Zeroing in on your man... how does it happen?

It is time to explore whether domestic performances actually have an impact on the IPL auction bidding.

Leg-spinner Karn Sharma was lapped up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for a whopping Rs 3.75 crore.

Trivia: Find the common factor in the sequence of the following players: Karn Sharma, Shreyas Iyer, Pawan Negi, T. Natarajan.

Even if you are a connoisseur of cricket and keep cribbing about the glory and the beauty of the good old days when it used to be a gentleman’s game, with the emergence of the Indian Premier League — a tournament that virtually everyone loves to hate — you wouldn’t take long to find the connection. Perhaps with the loyalty to Test cricket, you will dismiss the trivia as a frivolous question.

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But if you are a modern-day cricket fan bitten by the T20 bug, you will spontaneously hit back with the answer: the highest paid uncapped Indians in the last four IPL auctions. Bingo! But will you be able to recall the performances of the four most expensive domestic stars — uncapped at the time of the auction — in the season preceding the IPL auction? I am sure most of you will struggle.

When it comes to getting into the short-list of the IPL talent scouts, gone are the days when merely a sensational Ranji Trophy season was enough for a cricketer.

 

As we get closer to that time of the year when a certain Richard Madley will keep inviting bids for the franchises to build a full squad ahead of the IPL’s 11th edition, it is time to explore whether domestic performances actually have an impact on the IPL auction bidding.

A majority of the experts Sportstar reached out to stressed that there is indeed a strong correlation between domestic performances and IPL signings but the fact remains that when it comes to getting into the short-list of the IPL talent scouts, gone are the days when merely a sensational Ranji Trophy season was enough for a cricketer.

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“I think now a lot of importance is given to domestic performance. It becomes important for every franchise, I suppose, to pick those consistent performers in the domestic season to complement your international superstars and other capped players. It’s become ideal to identify and back those consistent domestic players,” says A. R. Srikkanth, the performance analyst for the two-time champion outfit Kolkata Knight Riders.

Deep Dasgupta, the former India wicket-keeper who has also served as the team manager of the now-defunct Pune Warriors India, feels the onus on taking a note of domestic performers will be more in a full auction like the one in 2018.

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“There’s a huge correlation between the two, especially for these big auctions. Because you have to create the whole squad. For a smaller auction, you are just trying to fill in a few holes in your team combination. But with these big ones, you are trying to build a huge squad.

“And in such cases, more often than not, it boiled down to: “Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai,” says Dasgupta.

The evolution

The domestic players may have officially started hitting the jackpot since 2014, when the BCCI finally decided to introduce Indian uncapped players in the auction pool, but prolific performers in the domestic arena have been sought-after by the IPL franchises ever since inception.

For the first three seasons, the IPL authorities had fixed the minimum signing amount for uncapped domestic Indians at Rs. 20 lakh per season. Since there was no higher limit and the agreement was only between a player and his team, there was zero transparency in the signing amounts of the uncapped players. It is estimated that the players were contracted anywhere between Rs. 20 lakh and Rs.1 crore.

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Then came the second big auction in 2011 and the BCCI biggies suddenly discovered that many youngsters had started prioritising IPL over aspiring for international cricket and took a bizarre move. Depending on the experience in domestic cricket, the BCCI capped remuneration of the uncapped Indian cricketers in three grades of Rs. 10 lakh, Rs. 20 lakh and Rs. 30 lakh.

It meant that despite having been in form in the domestic arena and having proven their worth in the previous IPL seasons, players like Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav could only be paid a maxium of Rs. 30 lakh officially. This led to plenty of under-the-table dealings between the franchises and domestic players. Some of the players were offered houses and swanky cars, besides stashes of cash obviously. While virtually all the under-hand dealings were ignored by the BCCI — out of compulsion since the then IPL chairman Chirayu Amin admitted that the BCCI did not have a mechanism in place to keep a check on such deals — Pandey was found guilty of cross-trading with Pune Warriors based on the complaint of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and suspended for four matches.

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By the time the next full auction came along in 2014, the franchises had started getting a hang of the IPL strategy and all of them had realised that the seven Indian cricketers — at least two of whom are generally uncapped — hold as much, if not more, importance in a team’s success as the four overseas players do.

Naturally it was high-time that the uncapped players were introduced in the auction and the impact was evident, with leg-spinner Karn fetching more money in the auction than the likes of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.

“Over the years, the correlation between the auction and domestic performers has been increasing. In the first six years, domestic players were not involved in the auction. Ever since the domestic players have been introduced, we have been seeing some of these relatively lesser-know players becoming household names in no time,” says S. Badrinath, the former India batsman who was a regular in the Chennai Super Kings yellow during the team’s heyday.

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Badrinath, however, feels that the teams have started scanning performances beyond the Ranji Trophy before signing players. “It’s more of a consolidated performance. As much as the performances in Ranji and the one-dayers, the franchises have also started deputing talent scouts to some of the domestic leagues which are doing well. K. C. Cariappa (who was sold for Rs. 2.4 crore in 2015 to Kolkata Knight Riders based on his performances in the Karnataka Premier League) and T. Natarajan (the find of the Tamil Nadu Premier League who fetched Rs. 3 crore from Kings XI Punjab last year) are prime examples of it.”

T. Natarajan, the find of the Tamil Nadu Premier League, fetched Rs. 3 crore from Kings XI Punjab last year.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

 

Srikkanth agrees with Badrinath, saying that only a prolific Ranji season is unlikely to guarantee a bid for a player in the auction any longer.

“We have to also be mindful of the fact that the Ranji Trophy is a different ball-game altogether compared to white-ball cricket and the IPL. I feel that consistent performers across formats, across teams and against different teams will anyway attract bids but that doesn’t really hold a lot of good that a highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy will sure-shot attract a bid in IPL and vice-versa,” Srikkanth says.

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“If I look at Ranji Trophy and without taking names if I am impressed with a certain set of players, I would like to see how they transform their form from red-ball cricket into say a Vijay Hazare or a Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament. If they are consistent enough across formats, then we shortlist their names and then see how they fit into our plans. Whether a player can complement the others in our team. If he doesn’t fit the bill, we move on and track down the next one in our list to see if he can fit in.”

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Perhaps that sort of explains why Priyank Panchal, despite plundering more than 1300 runs in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season, did not attract a bid last year. In fact, around half of the top three run-getters and wicket-takers over the last four seasons have failed to attract bids from IPL teams.

Despite a majority of the IPL teams closely tracking players all over India all year round, Dasgupta feels most of the IPL franchises still go by names due to the lack of an organised talent scouting set-up.

“Not at all of them have a talent scouting team in place and many of them don’t really have an assistant coach on the auction table, so most of them still go by numbers, so they go by highest scorers, wicket-takers and names that are seen in newspapers,” Dasgupta says.

“Mumbai Indians obviously are an exception. They have unearthed a proper scouting system. Irrespective of the auction, their scouts keep watching all sorts of cricket all year round and that’s why MI does really well in getting its combination right more often than not.”