"One is unsure if the IPL mega auction is happening after this cycle"- Delhi Capitals analyst, Sriram Somayajula

Sriram Somayajula, Delhi Capitals Analyst (Image via Sportskeeda)
Sriram Somayajula, Delhi Capitals Analyst (Image via Sportskeeda)

With Tata IPL 2022 around the corner, Delhi Capitals fans have a lot to look forward to this season. Like every other franchise, the team has a new look following an intense and dynamic mega IPL auction in mid-February.

However, unlike previous auctions, the Delhi-based side opted for an exciting mix of young and experienced players. This was best epitomized when they decided not to retain Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas Iyer, two men who have been integral to their success in recent years. Instead, they decided to keep South African pacer Anrich Nortje and the Indian trio of Axar Patel, Prithvi Shaw, and newly appointed captain Rishabh Pant.

The mega auction then saw them bring in the proven Australian duo of David Warner and Mitchell Marsh. Young and rising talents like Yash Dhull, Vicky Ostwal, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Ripal Patel were also snapped up by the IPL 2020 finalists. They completed their squad by signing proven T20 players like Rovman Powell, Shardul Thakur, Lungi Ngidi, Mustafizur Rahman and Chetan Sakariya.

So it is undoubtedly an interesting squad, but who exactly decides which players to sign and which players are worth going the distance in the auction and the reasoning behind it? To learn more about this, Sportskeeda caught up with Delhi Capitals data/performance analyst Sriram Somayajula.

He has been with the franchise since 2017, and it is no surprise that the team has arguably witnessed its most prosperous times over the last five years, with three Top 4 finishes.

However, a mega auction is a whole different ball game, especially with the addition of two new teams. The prospect of acting as a part of the decision-making team can be daunting and thrilling at the same time. But a lot is possible when you have your ducks in a row.

Sriram Somayajula's experience at the IPL auction table

From a data analyst's viewpoint, statistical analysis tools and models play a vital role at the auction table. Sriram shed light on the self-invented tool, which helped him create a strategy for the team in all scenarios, not to mention while eyeing new players at the auction.

"Captain’s cube is a tool I created for my own use, which is used to devise the strategy not only during the game but also to simulate what would be the best possible line-up based on the squad’s setup."

Explaining the integral role of scouting and the source of the data that Delhi Capitals used to understand every single player in detail, he said:

"Delhi Capitals engaged a sports analytics company who gave us almost all the data we needed of players (stats and videos) during our scouting process. Yes, the scouts went through the length and breadth of the country to watch the games."
"However, when we sat together with the owners, it was necessary to watch their videos and take the inputs of the Head Coach, who was virtually connected all the time."

Although Delhi Capitals chose not to retain Dhawan and Iyer this year, they decided to bid for them when they were up for sale.

But as mentioned before, the addition of the two new teams, coupled with the fact that Delhi Capitals started the auction with the lowest purse amount, meant that they could only compete up to a certain extent for some players. While they did not hold back for some, they had to be cautious in others.

However, this was always the theme for the mega auction. Every team was going to miss out on some of its ear-marked targets, but at the same time, they would go hammer & tong for the players who would strengthen their squad more than the rest.

This became evident when the Delhi Capitals chose not to exceed the eight crore mark for Shikhar Dhawan but splurged ₹10.75 crores on Shardul Thakur. But this is not to say that the 2020 IPL finalists were not clever with other deals.

For example - their purchase of David Warner at ₹6.25 crores is an absolute gem, especially if the Aussie-born star can replicate his form from previous years. Similarly, Lungi Ngidi at ₹50 lakhs, Mustafizur Rahman at ₹2 crores, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti at ₹1.1 crores were nifty buys.

But due to the dynamism of live auctions, mock auctions are always a helpful tactic to avoid any hesitancy and prepare for contingencies. Sriram explained the same and talked about how Delhi Capitals had to let go of some targets after a "certain price point" by saying:

"We practiced several mock auctions in preparation for the main event and it did give us a fair bit of an idea as to what we want to achieve. We did go after a lot of our own players and went up to a certain price point given that we had the least purse at the beginning of the auction."

Nevertheless, the Delhi Capitals entered the auction with a clear plan of action and were flexible with their purchases if and when they missed out on some pre-planned names. He said:

"Our strategy was evident, and we went ahead with a clear mind. Yes, there can be a few surprises on the day of the auction, and you've got to accept that it will be challenging, and it was. If you can nail 80% of your buys, I would say we have had a good auction."

