8 January 2021

THE FIRST ICELANDIC PLAYER AUCTION

Icelandic cricket is set to make its international television debut on Saturday, after several years of posturing and trolling on social media, for which I shoulder all the credit, or blame, depending on how you look at it. This is the big time. I’ll be live-blogging on behalf of the Icelandic Cricket Association, but apparently I’ve got to do it seriously, so I’d better bang out some thoughts here before brows become furrowed elsewhere.

Okay, it’s only a player auction, but it’s a start. Without support and encouragement from European Cricket Network, my new and therefore automatically wonderful employers, Icelandic cricket would not have reached this stage. Nor would it have done so without the sudden and somewhat unexpected election of a visionary and organised board of control, led by the immediately impressive Bala Kamallakharan.

But enough of the niceties. What everybody wants to know – well, what both of you want to know, at least – is how to follow the auction.

The basics

The auction will be broadcast from 1400 GMT on Saturday on the Iceland Cricket website and the European Cricket Network’s channel on YouTube. My text updates will appear on the website. 

There are 62 players in the auction. All of them have a starting price of 2,000 krónur. The four teams each have 70,000 krónur to spend and they must buy a minimum of 14 players. Each team starts having automatically signed two players for 2,000 krónur each; these are their owner and captain. That leaves 66,000 krónur to fund at least 12 more players.

Reykjavík

With one exception, all owners and captains are players who’ve been retained by the team they played for last year. The odd-man-out is Dushan Bandara who, in an impressive stunt by the Vikings, was lured from Kópavogur to be their new captain. Because Lakmal Bandara is the team owner, that means Reykjavík start the auction with a massive strength advantage. Dushan is manifestly the best cricketer who has ever played in Iceland (2300 runs at 42.59 and 71 wickets at 18.31), but Lakmal is also a big deal. Anyone who criticises him is underrating him; although I acknowledge his returns for the national team are relatively modest, his overall record makes him an genuine asset for domestic cricket (829 runs at 15.35 and 65 wickets at 22.18).

Kópavogur

By some distance, the Puffins were the best team in Iceland last year. In spite of the considerable handicap of being skippered by their tactically-bizarre owner Abhi Chauhan (60 wickets at 27.92), they powered relentlessly to win after win owing to their superb team spirit, and almost never being in a colossal sulk about something – both immense and unusual achievements for any Icelandic side. Now they are to be led by the genuinely intelligent David Cook (60 wickets at 19.37), but there are big problems. Dushan Bandara has crossed the floor, Leslie Dcunha (624 runs at 20.13) has moved to Norway and Keenan Botha (1278 runs at 22.82) has retired through injury. That’s 47 per cent of their 2019 run-scoring gone. Oh, and 44 per cent of their wicket-taking, once you factor in the departure of Sampath Kumar to Vesturbær.

Hafnarfjörður

The Hammers were very unlucky last year. Even though it was their first full season, they managed to win twice, and they also lost off the last ball to Kópavogur in three of the teams’ four games, finally overcoming them at the final attempt. They have Mohammad Younas (30 wickets at 25.00) as their owner and Samuel Gill (604 runs at 22.37) as captain, and thus retain two of their three key players, though I imagine they may lose their third, Lee Nelson, of whom more hereafter. They already have a solid bowling attack, which I reckon they can retain in full, but they need to be able to score more runs. About 25 per cent more, if we’re being honest. 

Vesturbær

It is so difficult to say much about the Volcano. The new side is such an unknown quantity, in as much as their owner Kathir Narayanan (2 wickets at 30.50) has clearly coaxed a lot of new players out of the woodwork for the auction. By my estimate, as many as 14 of the uncapped players listed for auction may have come to the party as guests of Narayanan. In which case, expect him to buy them en masse at the base price. The consequence of this will be that he assembles a larger squad than the others, and that he’ll be able to make the biggest bids of the auction (and I’m talking as much as 20,000 or even 25,000 krónur) for big-ticket players. He has already lured Sampath Nagarajan (10 wickets at 19.60) from Kópavogur – yes, another one – as his captain.

