The disappointment was showing on Yuvraj Singh’s face that afternoon. As the India international spoke with the scribes after yet another bad outing with the Delhi Daredevils, Yuvraj — who was brought in by the franchise for a whopping Rs. 16 crore — tried justifying his big fat salary.
“Those things are not in my hands. I can’t say why a franchise bought me at such a high price,” Yuvraj said. A few seconds later, Yuvraj perhaps thought it was important to elaborate. So, he tried explaining why certain things are not in a cricketer’s control.
That was in 2015. In the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, the Delhi Daredevils had gone all out to get the services of Yuvraj, and for that it was ready to shell out whatever was required. The price kept going up, and the Delhi franchise — which hasn’t enjoyed success so far — put everything under the hammer. And, the result was simple — it got Yuvraj on board.
It is a different story that the swashbuckling batsman failed to leave a mark that season — picking up 248 runs in 14 games — but the franchise had not hesitated in going all the way to get the player it wanted.
Performance not the only benchmark
Corporate experts, who have followed the IPL auctions from close quarters, believe that here the dynamics is quite peculiar. A player’s performance is not necessarily the only benchmark. They believe, a lot depends on what the player means to a brand.
In a tournament that is a perfect cocktail of cricket and entertainment, equations and dynamics change thick and fast. And, the case of Yuvraj getting picked for such a huge price is self-explanatory. Or else, why would he remain the costliest player in the auctions for two consecutive years, 2014 and 2015?
In 2014, Yuvraj had been brought into the side by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) for Rs.14 crore. And all this happened when he was largely inconsistent and was in and out of the Indian team. In 2016, though his base price dropped, Yuvraj was picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs. 7 crore!
That, most of the experts, feel explains the scenario — for a franchise, a player’s form is not the only operating factor.
Delhi Daredevils CEO, Hemant Dua, treats the entire auction process as a ‘marketplace,’ where the transactions are market-driven. “Each franchise has its own budget. Then, it also depends on how much you want to spend and how critical is a particular player for you,” Dua says.
All about the brand
The seasoned CEO, who has witnessed quite a few big-ticket trading episodes over the years, also agrees that getting in big names does help in branding the franchise better. “The price is also driven by the market. It is, after all, a marketplace. Having star players definitely helps in building the brand and getting sponsors,” Dua says, quickly adding that in India, ‘the star-struck factor’ does work.
Perhaps, that is one of the major reasons why franchises, at times, prefer splurging more on big names. People, observing the process from close quarters, see it as a unique business proposition. They believe that star players — mostly Indians — not only add face value to the side, but also create more business avenues for the franchise. That is also one of the factors kept in mind while zeroing in on a player at the auction.
It was primarily one of the reasons why Kolkata Knight Riders had brought in Gautam Gambhir for a huge sum of Rs. 11.04 crore — the highest in the 2011 auction. That, the industry insiders feel, was a perfectly planned strategy. Not too pleased with its first captain and homeboy Sourav Ganguly’s three-year stint, the Kolkata outfit released him. Ganguly went unsold in the auction and was later signed by the now defunct Sahara Pune Warriors.
So, to ensure that the brand value was not hampered, it brought in Gambhir — who then, was one of the key players for the Indian team. With his form and brand value, the franchise was able to develop a young and rejuvenated image. And for that, the Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise was ready to shell out big money.
That’s one way of looking at it, though.
Kolkata Knight Riders’ CEO, Venkatesh Mysore, believes that the IPL auction is all about demand and supply. “There are times when more than two franchises start chasing one particular player. A lot of money chasing goes on for one player, and that increases the price,” Mysore says, quickly adding: “You may call it the law of demand.”
Trial & error
But then, it’s not that simple. In the last 10 years, there have been instances when even rookies have been bought for big money. In 2015, Kolkata Knight Riders brought in K. C. Cariappa for Rs 2.4 crore. Next year, Delhi Daredevils roped in Pawan Negi for an unbelievable price of Rs. 8.5 crore, while Mumbai Indians got the young pacer from Rajasthan — Nathu Singh — for Rs 3.2 crore.
