IPL auction: Ego-bruising exclusions!

At the annual IPL Player Auction in Bengaluru recently, Ishant — the most capped player in India’s Test contingent — had no takers. While it was a first of sorts for Ishant — who was one of the highest paid Indian cricketers in the T20 extravaganza ever since its inception in 2008 — Cheteshwar Pujara for the third time in succession remained unsold in the auction.

At the IPL auction in Bengaluru, Ishant Sharma was not picked by any franchise.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Indian Test cricketers Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma were not picked by any franchise at the 2017 IPL auction in Bengaluru.

While 66 cricketers were sold at the annual IPL Player Auction in Bengaluru, Ishant — the most capped player in India’s Test contingent — had no takers even though the eight IPL franchises added 39 Indians to their kitty. While it was a first of sorts for Ishant — who was one of the highest paid Indian cricketers in the T20 extravaganza ever since its inception in 2008 — Pujara for the third time in succession remained unsold in the auction.

The seasoned duo topped the list of top Indian cricketers who were sidelined from the tournament that’s emerged as the epicentre of Indian domestic cricket. The list of prominent Indian omissions includes fast bowlers Pankaj Singh and Parvinder Awana; swing bowler and lower order bat Irfan Pathan; opening batsman Abhinav Mukund, all-rounder Parvez Rasool and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha. While all these players have made an appearance in at least one of the three formats in international cricket, some of those who have excelled in domestic cricket — Priyank Panchal, who scored 1310 runs in Gujarat’s triumphant Ranji Trophy campaign being a case in point — have been overlooked too.

Cheteshwar Pujara... how many hard yards more should he put in to get into an IPL team?   -  K_BHAGYA PRAKASH

 

Many aficionados and even some of the connoisseurs may have been baffled to see a domestic rookie like T. Natarajan — the Tamil Nadu pacer — fetching an eight-figure sum instead of Ishant or Irfan or Awana. However, the fact that Ishant, Pujara and Irfan did not attract any bids also indicates that the Moneyball of IPL has indeed remarkably evolved during its decade-long journey.

All the IPL franchises have appointed a battery of talent scouts who watch cricket in various nooks and corners of the country with an eye on talent that can come good in Twenty20.

The scouts — most of whom have played cricket at the highest level — watch all sorts of matches, from Ranji Trophy to inter-office tournaments to intra-state T20 leagues that have been flourishing over the last few years.

The shortlisted players are then called for simulation trials where their skills are tested based on situations. Most of the times, these drills are recorded on the video, which is then scanned by the head coaches of the teams prior to the IPL. As a result, the franchises are more or less clear about contenders for a particular role that they are looking for even before Richard Madley starts his annual ritual.

It reflected in the fact that Jharkhand’s Ishank Jaggi and Maharashtra’s Ankit Bawne — two of the most consistent middle-order batsmen in domestic cricket who have had an exceptional season in all three formats — were picked during the auction for the first time.

On the other hand, the data generated for the international players is always handy.

Ishant, for instance, had played only eight IPL games for two different teams in the last two seasons. His tendency to break down during a rigorous IPL season, coupled with his high base price — at Rs. 2 crore, Ishant was the only Indian in the fray with an eight-digit base price — resulted in franchises steering clear of the lanky bowler.

Lack of numbers in T20 was also instrumental in the likes of Pujara, Abhinav and Panchal not attracting any bids. All three are all but stamped as players not suited for the shortest format, both as batsmen and fielders.

Would it be fair to assume then that an IPL career — and hopes of an India comeback, especially in shorter formats — are over for all these ignored players? Not really.

The likes of Manoj Tiwary and Munaf Patel have proven that a solitary exclusion from the auction doesn’t really close the doors of the IPL. Both the domestic stalwarts remained unsold during the 2016 auction, but attracted bids for a lower base price this time around.

The auction dynamics have time and again proved that a lower base price raises the possibility of fetching bids from multiple franchises, especially in mini-auctions like the one in 2017.

However, at times, the international cricketers — especially the one-format specialists like Pujara and Ishant — are egoistic and don’t lower their base price.

It could mean fetching a much lower price than their fees for a Test match — every Test appearance now pays Indian cricketers Rs. 15 lakh, with reserves earning half of it — but it does keep them in the spotlight.

After all, time and again have we witnessed — and a plethora of domestic cricketers have admitted on record as well — that a quickfire 20 or a brilliant over in IPL earns a player more accolades than a hundred or a five-wicket haul in Ranji Trophy.

So the likes of Pujara and Ishant have to keep proving their skills in domestic tournaments and hope to find a bidder during the full auction next year. As for a domestic performer like Panchal, it’s just an indication that he has to keep working hard on his skill-sets and the IPL moolah will follow if he can consistently keep doing it.