In the high stakes world of franchise cricket, owners and head coaches tend to make the same mistakes the company owners make eg. making investments in the latest hot sector (i.e. suffering from recency bias), getting infatuated by trophy assets, focusing on the outcome rather than the process, second guessing the CEO/Captain, etc. In this piece, Gaurav Sundararaman of Cricinfo, who has previously worked as a statistical analyst advising various IPL franchises on their bidding strategy, lays out the ideal strategy for building a strong IPL team:
Leadership: Gaurav says that the franchise has to first “Pick the captain. Then empower the captain.” Gaurav believes that part of CSK’s success has been in picking MS Dhoni in 2008 and empowering him for more than a decade to make the critical decisions. Other franchises have messed things up: “There have been instances where franchises have chosen a team and then picked a leader. Force-fitting captaincy could be challenging. R Ashwin at Punjab Kings in 2018 2019, and Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith at Rajasthan Royals are some of the examples in recent years where players were bought at the auction and then given captaincy. Unlike Test cricket, T20 is not won purely on skill but on how certain decisions are taken dynamically. It is important to not be predictable and always be one step ahead of the opposition. Sometimes, making fewer obvious errors is good enough to prevail over an opposition, which a leader like Dhoni does repeatedly.”
Avoiding bias: Since very few people have read Daniel Kahnemahn’s books and fewer still have understood what the Nobel laureate has written, most franchises bids betray their biases and result in them paying over the odds for sub-standard players. So how can a franchise owner avoid bias? “A neutral perspective to every pick based on a few metrics such as: how well the batter plays the googly? How is his first ten-ball strike rate? Can he play the sweep shot well? How does a bowler handle a wet ball? How many variations does a bowler have? These factors could go a long way. There needs to be a balancing act between using data and cricketing instincts/experience. The game has still not reached a stage where contextual sample sizes are enough for machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide an advantage. Trusting techniques and ability to counter certain situations are more vital than blindly going by strike rates, averages, economy rates or whether the player is on the list of highest run-getters/wicket-takers. Bowling with a wet ball in Wankhede in April is very different from bowling in Australia or the Caribbean. Once again, it is the scouts that need to relay the right info to the coaches, who in turn have to convince the person raising the paddle.”
Price points: Gaurav believes that every player – including the megastars – has a price and just like capital allocation is a critical skill in business, bidding the right amount for megastars is a key skill in franchise cricket: “Spending 15-20 crores on one player is approximately 20% of the budget on one player. One player cannot win the league. Rashid Khan still does not have a T20 trophy to his name. Royal Challengers have faced the same challenges in previous season with lopsided budget spends, role wise. No algorithm/model will ever be able to predict the right cost at which a player is likely to go accurately. If they were to be followed, no team would complete even 50% of their budget since algorithms would not predict 15 crores for a Glenn Maxwell (Royal Challengers) or an 11 crore for Manish Pandey (Sunrisers). Hence, it is important to understand the maximum price points of a skill set/role from experience, and work around that. Shreyas Iyer for example could be a beneficiary of this price-point conundrum in the coming auction as franchises might frantically bid for him hoping that suddenly Iyer would have the captaincy skills of Dhoni, the batting skills of Virat Kohli and the power of a Kieron Pollard.”
Do your research diligently: Gaurav says that a franchise owner’s decisions depend critically on how good is the research that she’s being fed: “While owners and CEOs can take the money calls at the auction table, they need to be fed with the right information from the coaching staff, in which scouts should play an integral role – especially while picking uncapped Indian players. Take Kolkata Knight Riders, whose scouts identified Varun Chakravarthy and Venkatesh Iyer early. Now both players are part of the franchise’s core having been retained. Ditto with Mumbai Indians, who have one of the best scouting networks, comprising former international coaches, players and selectors. They picked the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and the Pandya brothers as uncapped talents…”

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