Five big bids

Derick Deonarain (2478 runs at 42.00 and 42 wickets at 24.00) is the essential acquisition for a team wanting to mount a serious challenge against Reykjavík. They had him last year, and if they get him again, they will win heavily and often. He may not have the six-hitting power of Dushan Bandara, but he is the outstanding technical batsman on this island. Part-time offies and all, he is the Kevin Pietersen of Icelandic cricket, with all that term implies. The captains will be agonising tonight over how much he is worth, in all senses.

Lee Nelson (1260 runs at 22.11) is a major presence in any team, in character and in what he contributes at the top of the order and with the mitts. Age may be encroaching, but it has weakened little of the flesh and none of the spirit. I have the feeling he may part company with Hafnarfjördur, which was perhaps a little too ramshackle and relaxed a team for him. I reckon Kópavogur will be eyeing him as their first-choice keeper. 

Chamley Fernando (1192 runs at 25.36) is the other top-quality wicketkeeper-batsman, and whichever teams don’t secure the services of Nelson will make a big bid for him. In fact, I’d bet on a three-way bidding battle. He has strong friendships at Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður will really want his batting power and Vesturbær will need an experienced keeper. Quiet and self-effacing, but increasingly nimble behind the sticks, he was in terrific form last year.

Prabhath Weerasooriya (48 wickets at 16.96) is close to becoming the complete spin bowler. He can spin it both ways and has wonderful variation of flight and pace, although the Víðistaðatún pitch demands a spinner push it through. With Botha retiring, I think Kópavogur will bid for him, but they don’t need him if Cook backs himself to shoulder the bulk of the bowling. Reykjavík will be desperate to retain him, but expect Hafnarfjörður to have a crack.

Sadun Lankathilaka (53 wickets at 14.92) is the yorker specialist and has the best economy rate on the circuit, though perhaps the worst on-field temperament. He’s good for at least one wobbly per season, if not per month. His spiritual home is Reykjavík, where I think he’ll be keen to stay, but he won a trophy leading Hafnarfjörður. Without Nagarajan to open the bowling, though, I feel the biggest challenge will come from Kópavogur. 

Five worthwhile investments

Abdur Rehman (20 wickets at 24.65) may not be terribly fleet of foot – no, let’s be real about this, there are glaciers that move faster than him – but if you can hide him in the field then he’ll prove a very useful part of the seam attack. He will also bring two off-the-pitch benefits to a club: he’s a very hard-working club man, and he’s the main link between the cricket association and the refugee community. And you know what that means.

Sathiya Rupan (15 wickets at 23.47) is without a doubt the most underrated player on the circuit. Desperately mismanaged for years at Kópavogur, his 51 overs in 28 matches are the great travesty of the Arctic game. He is potentially an outstanding leg break bowler and if only he could find a captain who’ll give him more than an over here and there, he’ll take stacks of wickets. If he goes back to Kópavogur it will be a crying shame.

Ramachandran Gujapan (13 wickets at 12.31) was the find of the season for Kópavogur. Unassuming and unglamorous, he possesses great accuracy and a good touch of pace. The Puffins will be hoping he’s flown under the radar well enough to escape the notice of other teams, and I reckon they have a good chance of retaining him. Having discovered him, and given him chances, it would be fitting for Kópavogur to keep him.

Bala Kamallakharan (132 runs at 22.00) may not, at first glance, seem to have stats to boast about, but his unbeaten 57 from 31 balls off Lankathilaka, Weerasooriya and Lakmal Bandara at Reykjavík last year shows he’s still got it, even in the later years of his silver-foxy vintage. Plus, of course, it’s never a bad idea to have the chairman of the national association among your ranks. Kópavogur will surely have him in their plans again.

Jegadeesh Subramaniyam (6 wickets at 20.50) did enough in his first season for Reykjavík to show that he can more than hold his own with the new ball in domestic cricket. He can also have a decent hit down the order. He is another player who quietly goes about his business with absolute confidence and considerable competence. I have a feeling Kópavogur will make a move for him, and possibly Vesturbær too.

