There are two ways to approach the word ‘irreplaceable’ in franchise cricket. One describes the star player of the side, the Superman expected to carry the season on his shoulders. Identifying them is quite obvious. They are irreplaceable in terms of the impact they can have on the game.
The others are the key players. They may not be considered a superhero but you take them out of the XI and the whole balance crumbles. They are irreplaceable as they keep the side well-oiled; the team cannot afford these players to suffer an injury. We explore one such player for every side in this piece ahead of the IPL 2023.
Mumbai Indians - Suryakumar Yadav
A no-brainer here. Given their team structure and the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai will need a big effort from their batters in nearly every game. And their top four isn’t convincing in itself.
Rohit Sharma hasn’t averaged 30 in an IPL season in the last six seasons. His last 130+ strike-rate season was in 2018. Ishan Kishan has been a hit-or-miss for several years. Tilak Varma is touted for bigger things but many youngsters have been found out in their sophomore year in this league.
Overall, Suryakumar Yadav is their only reliable batter. Barring 2021, he has consistently averaged above 30 with a strike-rate in excess of 130 for the past five years. Last year, Surya checked all boxes of the perfect T20 batter, irrespective of the conditions and the opponent. Imagine taking a batter like him out of Mumbai’s XI. There is no replacement in the Indian domestic circuit. Even if Mumbai try to plug the hole with an overseas batter, the move will compromise their bowling. Hence, Surya not only needs to be fit but he needs to have a grand season for Mumbai to stand a chance.
Rajasthan Royals - Shimron Hetmyer
A left-field choice here. Rajasthan have players of higher stature but none of them is more important than Shimron Hetmyer. If Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson or Yuzvendra Chahal are absent, their impact will be missed but it won’t affect their team balance. The likes of Joe Root, Donovan Ferreira, Adam Zampa, Murugan Ashwin are options Rajasthan won’t mind using. For Buttler, there are quite a few overseas opening options available.
But Hetmyer is the only attacking left-hander in their squad. Moreover, last season, he exceeded expectations in the middle-order which allowed Rajasthan’s batting to flourish despite the lack of depth. He had plenty of cameos - 35 (14), 32 (13), 31* (16) - all of which had a deeper impact than the surface numbers. This year, Rajasthan have a similar team structure and despite the Impact Player rule which can help them bat deeper, they will need Hetmyer to step up again.
Kolkata Knight Riders - Sunil Narine
Sunil Narine’s quality alone makes him the most irreplaceable player in the Kolkata squad. For starters, he has been a regular in their side for 10 years. Since his debut in 2012, he has missed only 20 games for KKR. The franchise is not versed with life without Narine.
KKR have a like-for-like alternative available in Varun Chakaravarthy but in scenarios where they would want to play only one of the two mystery spinners, it will be Narine despite him taking an overseas spot. In IPL 2022, Varun went at an economy of 8.5 while Narine conceded only 5.6 runs per over.
Varun’s success is directly proportional to Narine’s performance. In the 34 IPL games they have played together, Narine’s economy is 6.7 as compared to Varun’s 7.1. However, Varun has picked a lot more wickets. The pattern is clear: batters play Narine out and try to compensate by taking on Varun.
This underlines Narine’s value further. In 10 years of IPL, his season economy has never touched the 8-run mark. Even with his diminished batting value (as KKR are not using him as an opener anymore), the Trinidadian remains an indispensable member of the side.
Chennai Super Kings - Deepak Chahar
The previous season is enough to estimate the value of Deepak Chahar in Chennai’s setup. In three seasons between 2019 and 2021, Chennai picked the second most wickets in the powerplay. Chahar snaffled 45% of those wickets, striking 32 times. In his absence in 2022, Chennai had the joint-lowest wickets in the powerplay - 15 wickets in 14 games. It was one of the major reasons why the four-time champions finished ninth.
The 30-year old is a handy asset with the bat as well. His all-round credentials compelled Chennai to shell out INR 14 crore to sign him in the 2022 mega-auction. They have added Ben Stokes to their roster this year but replacing an Indian seam-bowling all-rounder in Chahar would still be tough.
Unfortunately for Chennai, Chahar’ back remains dodgy. He has broken down several times in the past 12 months and expecting a full season from him seems akin to buying a lottery ticket.
Delhi Capitals - Axar Patel
Delhi’s combination has such loose ends, they have multiple clinical players in their squad. They have already lost one of them in Rishabh Pant whose absence has put their season in jeopardy. Consequently, Axar Patel’s value has increased manifolds.
He is the only Indian left-handed batter in the squad now. His clutch performances with the bat for India of late keep the side hopeful of tackling match-ups with the bat. Expect Delhi to float him between number four to six. They want a big season with the bat from Axar while holding his quality with the ball. He is one of the four (or five) specialist bowlers in the XI.
Thus, Axar has to stay away from injuries and deliver in every facet on the field. It is a big ask but it tells you how valuable the southpaw is to his franchise.
