That Ravichandran Ashwin is not a part of the Chennai Super Kings on the side’s much-awaited return to the Indian Premier League has come as a disappointment to a chunk of their fans.
However, the fact remains that the Chennai franchise picked up a wily off-spinner in Harbhajan Singh at just over one-fourth of the Rs 7.60 crore that Kings XI Punjab paid for the Tamil Nadu bowler in the ongoing 2018 VIVO Player auction in Bengaluru.
“(Ravichandran) Ashwin was obviously on our mind but Harbhajan was our other option,” CSK Head Coach Stephen Fleming told the official broadcaster after the side bid until the Rs 4-crore mark.
Ashwin was an integral part of CSK’s spectacular run in the opening decade after making his debut in 2009 and remains the side’s highest wicket-taker with 90 scalps.
CSK won the IPL title twice, finished runners-up on four occasions and qualified to the Playoffs in all eight seasons between 2008 and 2015. Not to forget the two Champions League crowns.
In fact, Ashwin took the IPL route to international cricket after he opened the attack for CSK, bowled at the death and was adjudged Man of the Series in the 2010 Champions League held in South Africa.
Last week, Mahendra Singh Dhoni said CSK would look to buy Ashwin at the auction but also cautioned, “This is the time where we can’t get too emotional about the fact because a lot of other franchises want players who have played for CSK.”
Piecing together a squad at an IPL player auction is a lot different and a lot more difficult than selecting a side in normal circumstances, for the dynamic nature of the auction makes it unpredictable. So much so, T20 cricket’s most destructive batsman Chris Gayle and IPL’s top wicket-taker Lasith Malinga remained unsold on the opening day.
That said, however, one must agree that change is inevitable.
“CSK got a bargain in Harbhajan for Rs 2 crore and he is a classy spinner. So, not much difference in quality there,” said Vasanth Chandrasekaran, the former Tamil Nadu opener and junior coach.
“Also I think fans need to get used to new players. Retaining the core of a team is a big thing, I mean, and CSK have held on to five major players.
“It’s been a decade. One will agree that eventually players go, move on, retire.”
Ashwin is currently not a part of India’s limited-overs setup with wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav the first choice for skipper Virat Kohli. In fact, it has been widely reported that Ashwin is working on bowling leg-spin as a variation in a bid to return to the shorter formats in the international game.
“The auction is always a house of casino, I am happy that @lionsdenkxip will be my new home and thank you so much @ChennaiIPL for all the great memories,” Ashwin tweeted.
Meanwhile, CSK fans expressed disappointment at Ashwin’s absence but commended the team’s choice of selection.
“The line up is one of the strongest... core retained... Missed @ashwinravi99... All we need is couple of seamers... @ChennaiIPL,” VG Gladwin, a CSK fan, tweeted.
In Ashwin’s case the move to Kings XI Punjab could open up the possibility of him leading the franchise, given that he is an astute thinker of the game and the team is looking for a captain.
Interestingly, Harbhajan, whom Ashwin succeeded in the Indian team, is also moving to a new franchise for the first time after having spent the opening decade with three-time winners Mumbai Indians, whom he has also led.
Former India skipper Kris Srikkanth said Harbhajan was a “fantastic buy.” “It’s a steal, to get Harbhajan for his base price. He also gets along well with Dhoni,” Srikkanth told the official broadcaster.