need an expert to tell you that this is anything but a prudent investment. What makes the nature of the acquisition even more shoddy is the fact that it has several big ‘ifs’ surrounding it.

The first ’if’ being that of availability. Starc hasn’t featured in the IPL auction since 2018 when KKR had previously signed him for ₹9.4 crore. He wasn’t able to play that season due to a right leg injury though. In fact, Starc hasn’t played in the IPL at all since 2015. He has chosen to prioritise his commitments to Australian cricket (Test cricket in particular) and his family ahead of the glitz, the glam, and of course, the dollars of the IPL.

Moreover, at 33, he is no spring chicken either. Fast bowlers are prone to frequent wear and tear and Starc hasn’t been on the fortunate end of injuries recently. His previous return to Kolkata was tainted by injury and Gambhir and co will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself this time around.

It’s also fair to ask the question whether Mitchell Starc has multiple IPLs left in him at this point in his career. He has always been someone who has been very clear about picking and choosing the competitions he wants to feature in and it won’t be surprising to see him draw the curtains on his IPL commitments after just one season.

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When asked about his participation this time around, Starc said, "Yeah, it's been a while. I was obviously involved 2014 and 2015 with RCB and then picked up in 2018, but missed out with injury. And then have really prioritised international cricket and wanted to prioritise Test cricket there as well and playing as much and as well as I could for Australia. So that was my thought process leading up to obviously a number of years anyway. And then coming into the back end of this year and, and into next year, is a lot quieter on the international scene for the Australian group.”

The other big ‘if’ is surrounding form. Starc hasn’t played a single T20I in 2023 and his numbers in this format since 2020 are average at best. He has played 30 T20 internationals since 2020 and has taken 34 wickets at an average of 28.1 as well as an economy rate of 8.49. He also hasn’t played any T20 cricket on the side during that period.

However, are there merits to this deal? Undoubtedly. With the inclusion of Mitchell Starc, Kolkata Knight Riders have a dangerous bowling attack because they had an excellent spin unit to begin with. Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy have been extremely successful in choking teams out on the slower surfaces of Kolkata during the middle overs while Suyash Sharma did pretty well in his debut IPL season, picking up 11 wickets in 11 matches. KKR also brought in Mujeeb ur Rahman for ₹2 crore later in the auction to further shore up their spin options.

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What Sets Starc Apart?

Fast-bowling has been a thorn for the side over the last few seasons and that could be one of the reasons why they have been so desperate to bring in Starc. Questions of form and availability may be pertinent in this case, but at the end of the day, Mitchell Starc is Mitchell Starc. He is one of the premier left-arm fast bowlers of his generation and a serial winner who has seen it all and done it all.

More importantly, what distinguishes Starc from, say someone like Cummins, is that he bowls really quick and really full upfront and relies on swing. That takes the nature of the surface out of the equation when compared to someone like Cummins who bowls more back of length deliveries and hits the deck hard.

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Who Are The Allies of Starc?

What further helps KKR’s cause is that they were able to acquire two important pieces of the puzzle for only ₹1 crore - a reliable Indian wicket-keeper in KS Bharat and an Indian quick with potential in Chetan Sakariya. The addition of Sakariya is also exciting because he can generate swing but also knows how to take pace off the ball which will complement Starc well. They also possess another raw talent in Harshit Rana who will be hoping to make a major impression this season after picking up six wickets in eight matches in IPL 2023.

Kartik Tyagi is someone who could’ve also been a more secure and smart acquisition for the franchise at an extremely affordable price (he went to Gujarat Titans for ₹60 lakhs) but it seems quite clear that Kolkata Knight Riders have chosen to prioritize a gala starting XI over having a strong squad. This was also the case when they won the IPL in 2012 and 2014 under Gautam Gambhir and with the former Indian batter steering the reins this time around, there’s reasons to be optimistic that the side will be able to get the most out of their resources and push above their weight. Expectations, however, need to be tempered.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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