Cracking the IPL data-driven auction code ft. Sriram Somayajula’s Delhi Capitals

Very often, to the naked eyes, the IPL Auction is a carnival that brings about a plethora of arguments between the franchise’s selection of players and the fans. But have we ever thought of what exactly goes behind the scenes? The months or sometimes even years of hard work that goes in?

That has been arguably one of the biggest changes and challenges that the Indian Premier League has brought about, since its inception in 2008, where cricket was still looked at as a very instinctive sport. Now, the instinctive part of the game would never be replaced but with data-driven analytics taking precedence, it has taken some sort of pressure off the chest of instinctive captains, who now would only have to don a limited-cap.

Now this change might have stemmed from the immense success of the T20 leagues all over the world, including Australia’s Big Bash League. But for a country like Australia, data has been a prevalent thing before the westernized concept hit the Indian ocean. Ever since it hit the shores, there has been immense progress, with some even batting for the game to be data-driven in the future.

Delhi Capitals’ analyst Sriram Somayajula, in an exclusive interview with SportsCafe, mentioned how important the development of data has been in the game of cricket. He pointed out the number of rules, regulations, and varied principles of the game-changing, due to the diversity of the crowd and the ever-growing nature of the game.

“Two things - one that the game progressed so much today and there so much advancement in the game as well. Two decades back there was the super-sub rule, this time in the Big Bash League we have the X-factor rule. The change in rules is leading to people getting more productive, attracting more crowds. It is one sort of thing that has changed the landscape of the game. But if you look at England and Australia, they have been using data since the past 15 years and in the subcontinent, it is relatively new,” Sriram told SportsCafe.

“When India started getting results using data and being more productive of the result, it paved the way for them and it has helped the nation as a sport, changing the culture. IPL has brought up innovation if I have to be honest. Since it has started, data has been used so much in India today and rightly so,” he added.

While using data and getting a productive result might seem complicated to the layman, the usage of match-ups has become highly prevalent in the current cricketing scenario. It has become so prevalent that most cricket fans, in at least the past edition of the tournament, have indulged themselves in a conversation regarding match-ups.

“Even in the IPL, the concept of having match-ups was never there. Today we all talk about match-ups a lot, particularly if you talk about Australian coaches, they always talk about match-ups and how to set up a particular batsman or attack a particular bowler or how we derive some strategy around a batsman. Which overs we will have a launch, precisely look at one on one match-ups, that has changed the entire landscape, including from a viewer’s perspective. One word that unites all aspects, which is match-ups,” he added.

Now, a small example of day-to-day talk about match-ups would be Axar Patel’s brilliance against the right-hander, with his natural variation taking the ball away from the right-hander’s reach. On the other hand, Sriram also in detail broke down how a match-up would be identified.

A match-up could be broken down to a regular event during a match, which has in due course of time become a reckoning pattern. For the same, he pointed out one of Delhi’s star players, Prithvi Shaw, who has had his fair share of struggle against the swinging delivery. But even when the data shows that Shaw has an innate weakness against such delivery, it would not equate to his downfall.

“If an Axar Patel comes to bowl, we know he has done well against a right-handed batsman, he averages a 7 economy as opposed to a left-hander, where he concedes eight runs. We know that we can use him well against the right-handers, it is not that he struggles against left-handed batsmen but he revels well against the righties. That’s what I meant in terms of match-ups,” he adds

“It’s as simple as that, Trent Boult or Deepak Chahar has done well against Prithvi Shaw, so we know that there is a slight mismatch. But this year if you see, Shaw attacked Chahar in the first game, which set the momentum for us. Sometimes you get and sometimes you fail but you always look for the execution, which makes a big difference.”

How do these data then influence an IPL Auction, influence the proceedings in just a dinner-table kind of environment? Well, it’s not as simple as it is projected at times, for the teams to prepare themselves for Auction, it takes valuable time, anywhere between circling out 300 players in a league miles away from the country to narrowing down players from another continent.

In the same scheme of things, Sriram put it down to the simplest of examples, Amit Mishra, another Delhi’s star player. Last year, just after three games, the ace leg-spinner had walked away with an injury, which also ended his participation from the edition of the tournament. Sriram stated that you can’t assess a player based on just one characteristic - i.e., batting or bowling. In this case, he explained that if the franchise wanted Amit Mishra to keep getting 30 runs every game, that would be beyond his capabilities, something that they would have to figure out before they sit on the Auction table, using the tonnes of data and projections.

“It’s a mix of all of these, you don’t assess a player or pick him based on one characteristic, you have to build a certain metric around where you can judge him. Someone like (Amit) Mishra, we know he is a great bowler, he is the second-leading wicket-taker in the IPL behind Malinga and he has got a few hat tricks under his belt. It doesn’t mean you ask him to score a 20-ball 30 runs but when it comes to our batsmen, we know the best combinations that we can.

“We still haven’t discussed the retention and stuff for the next year but we will once we get a clearer idea and work around that to build a team around that. It is going to be a good exercise for us. When you actually are doing your post-mortem, you will arrive at the likely numbers, which will reveal the retention and the releases,” he added.

Now, the IPL Auction code, a code that has been cracked by very few since the inception of the tournament. Delhi, as a matter of fact, reached their first-ever IPL final, last year, after having 12 attempts at cracking the code. The code isn’t simple, the analysts, have to look at at least six-seven white-ball leagues in a year, feed the data onto their systems, and process them innately enough to know the ins and outs of a particular player.

Sriram also interestingly pointed out that every league has its own share of flaws and positives. He pointed out at PSL, as to having one of the best bowling qualities, CPL as having a slightly better batting quality. Interestingly, he also noted that the Big Bash League, where spinners are not that large in numbers, in direct comparison to the IPL, would have batsmen with better strike-rates, which are just some of the data that they might have to process. With these large amounts of sample size, data-driven analytics, and calculation, a franchise sets their foot onto the table.

The bill doesn’t end there, as, in the Auction dynamics, they might fall behind another franchise, in terms of economic power, which only forces the analysts and the team to have a plethora of options in the same category.

“Everything, if a player has played 6-7 leagues in a year, we take a look at all the conditions that he has played in, PSL the bowling quality is very good, CPL the batting is slightly better and BPL, the spinners are better there and how the batsmen tackle them. That’s why world cricket is really good, Big Bash League - you hardly see any spinners out of it, if you strike-rate is very good there, it might be the same in IPL. We look at all data possible before heading to such a crucial Auction,” he concluded.