Royal Challengers Bangalore - Dinesh Karthik
Dinesh Karthik performed the finisher’s role with such finesse last year that it covered various chinks in RCB’s top-order. They had underwhelming batting numbers in the powerplay but rocketed in the slog overs - scoring at 10.8, the second-highest run-rate in the season.
Karthik scored most runs (251) during the death in the season alongside averaging 83.7 at a strike-rate of 207.4. Given RCB will have an identical line-up, they will be relying on Karthik again for late flourishes. Though they bat deep, Karthik is the only designated finisher in the whole squad. In addition, he is the wicketkeeper. RCB’s combination is such, they won’t be able to slot in an overseas pro for this dual role if Karthik is missing for some reason.
Anuj Rawat is the only other Indian glovesman in the squad and he is a top-order batter. Hence, Karthik becomes crucial to RCB’s fortunes and will need to replicate last season’s success.
Punjab Kings - Arshdeep Singh
Punjab have bowlers like Kagiso Rabada and Sam Curran but it is the value of a quality Indian seamer that makes Arshdeep Singh their most crucial player. There are not many teams with Indian seamers experienced at the international level. In fact, Arshdeep made his way into the Indian team based on his consistent run in the IPL. His death overs’ economy of 8.7 since IPL 2020 is second only to Jasprit Bumrah among Indian seamers (minm. 20 overs bowled). At the same time, he has a decent record in the powerplay as well.
Plus, there is that left-arm angle as well.
Arshdeep, though, has struggled in his last few games for India so Punjab will hope that doesn’t translate in their upcoming season. Otherwise, their bowling is bound to struggle despite the signing of Curran, who was snapped up for a record fee.
Gujarat Titans - Rashid Khan
Yes, we know what you are thinking. Rashid Khan it is. He is the lynchpin for any side he represents. He is the only leg-spinner in the Gujarat setup. No, we are not considering Rahul Tewatia as a leg-spinner. He bowled a total of six overs in 16 games in IPL 2022.
Looking beyond the impact, nearly every frontline player of Gujarat can be replaced, at least on the balance parameter. Sai Sudharshan can come in for any of the openers, Kane Williamson for Matthew Wade, Wade himself for David Miller if a left-hander is required, Josh Little for Alzarri Joseph, Mohit Sharma and Pradeep Sangwan for Mohammad Shami.
For Rashid, Gujarat have Noor Ahmad in the squad, a left-arm wrist-spinner. However, Rashid is a rare breed - one of the handful of leg-spinners who can be impactful with the bat as well. Hardik Pandya comes close to being the most clinical player for Gujarat but Rashid’s batting value keeps the vice-captain above the captain.
Sunrisers Hyderabad - Rahul Tripathi
Hyderabad have framed one of the most balanced squads for the season which makes it tough to find one player without whom the nucleus of the side may fail to function. But digging deep, we have a few names - Abhishek Sharma, Washington Sundar and Rahul Tripathi.
Abhishek and Sundar are spin bowling all-rounders and should they be not available to bowl, both have similar replacements available in the squad - Akeal Hosein and Aiden Markram respectively.
Both are also the only Indian left-handed batting options. Slated to bat at either end of the batting line-up (presumption based on last season), both can be moved up and down in the batting order. Thus, they are partially replaceable players among themselves.
Now think about Rahul Tripathi. SRH ain’t short of batting firepower but it is largely framed out of overseas personnel. They have two specialist Indian batters with international experience. Tripathi, being one of them, is the only one who has found consistent success season after season. He is one of the few batters in the competition who is good against both pace and spin. Although less experienced than Mayank Agarwal, Tripathi will be the pillar of SRH’s batting fortunes, both as an anchor and the aggressor.
Very few batters tick so many boxes. Hence, in case of an injury, Tripathi is the player they will miss the most.
Lucknow Super Giants - Krunal Pandya
Another squad with fine balance, it is difficult to point out one player who completes the side. You may think KL Rahul but given the firepower of the batting unit and the fact that he is not required to keep wickets, the skipper is not indispensable in the XI. Mark Wood is another candidate but due to him always being on the brink of an injury, Lucknow signed two back-ups. Similarly, Amit Mishra will be a back-up for the wrist spinner Ravi Bishnoi.
We thought Marcus Stoinis but they have Kyle Mayers as a like-for-like replacement. Mayers can also fill in for Nicholas Pooran as the left-hander which LSG tried to compensate last year with Krunal Pandya.
That brings us to Pandya. Not a bonafide all-rounder, Pandya’s presence instills batting expertise at seven for Lucknow. He is also the only experienced left-arm spinner in the squad. Swapnil Singh, his back-up, has played only five IPL games. Moreover, Pandya is a left-handed batter. If Lucknow have to play two overseas bowlers, they can bench both Pooran and Mayers and bat Pandya in top five, as they did last year.
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