The Great IPL Bazaar

The Great IPL Bazaar

A few years ago, when the Indian Premier League (IPL) was nicknamed as the India Paisa League, there was laughter and derision. As the latest auction took place in Bengaluru over the last weekend, one thing became more clear, the IPL has become even more bigger and fatter — literally.

When the IPL was conceptualised and auctions happened in 2008, all the bidding money was in US dollars. Today, for the average fan in India, it is much easier to understand as the money being splurged is in Rupees. Sample this, Rs 876.25 crores have been spent on 189 players during the two-day auction which become a television spectacle of sorts.

The IPL is not just about cricket. It is cricket plus big commerce and some purchases made in it may defy logic. Yet, what stands out is despite the global economic recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic lasting over two years, there is no shortage of funds for the IPL team owners. It also means, for the players who fetched huge prices, there is big value.

For a few days after the IPL auction, the stock market behaviour was volatile. There was a bear run, till a semblance of normalcy was restored. For anyone familiar with the bourses, Indian stocks, too, rise and fall based on global cues. However, for the IPL, there is no such worry as Brand IPL has grown from strength to strength. Of course, for team owners, there is nothing like a gestation period now to make money.

Today, nobody questions if the IPL will take place. The last two years have proved one thing, it doesn’t matter if the IPL is held in India or in the United Arab Emirates. What matters is the slam-bang, whiz-thud, colourful cricket takes place. And with an increase from eight to 10 teams, IPL 2022 promises to be riveting.

When the big bosses of the BCCI went through the process of vetting and franchises from Lucknow and Gujarat were added as the new teams, there may have been some amount of  pessimism. One fact is enough to show how serious these teams are about buying and building a team, as Lucknow Super Giants spent their entire available purse of Rs 90 crores. Mind you, this is their debut at the auction, and they have smashed a huge six already.

Some of the other teams did not have so much money available on hand to spend. But if you look at the teams, on paper, it is very difficult to say which one has the advantage and which one looks fledgling, based on spending.  A ten-team IPL definitely reflects positivity and willingness to go big for which you have to give credit to the marketing whiz-kids behind the show. There are several global T20 cricket leagues in the world, but nothing is bigger than the IPL.

Some of the big purchases this season had eyes popping. Sample this: Mumbai Indian bought Ishan Kishan, opening batsman and wicket-keeper for Rs 15.25 crores, Chennai Super Kings grabbed medium pacer Deepak Chahar for Rs 14 crores, Kolkata Knight Riders bought Shreyas Iyer for Rs 12.25 crores, the Punjab franchise bought Liam Livingstone for Rs 11.5 crores. There were equally more fascinating buys in the form of Shardul Thakur, Wanindu Hasaranga, Harshal Patel, Nicholas Pooran, Lockie Ferguson, Avesh Khan and Prasidh Krishna.

When Mumbai Indians bought England fast bowler Jofra Archer for Rs 8  crores, fans were salivating over the prospect of watching Archer and Jasprit Bumrah open the bowling attack. Of course, Archer is yet to recover from surgery post injury. He is unlikely to play this season, yet nothing stops the franchise from buying a player with explosive potential.

This is where the economics of buying comes into play. It is not necessary the franchise owners are fiercely bidding for a player just because of his cricketing value. The crores spent may actually fetch a higher sale price next year if they decide to sell him (Archer, for example). This aspect of the IPL has definitely become a leading trend.

When the IPL retentions were announced last year, it was clear what horses the team owners wanted to hold on to. At 40, Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni is still hot property. However, Suresh Raina, who has also been with CSK for a very long time, found no buyer this time. There are some who sympathise with Raina, a player who has scored over 4,000 runs in the IPL. Factors which determine a player sale/purchase go beyond cricketing logic. Raina could still be useful but why he went unsold is not a mystery but how teams are willing to take risks, pick up uncapped players and also rookies like the Indian under-19 World Cup winning members. That is how captain Yash Dhull now becomes a part of the Delhi Capitals.

To be sure, there is a new facet this time in the IPL. Barring the heavyweight teams like CSK, Mumbai Indians  and Delhi Capitals, many captaincy slots are also up for grabs. It is more or less certain the Lucknow team will go with KL Rahul as captain, as he is on the ascendant. But for many other teams like Punjab, KKR, Royal Challengers Bangalore, there are plenty of options for picking the captain.

Just as Suresh Raina was unlucky, there have been cases of some more well-known Indian names going unsold. Fast bowler Ishant Sharma, who has played over 100 Tests, went unsold, so did Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav and Cheteshwar Pujara. However, Ajinkya Rahane, who has gone through a wretched spell with the bat, is  now with KKR.

Quite often, comparisons are made between the IPL and other sporting leagues. In the T20 format, the IPL is the biggest, and there is nothing like players being bought on sentimental value. It’s very much like buying stocks on the National Stock Exchange. Emotions have little relevance. And for those who think a franchise has to look at talent from within the state, this logic does not hold water.

It would not be an exaggeration to state the way IPL teams have changed and players crossed from one franchise to another, it will take some time to get a hang of things. Shreyas Iyer, born in Mumbai, played for Delhi Capitals and is now with KKR. Shikhar Dhawan is now with the Punjab team. Yet, what is fascinating is R.Ashwin is not with CSK and many state players from Karnataka are up north — Rahul and Mayank Aggarwal included.

With the process of picking teams now done and dusted, it will be interesting to see how the 2022 edition pans out. Last year, during the second wave of the Covid 19 virus, there was a Bio Bubble breach. The tournament was halted and then moved to the UAE. This time, there is no certainty if matches will be played at several venues. The very concept of playing matches on home and away basis has gone for a toss, because of the pandemic.

One saw during the recently concluded India versus West Indies series, players testing positive for the virus. The panic was less as players returned to action after a short break, as had been the case with the Indian under19 team in Antigua. When people say you have to live with the virus, it’s dead serious. There are enough sporting events taking place in India at the national level and city level. The bustling cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and even Tier Two cities see sport being played at the grass-root level. If you happen to see the Yamuna river bed, the way cricket grounds have mushroomed is fascinating. The same goes for Gurgaon, where there are any number of cricket venues  with floodlight facility.

There is a debate at home among the cricketers if the IPL has reached a saturation point. Certainly not. Fans thirst for all forms of cricket and IPL on television remains a big hit. One hopes the way players commanded crores of rupees as salaries at the auction, they will produce high voltage cricket.

The IPL is not a sport for the pusillanimous. There are big hitters and those who go for maximum, in terms of launching sixes beyond the boundary. For the bowlers, there is innovation at stake. For the fielders who defy laws of gravity, the IPL is magic.

Surely, the IPL could not have got bigger than this. The prospects ahead are salivating, where reputations will be made and marred.

(This article first appeared in Millenium Post, where I write a weekly column).

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