"Like us, many of the other teams would have planned too, and that's the dynamism we did bring to the table to tweak with the budgets here and there at times when necessary."

Preparation for the IPL auction and the in-depth decision-making process

Delhi Capitals had a successful outing at the IPL mega auction this year. But all of this was only possible due to the countless hours spent scouting players, listing out their key areas, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, and then mapping out the main targets.

Data analysts play a vital role in this department as they are responsible for the most effective and efficient usage and interpretation of statistics. However, as mentioned before, all of this requires loads of preparation. Each franchise commences its work nearly six months before the tournament.

Sriram elucidated the entire scouting process of the Delhi Capitals for the current campaign by saying:

"As early as September 2021, the Head of Scouts and the academy coaches, and some of us started working and monitoring the progress of the upcoming talent. We followed the Asia cup U19, U19 WC, SMAT, VH, many other leagues worldwide and followed them constantly throughout the year."
"We have scouts in other countries/regions working parallelly to advise us on special talents round the year. The stage was set for the mega auction, and we got everyone in the DC management involved before we went into the big day."

Given the depth of the scouting operations, it is no wonder that the Delhi Capitals were able to sign some talented youngsters at the mega auction. The acquisition of Yash Dhull, who captained the U-19 World Cup-winning team and smashed his 2nd century in the Ranji Trophy last month, is a perfect example of the same.

But delving a little deeper into the analytics world, every franchise employs a specific model to sign players. In particular, the movie "Moneyball" depicted how the Major League Baseball side, Oakland Athletics, acquired undervalued talent by taking a sophisticated sabermetric approach. They used data to their advantage and filled the gaps between potential and performance.

The Delhi Capitals were also a side that was working with the least budget when the mega auction started. They were, hence, in a position where they would have had to sign some players who do not have a history of performing but can be honed and developed into world-beaters or competent professionals at the very least.

Although the model employed by Delhi Capitals is confidential, Sriram explained the role of analytics before signing a player by saying:

"The model we used to predict a player's value (s) is something that we don't want to reveal, but a lot of number crunching and data modeling were used."

"When we get deeper into the numbers, we understand the role we want that player to play for us, choose backups for the position we take, and the potential picks (upcoming talent) always add value to the squad. Analytics is vastly used in every walk of sport. We even look at the player's workload before bringing them to our scheme of things."

Delhi Capitals roadmap for future auctions & acquisitions

The 2022 mega IPL auction allowed teams to build again, lay the foundation for their squads and retain only their best talents. As of now, there is little information on whether there will ever be another mega IPL auction.

This forced the ten franchises to find a balance between signing young talents and not getting rid of veterans to meet their short-term and long-term needs. It might look straightforward to analyze and list down some players on paper.

However, it is quite an arduous task to hit the sweet spot of knowing that your team is well set up for the next five years, if not more than that.

However, Delhi Capitals struck this balance by bringing in the talent of tomorrow and signing some experienced players. Sriram was buoyant about the 2022 IPL campaign because of its intelligent acquisitions. He said:

"One is unsure if the mega auction is happening after this cycle. So, we are certainly here to build the franchise from here on. Thinking too far ahead will not help us at the auction table or be able to put together a formidable squad."
"So, the idea was to set up a good team that could go and fight it out on the field. It’s always a mix of both upcoming talent and experienced players. If you see the way DC is set up now, there is so much experience and, at the same time, some magnificent talent for the future."

The Delhi Capitals analyst explained the kind of belief the owners and management have put in the support staff to build a squad that can compete this year and in the future. He said:

"DC has been a team known for building youngsters for many years and continues to do so. The owners and management have given the freedom to the support staff, and the head coach believes in bringing fresh energy with a judicious mix of experience brings in success."
"One must wait for 80 odd days to see how this season shapes up. All said and done, Delhi Capitals are the team in the reckoning and the team of the future!"

The city of Delhi has waited for over 15 years to watch its franchise win the IPL. But given their progress over recent years, one can say with some certainty that the future for the team is bright, and they have as good a shot as any other team at achieving success this year.

Sriram Somayajula played his part in the mega auction for the Delhi Capitals, with his usage and interpretation of data helping them build more than a formidable squad.

But the major test will begin on Sunday when the players take the field against 5-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians. For all we know, 2022 could be the year Delhi Capitals are finally heralded champions in their own right.

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