Five risky picks

Leslie Dcunha (624 runs at 20.13 and 18 wickets at 19.61) has done great service at the top of the order for the national team, and had his best season yet for Kópavogur last year. The big problem is that he has moved to Norway to pursue business interests there. His family still live in Iceland and the questions are: how often will he come to see them, will coronavirus keep him away, and will he really want to play cricket when he’s here?

Nolan Williams (41 wickets at 22.34) would, of course, be an automatic pick if you knew he was going to be fully fit and available. But he has got to be on the shortlist for Iceland’s busiest man, and then there’s always that painful shoulder injury to worry about. It’s a very hard call. With an economy rate in the fives and still capable of a quite astonishing turn of speed, the veteran Essex pro could easily still win a game for you – if he’s playing. 

Jakob Robertson (22 wickets at 29.18) must surely still be a contender for the best pair of hands in Iceland, and his underused slow left armers have always been able to do a job. If he bowled a spell every week, he’d easily form part of a quality quintet. The risk is that Jakob never entirely knows where work, curiosity and the energies of his spirit will take him next month. He might be on the cricket field, but he could just as easily be up a tree in Latvia.

Sulaman Nawaz (32 wickets at 21.69) fits into the mould we’re creating here. A superbly accurate medium pacer, with the ability to biff a few lower-order runs, he would be a great investment if available. But the learned and venerable doctor is much in demand for his genetics expertise, and his religious guidance at the Islamic Cultural Centre. Like so many talented players, we must file him under ‘doesn’t play as much as we (or he) would like.’ 

Ravi Rawat (332 runs at 20.75) is the most elusive of these five. Only eight batsmen in Iceland have a career average over 20, and Rawat is arguably the great lost talent. Six seasons at Kópavogur have yielded only 22 appearances, and three of those were for the national team. He works in the tourist industry, so he’s rarely in the city during the summer. With the pandemic pushing back the tide of visitors, could this finally be his season? Spoiler: no.

Five wild cards

There are some loyal, hard-working players who are still learning their game and deserve further opportunities. Lakshitha Bimsara is a developing wicketkeeper but he needs to get away from Kópavogur, where he has been second or third in the pecking order, to get his chance. Chauhan’s attempts to turn him into a bowler were far from fruitful. Reykjavík often sent Max Sandaru out to bat against the opposition’s opening bowlers, and he tried hard to endure his baptism of fire. I hope he finds a team that’s more sympathetic to his needs. Kópavogur have made no secret of their intention to retain Sebastiaan Dreyer as a top-order batsman and to groom him as a future captain. I reckon they’ll keep him. Javed Khan was a great find as an opening bowler, and could match pretty much anyone for pace. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attracted a good deal of interest, but I think Hafnarfjörður will try hardest. Asim Ayoub was once considered by Chauhan to be the fastest bowler on the island, but injuries have all but finished him. When, or indeed if, he ever recovers, he could be handy.

Bargain basement

I reckon a number of players will go at their base price, starting with David Abew-Baidoo who looks a bit like a wicketkeeper-batsman without a home. If someone can get him under their wing and give him the gloves and a regular number five or six berth, he’ll come good. The same’s true of Riaan Dreyer who went up and down the order at Kópavogur. Separating himself from his son might be sensible, since it’d force him to be more selfish. He just might go to Hafnarfjörður because of the new coaching setup there, to be led by Botha. Kali Nazar, Omar Safi Khan, Fida Wur and Agha Khan are underrated and my bet is they’ll all go for the base price to Hafnarfjörður, who rightly value them. Ólafur Briem will stay at Kópavogur. Mahinda Dissanayake will stay at Reykjavík. I don’t expect Javed Hussain to be available much, if at all, but Hafnarfjörður will probably pick him up. Vesturbær will go for Junaid Khan’s experience. Khan Gul always says he’ll play, but never does, and I think he’ll go unsold.

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