Those high-priced recruitments did not do any good, and none of the three were retained by their franchises for the next edition. Then why do the franchises lose track and invest hugely on young, untested talents?
Those situations are quite tricky. There is a common trend that when one franchise pursues a player, the others tend to play spoilsport by hiking the bid price. Cariappa’s case was one such. Having spotted him much before, the Knights wanted the Karnataka lad at the base price, but equations changed when Delhi too started bidding for Cariappa. For an uncapped rookie ‘mystery spinner’— who managed to play just one game that season — the prices went through the roof, with Delhi and Kolkata bidding high. “When such things happen, it invariably messes up the rest of the strategy because you suddenly realise that there is not enough money to build a proper team. That starts reflecting in your performance in the season,” Mysore explains.
While it may be a bit too harsh to generalise, one look at the last few editions of the IPL would give one the impression that most of the big money players flattered to deceive in the tournament.
However, there have been exceptions. Gambhir did justify the high price, guiding the Knights to two title victories. Last year, Rising Pune Supergiant too got benefited by its big-ticket recruit, Ben Stokes, who guided the team to the final. But largely, things have not been quite rosy for the players who have clinched unexpected deals.
Former India ’keeper-batsman Deep Dasgupta, who was also one of the key men at the Sahara Pune Warriors, however, says that there is a “big difference between a small auction and a big auction.”
In the case of a smaller auction — where the purse is limited — the franchises usually have a tendency to tie the loose ends. “If it is a small pool, then teams usually try to fix the holes and then get away with it,” Dasgupta says, making it clear that these are the times when the franchises often tend to pick young uncapped players for a relatively higher price.
Perhaps, it is one of those reasons why a rookie like Murugan Ashwin — who did not even feature in the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy squad then — was picked by Rising Pune Supergiant for a huge price of Rs. 4.5 crore in 2016. The Tamil Nadu spinner was the biggest gainer, as he got a super-rich deal from a base price of Rs. 10 lakh.
Things, however, fizzled out as he was released by Pune the following year and Delhi Daredevils got him on board at Rs. 1 crore. He, however, was benched throughout the season.
The scenario, however, changes if it is a bigger auction, like the one to be held in Bengaluru this year, on January 27-28.
With two teams — Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings — returning to the fold, most of the teams will start afresh in the auctions.
That sets the stage for some intense trading.
“Every franchise usually comes up with at least two or three back-up plans for the auction. There have been instances when despite selecting some of the best talent, a certain franchise had to miss out because of excessive counter-bidding,” Dasgupta says, pointing out that in these circumstances, it is extremely important to have a Plan B. “That way, you can at least keep things under control. Too much spending often creates the fuss,” Dasgupta, who had seen some big-ticket auctions between 2011 and 2013, says.
While the previous auctions have seen quite a few players like Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik making waves, they have also witnessed cases when superstars like Sourav Ganguly have gone unsold. Insiders, who keep a tab on the entire process, however, are not too amused. For them, this is how the market operates. One of them, who does not wish to be named, even points out that just like any other business model, even the IPL has changed its path over the years. In 2008, what was touted as the battleground for the megastars — as all the teams were stocked with superstars — the focus suddenly shifted to picking youngsters, who could deliver the goods. The reason was simple — quick legs meant more utility and at the same time, most of them came cheaper.
Keeping this in mind, franchises like Rajasthan Royals — under the guidance of Zubin Bharucha and Monty Desai — started scouting for younger talents. The other franchises too conducted trials to tap local boys.
That move worked. Lots of young guns like Sanju Samson and Deepak Hooda came up in the process. “Getting a young and uncapped player is always a big risk, but the franchises have been able to scout the best of talents. That has clicked,” Dasgupta says.
As another high-voltage auction nears, there is eager expectation. “For you people, the auction is all about a day or two. For us, the preparations had started from the moment last year’s final got over,” one of the franchise bosses says with a smile, quickly pointing out that the two-day auction will certainly have a lot of spice.
The stage is set, time for some fireworks!
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