IPL auction: Where necessity leads to desire!

In the IPL, with a cap on the number of overseas players and the paucity of Indian options in certain roles — notably that of the seam-bowling all-rounder and the fast bowler — it is only natural that certain cricketers should attract bigger bids than others. The 2017 auction was not a major one in relative terms: squads had only 77 slots remaining and the eight franchises had a total of Rs. 148.33 crore to spend. Teams had gaps to plug and arrived with specific players in mind.

V. V. S. Laxman and Tom Moody (at the back) arrive for the 2017 IPL auction. Their team, Sunrisers Hyderabad, is the defending champion. G. P. Sampath Kumar   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

It was clear, at the end of the first IPL auction in 2008, that those responsible for the event were delighted with their idea. “It is amazing drama,” I. S. Bindra, then a member of the tournament’s governing council, gushed afterwards. “The market is determining the price. That’s how a free market economy should flow.”

This free-market economy, with prices dictated by demand and supply, had valued David Hussey, a man who had played only one game of international cricket, higher than Ricky Ponting, who at that stage had 34 Test and 25 ODI hundreds to his name. Manoj Tiwary, who had made his ODI debut for India a fortnight before the auction, earned a greater sum than Anil Kumble.

Sanjiv Goenka (left), the owner of Rising Pune Supergiants, with Rahul Johri, the BCCI CEO. Goenka wanted a “really complete player” like Ben Stokes and got him for Rs. 14.5 crore. G. P. Sampath Kumar   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

 

Such comparisons, though, are not entirely fair, and it mattered that Hussey, a powerful striker of the ball, was seen as more suited to T20 cricket than Ponting, and that Kumble was closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

In 2008, IPL franchise-owners and coaching staff were still coming to grips with the format and its demands, but it was clear that reputations counted for little. Teams had their ideas of what constituted a successful T20 unit and this they pursued. Over time, a template has emerged of the various roles in T20 cricket: the unfettered opener, the all-rounder at No. 6 who can clobber a 15-ball-40, the specialist death-overs bowler who can send down cutters and yorkers, the spinner who is difficult to pick, and the genuine fast-bowler.

In the IPL, with a cap on the number of overseas players and the paucity of Indian options in certain roles — notably that of the seam-bowling all-rounder and the fast bowler — it is only natural that certain cricketers should attract bigger bids than others.

The 2017 auction was not a major one in relative terms: squads had only 77 slots remaining and the eight franchises had a total of Rs.148.33 crore to spend. Teams had gaps to plug and arrived with specific players in mind.

Kolkata Knight Riders, for example, wanted a replacement for Andre Russell, who is a serving a one-year ban for a doping whereabouts violation. The KKR management spotted a potential alternative in Chris Woakes and at once reached out to Trevor Bayliss.

The Australian, once KKR’s head coach and now in charge of England, was glowing in his praise of Woakes. “Bayliss told us, ‘He’s very close to becoming a world-class all-rounder,’” Venky Mysore, the CEO of KKR, revealed afterwards.

Ishant Sharma, released by Rising Pune Supergiants, found no takers.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

 

At the auction, the KKR management went after Woakes, fending off competition from Sunrisers Hyderabad to land the 27-year-old for Rs. 4.2 crore. In Mysore’s eyes, it was a bargain. “It’s not easy to replace a player like Andre Russell; he had given us such good balance,” he said. “But getting Woakes is a big thing. Look at his stats: they’re just superb. He’s done a fantastic job, in terms of wicket-taking and economy-rate. He can bowl up front and at the death. We’re delighted.”

At what point in the auction a player’s name comes up also makes a difference: Woakes may have had another suitor if Delhi Daredevils had not exhausted its quota of overseas players already, its purchases including Corey Anderson and Angelo Mathews, both seam-bowling all-rounders.

RCB had achieved its goal of finding a replacement for Mitchell Starc in Tymal Mills, while Mumbai Indians, which still needed back-up for Kieron Pollard, had other priorities (which soon became clear when it spent Rs. 3.2 crore on Karn Sharma, and was the only bidder for Asela Gunarathna, for whom it was prepared to battle).

There is usually a surprise or two when uncapped players go on sale. There is potential that scouts have spotted but the wider world is yet to take notice of. In the case of bowlers who have acquired the reputation of being specialists in T20 cricket, the price spirals up.

Franchises are eternally hopeful of signing an unheralded bowler whom batsmen will have a hard time scoring off. There are plenty of batsmen to go around, it seems, but not enough tight-fisted bowlers.

T. Natarajan’s displays in the Tamil Nadu Premier League clearly did not go unnoticed. Kings XI Punjab and Rising Pune Supergiants started the bidding war for the left-armer’s services (the latter eventually bought Jaydev Unadkat after missing out on Natarajan) before SRH jumped in to sign him for Rs. 3 crore, 30 times his base price.

It must also be noted that franchises keep a keen eye on domestic cricket, and performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Ranji Trophy carry weight. (The decision to bring the domestic T20 competition forward last year had a definite impact on the auction, as in the case of M. Ashwin.) This time around, the likes of K. Gowtham (2 crore), Mohammed Siraj (2.6 crore) and Basil Thampi (85 lakh) were all rewarded for their efforts.

The overriding flavour of this auction, though, appeared to be all-rounders and fast bowlers, for it was these players teams lacked most. It is not often that a genuine all-rounder like Ben Stokes comes along and his dual skills — even if by his own admission his death bowling has to improve — proved irresistible to the IPL. As many as five franchises chased his signature at the auction, culminating in Rising Pune Supergiants’ capture of the Englishman’s services for Rs. 14.5 crore. “He’s a complete player; we’ve been lacking this one genre of player,” the RPS owner Sanjiv Goenka said later. “We have many heroes but this is the one hero we were lacking. We knew it was going to be expensive. We knew we were not going to get him for less. But Ben Stokes was our first, second and third preference.”

Tymal Mills (12 crore) was the day’s second-highest earner, while Kagiso Rabada (5 crore), Trent Boult (5 crore), Patrick Cummins (4.5 crore) and Nathan Coulter-Nile (3.5 crore) — all fast bowlers — made tidy sums.

It is thus surprising that Ishant Sharma did not find any takers. His base price of 2 crore — highest of any Indian player — was a factor in his rejection, but the same amount did not deter franchises from going after Cummins, who has a history of chronic injury problems. Perhaps it is a case of what franchises think a player is worth: Ishant’s valuation of his own abilities, given his lengthy absences from international cricket (only four ODIs in the last two years), was maybe deemed too high.

Imran Tahir, the ICC’s No.1 ranked ODI and T20 bowler, was similarly snubbed at Rs. 50 lakh while franchises found no place for Cheteshwar Pujara or Irfan Pathan, both with base prices of 50 lakh. Pujara is not seen as a fit option for T20 cricket while Irfan, now 32 years old, has not pulled up any trees on the domestic circuit.

There is no place for sentimentality and no regard for reputations. If a player is seemingly overpaid one year, he is duly released, with the market determining a price closer to his ‘actual’ worth next time around. An auction is, after all, business.