A million-dollar surprise!

Published : Feb 16, 2013 00:00 IST

You can expect the unexpected in the cash-rich world of IPL. Here reputations, often, hold little value as the IPL is guided by its own dynamics. In this territory, jaw-dropping sums of money await even unheralded cricketers, writes S. Dinakar, who was at the IPL VI auction.

The blue waters of the ocean appeared inviting. The golden hue of the evening formed a breathtaking backdrop. The sound of waves and the cool breeze lent an atmospheric feel to the setting in an open beach-side restaurant in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Mike Selvey took a sip from his drink and broke into a grin. “You know I might not have earned in my entire career what some of the present cricketers make in 10 to 15 days of the IPL. That’s life, but I never complain,” he said.

Now, Selvey was a fine swing bowler of the 60s, 70s and 80s who represented England in Tests. He was known for his long, probing spells and late movement. After retirement, he made a name for himself in cricket writing.

“Times change, you know,” he winked. Then, he smiled again.

Indeed, times change. How else would you explain unsung off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell going for $ 1 million during the IPL auction in Chennai ahead of season VI.

In another era, the 24-year-old Maxwell would have been described as raw and untested. The Australian averages 28.14 in nine ODIs and has four wickets at 58.50. In nine Twenty20 internationals, Maxwell has made 47 runs at 15.66 and scalped five at 26.50.

But then, you can expect the unexpected in the cash-rich world of IPL. Here reputations, often, hold little value. The IPL is guided by its own dynamics. In this territory, jaw-dropping sums of money await rather unheralded cricketers.

“He is an up and coming youngster. Maxwell can bat and bowl his off-spin well. He is also a great fielder and we needed such a cricketer in the side,” said Nita Ambani of the Mumbai Indians.

Maxwell turns out for Victoria in domestic cricket and his biggest claim to fame before the auction was his 19-ball half century against Tasmania in a one-dayer. With expectations high, the heat will be on Maxwell in the IPL.

The question in everybody’s mind would be, “Is he worth that kind of money?”

He was the biggest buy in a rather low-key auction in Chennai on February 3. With the player contracts only concluding after the 2013 season, most teams were content to buy only those players who would fulfil their immediate needs for the upcoming edition.

In this context, it was rather creditable that as many as 37 players were sold from an auction pool of 108 cricketers. And it was an afternoon of surprises.

Young South African Christopher Morris, whose base price was just $20,000, was bought by Chennai Super Kings for a whopping $625,000.

CSK has been known to be smart with its money in the past and the explosive Morris, the franchise believed, would add immense value to the side.

He can bowl in speeds in excess of 140kmph and is a hard hitter with the willow who can swing games. Morris, who plays for Highveld Lions, was the highest wicket-taker in the domestic Twenty20 competition last season.

Of course, the franchises were also guided by the rules of the competition. No team is allowed more than 11 overseas cricketers and 22 Indian players. Their choices were often dictated by their limitations and requirements.

And how active the franchises were at the auction was also driven by how much money they had in hand from the total purse of $12.5 million allowed for each side. This was a high-stakes game that tested the nerve of the franchises.

They were willing to take chances. Twenty-one year old Aussie paceman Kane Richardson, with a base price of $100,000, was roped in by Pune Warriors for a stunning sum of $700,000. The lanky paceman from South Australia can trouble batsmen with his bounce.

Richardson’s strength is a sharp off-cutter which can be a useful delivery in the shorter versions of the game, but he has this tendency to run into the danger area. Warriors bowling coach Allan Donald will need to work on his run-up.

Although some veterans such as the 36-year-old Dirk Nannes of Australia, a left-arm quick who has excelled in the Twenty20 format, was signed by CSK for $600,000, the amount of money the unfancied players fetched was still the theme at the auction.

Take for instance Sachitra Senanayake, the tall off-spinner from Sri Lanka. He has been dumped by the Sri Lankan national selectors after being given a run, but strong domestic form appears to have swung things in his favour. He was picked for a stunning $625,000 by defending champion Kolkata Knight Riders.

To his credit, Senanayake has a worthy doosra and has mixed this delivery capably with conventional off-spin. KKR must have felt Senanayake would combine effectively, given their styles are different, with its game-changing off-spinner Sunil Narine. With the pitches at the Eden Gardens assisting bowlers of this ilk, this strategy could make sense.

In this context, it was surprising that South African swing bowler Vernon Philander, such an astonishing success in Tests, went unsold at the auction. A team such as Kings XI Punjab — its home pitches in Mohali and Dharmashala would offer movement — would have benefitted immensely from signing this crafty paceman. Philander, always capable of striking, could have bowled his four overs for little in these conditions.

Actually, this takes us to a bigger debate. Are specialist Test bowlers not capable Twenty20 bowlers? This argument has little merit as the basics of good, effective bowling, underlined by control, remain the same.

It was sad to watch Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath, a quality left-arm spinner with 186 Test wickets, not finding a buyer in the auction. And Herath is a bowler who is not short on variety.

Sadly, the trend of teams managing with makeshift wicket-keepers also appears to be continuing. Matt Prior, Prasanna Jayawardene, Matthew Wade and Denesh Ramdin, all first choice wicket-keeper batsmen for their Test sides, went unsold. A genuine keeper’s true value cannot be seen in numbers alone; he also lifts the morale of the bowlers and the team.

The younger cricketers, particularly pacemen, were not complaining. Nathan Coulter-Nile, a West Australian, was roped in by Mumbai Indians for $450,000. He has made an impact in the Big Bash League down under with his height and bounce from back-of-a-length.

Contrast this with two big marquee Australian players Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke not fetching above their reserve price of $400,000 and one can sense the mood at the auction.

Among the Indian cricketers, Abhishek Nayar emerged the most expensive. Rewarded for a good domestic season, the all-rounder was sold to Pune Warriors for $675,000. The Indian domestic pacemen were also in demand with left-armer Jaydev Unadkat (RCB) receiving the highest amount of $525,000.

New franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad was pleased that it could buy pace bowling all-rounders Thisara Perera ($675,000) and Darren Sammy ($425,000). “We wanted to strengthen our latter half, add depth,” said the team’s mentor Krishnamachari Srikkanth.

Returning after a period of injuries and self-doubts, mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis was a big draw. He was eventually sold to Pune Warriors for $725,000.

It’s never too late for comebacks.

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