Keshav Bansal: "It is not about that one world-class player"
At the IPL Auction 2017, while teams were spending money, left, right and center, Keshav Bansal remained calm and pensive, like a sage unperturbed by the chaos that was unfolding around him. Even when they did cause a momentary flutter by signing someone, even those in the know didn't know too much about the players that were being signed.
Gujarat Lions owner Keshav Bansal explains that there was a method to the madness that saw his team make signings akin to what a pop star would do so as to keep out of the headlines the following day. Despite being the youngest IPL franchise owner, perhaps Bansal knows that the secret to success in the IPL lies not in foreign superstars but in domestic players.
That has been evident from the success of Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Mumbai Indians. And that seems to be the plan for the Lions and their owner who admits that he is all about giving young Indian talent a chance.
In an exclusive freewheeling chat to Sportskeeda, Bansal spoke about Gujarat Lions' strategy going into the IPL auction, Suresh Raina and the general buzz surrounding the side ahead of IPL 2017 and a whole lot more.
Bansal explains Lions’ auction strategy
"I am a firm believer of promoting young, Indian domestic talent and if you don't have Indian talent then we should look for talent from other countries," he begins, which gives you a clear idea of his thought process.
Speaking about the team’s strategy ahead of the auction, he said: "There were a couple of thoughts. First of all, I am a firm believer that IPL isn't only about the games and match-winners can only come out of big names. It's about who performs and clicks that day. We have a lot of young, domestic Indian talent and they look up to us and IPL as a platform, so we did go and scout for domestic players.
"T20 is aggressive and a game of fearless individuals and we saw many such individuals. The idea was very clear that we will be going for youngsters, energetic talent who think they have what it takes.”
With every word he utters, you begin to get a clear understanding that this is a guy who knows what he is talking about and who is clear about the direction in which he wants his side to go.
"The strategy was very clear that it is not about big names, all the time, we have a very strong core team," he adds. "If you have such experienced players and you can back it up with young, domestic energy, we are all there to mentor and guide them and that was the idea.”
Extra Cover: Keshav Bansal, standing tall in the big league
All the myths and misconceptions about T20 is lost on him. His vision might be clear and forthright but he was also quick to add that it is not all him. In fact, he admitted that the decisions regarding the composition of the squad didn't lie with him alone.
"The decisions regarding which players should be in the squad are a combined effort of the CEO, the head coach, and the captain," he says before adding that he shared his vision with the trio before giving them the free reign to fill any other gaps that need to be addressed.
One such area of concern from IPL 2016 was their bowling and Bansal himself admitted that it was "one area that we thought we could improve on" and that is why they went all out to add to their bowling department during the auction. While the likes of Nathu Singh and Basil Thampy are certainly in line with the owner's vision of developing young, domestic talent what then of the likes of Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony?
While they are both fast bowlers, they are also both 33 and have often been overlooked as far as the IPL is concerned in recent years. So what prompted the Gujarat Lions to go for them? Bansal explained that they had plenty of experience of playing in the IPL.
"We have been monitoring them, they have been in good touch, really working hard towards their fitness levels and I think it is just about giving them another chance and they have been quite eager and hungry to go out there and give it their best.”
Even though Ravindra Jadeja won't be available for the first two weeks of the IPL and they let Pravin Tambe go, the 25-year-old isn't too concerned about the lack of world-class spinners at the Lions' disposal ahead of IPL 2017.
"These rankings keep going up and down. After one year, we are talking about Ravindra Jadeja and he is the No. 1 Test bowler," he says. "We had a great find in Shivil Kaushik and he went on to get the name of Paul Adams of India, we have Shubham Agarwal this year.
"Again, it is not about big names, it is not about that one world-class player. we have a strong core team and with this young, domestic talent coming in, it will add great value to the team.”
Having gone into this year's auction with a clear strategy and the objective of ensuring that there is a back-up for every slot in case of injury, Bansal isn't too concerned about the squad that coach Brad Hodge has at his disposal.
“IPL and T20 as a format, any one player in one over can change the game.”
Bansal backs Suresh Raina
In fact, he is not even worried about Suresh Raina, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, it was for being omitted from BCCI's list of centrally contracted players for the 2016/17 season. Then the Uttar Pradesh coach slammed Raina by saying that his priorities had changed after marriage and the concentration on cricket isn't what it was before.
But that was before Raina himself came out and said that the reason his mind hasn't been on cricket was because of his daughter's health. Yet, Bansal, who admitted that he is a good friend of the Gujarat Lions skipper, isn't too worried.
"These are phases of life that come and go. Not every individual can only have highs and be playing in the best form, you also have lows, I personally think these are just phases of life," he says when asked about the southpaw.
"Raina is in great form, both mentally and physically. His fitness levels are extremely high. He is focusing on the game and we are expecting quite a number of fireworks from Raina this season. He is all geared up to lead the team and I think things will be fine post-IPL if you see his performances. “
In his own words, “IPL and T20 as a format, any one player in one over can change the game". But the success of the Lions has been built around the team and ensuring that it isn't just a one-man army. And that is something that Bansal is proud of.
As the clock was winding down, the question of the expectations ahead of IPL 2017 came up. The reply was simple, succinct and in keeping with his character.
"THE TROPHY," he said before explaining himself. "That is definitely the only thing that we are looking for. This year the IPL finishes earlier and we are playing matches almost every second day, so it is important for every player to go all out on the field but at the same time, make sure that they take care of their fitness levels. It is about playing the sport in the most respected manner and just getting the trophy home. That is what we look for and all our efforts and our endeavours are towards that goal."
Only time will tell if the sage who oversaw the IPL Auction turns out to be wise or not. But for now, Gujarat Lions have a balanced squad with an ideal mix of up-and-coming Indian talents along with international superstars and Bansal's vision is certainly taking shape.