What money can't buy

Costly buys...Kolkata Knight Riders' Shane Bond and Mumbai Indians' Kieron Pollard (below) were snapped up for a whopping $750,000 each in the last IPL auction.-AKHILESH KUMAR Costly buys...Kolkata Knight Riders' Shane Bond and Mumbai Indians' Kieron Pollard (below) were snapped up for a whopping $750,000 each in the last IPL auction.

Sport in its purest sense is often practised because of that intangible pleasure you get in castling a batsman, striking a six, slicing a neat backhand or may be finishing ahead of the rest at the 100m mark. The money and the fame don't come to mind during that split-second when adrenaline kicks in and sweat trickles down the spine, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

VIVEK BENDRE

In the 1996 cult-hit ‘Jerry Maguire', American football star Rod Tidwell played by Cuba Gooding Jr., says: “I wanna make sure you're ready, brother. Here it is. Show me the money!” A perplexed sports agent Jerry Maguire, played by Tom Cruise, repeats the phrase mechanically as he is out on a limb and needs Tidwell to hang on as his sports client. Later the men bond while cutting across the cynical traps that exist between athletes and their agents and in a moment of candour, Maguire tells Tidwell, “Rod, think about back when you were a little kid. It wasn't about the money, was it? Was it?” It is an honest moment that reminds us all about why we love sport in the first place.

Sport in its purest sense is often practised because of that intangible pleasure you get in castling a batsman, striking a six, slicing a neat backhand or may be finishing ahead of the rest at the 100m mark. The money and the fame don't come to mind during that split-second when adrenaline kicks in and sweat trickles down the spine.

The trappings of sporting-high come much later and the resultant financial valuation of a player remains an intangible mystery known only to sports agents, brand builders and corporate honchos with fat purses. Right from its inception, the Indian Premier League has made us ordinary folk crane our necks at bedazzling figures with multiple zeroes while the players laughed all the way to the bank. In the latest round of player auction ahead of the current IPL, the West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard and New Zealand quickie Shane Bond reaped in $750000 from the Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders respectively. Money cannot buy love or sporting glory and it becomes obvious when you scan the statistics of Pollard and Bond while the tournament eases past the half-way mark.

Pollard, who enthused everyone with his batting blitzkrieg during the Champions League last year while playing for Trinidad and Tobago, has scored a modest 123 runs from nine matches averaging 13.66 with a strike-rate of 135.16 in IPL-III. As a seamer, he has bagged seven wickets at an economy rate of 7.89. Actually these are middling figures when you look through the prism of the mind-boggling money that his franchise shelled out for him.

Bond, a man who breathed fire with his express pace, is also a member of that fragile league of quick men that includes Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, who are all prone to constant breakdowns. In his six games with the Knight Riders, Bond did shock and surprise a few batsmen but his returns — six wickets from six games at an economy rate of 7.82 — don't enhance the value of the money that he has gained.

There is no questioning the judgement behind the money that was invested in Pollard and Bond. Mumbai Indians needed an all-rounder with the x-factor and the tall West Indian seemed cut out for the task. Knight Riders, hamstrung with the absence of an injured Akhtar besides being stumped by the nitty-gritty of Indo-Pak politics, needed another bowler to spread fear among batsmen and Bond, who strayed into the rebel Indian Cricket League for a while, was a good buy.

The team owners surely would have read the fine-print — ‘the glorious uncertainties of cricket' — before they signed the deals. A mix of varying factors condition an athlete's peak performance namely form, fitness, mental strength and the different facets of rival teams. When a player is in the zone, he is able to handle these factors with ease and deliver success. The razor's edge nature of Twenty20 cricket where a dot ball can trigger panic and a six can flip fortunes, means that both Pollard and Bond like any other cricketer are operating within narrow confines, but blue-chip players are expected to take everything in their stride. The lukewarm show by Pollard and Bond is a mirror-image of what transpired last year when the IPL moved to South Africa. England's Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings at a whopping $1.55 million each but the duo's performance was hardly anything to write home about. Pietersen saddled with his England commitments, turned out in six matches and scored a mere 93 runs while an injury-prone Flintoff played three games, scored 62 runs and gained two wickets.

Value for money... Chennai Super Kings' M.S. Dhoni was the most expensive buy during the first IPL auction. He has been one of the most consistent performers over the three editions of the tournament.-PTI

But it is not always about money down the drain. Team owners invest money with an eye on the future and players can turn around their fortunes with a fiery spell or a blistering knock. Chennai Super Kings invested $1.5 million in M.S. Dhoni in the first player auction in 2008. It was the highest bid then and the Indian skipper has repaid the faith with his timely batting displays and astute leadership ability.

Performance is not always linked to the money pumped in by the owners. It is also linked to matters of faith and confidence. In the inaugural season, Shane Warne exhorted and inspired Rajasthan Royals with a bunch of unknown players to the pinnacle. Warne and his men continue to spring surprises in this edition too, while key player Yusuf Pathan has become a star. Perhaps players weighed down by hefty bank balances can take a cue from that Jerry Maguire dialogue — “Back when you were a little kid. It wasn't about the money, was it?”