Cricket bazaar

Print edition : February 11, 2011

IPL commissioner Chirayu Amin at a press conference on January 9, the second day of the auction in Bangalore. - AIJAZ RAHI/AP

The Indian Premier League auction transformed some ordinary players into stars overnight and humiliated some great icons of the game.

A BIZARRE cricket bazaar. Nothing could have described the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction and subsequent developments better than this thoughtful observation by a former India player.

The auction, at a five-star hotel in Bangalore, held the cricket world's attention for two days (January 8 and 9). It transformed players, some of them very ordinary in terms of cricketing merit, into stars overnight. They were traded like gladiators, slaves in old times; some stood elevated beyond imagination and some were trashed and humiliated.

The run-up to the auction was marked by uncertainty regarding the participation of some franchises even as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) deliberated on the status of Sahara Pune Warriors and Kochi IPL, the new entrants in the fourth edition of the tournament. Once they got the green signal, it was a frantic race to buy the best in the market.

The open auction of players, beamed live by the official broadcaster, only underlined the dominant role played by market forces. Cricket and cricketers became secondary. It was all about money and how much a franchisee could flaunt, said a cricketer. Players on sale had always been a disturbing thought for the board, which launched the IPL to counter the popularity of the Indian Cricket League. The ICL was dubbed a rebel tournament by the BCCI and died a premature death following the success of the IPL, which happens to be a purely domestic tournament.

The glamour quotient of the IPL was the clinching factor since the board roped in some of the best names in the business. The involvement of the corporate world and the film industry meant that the game faced the threat of being hijacked by commercial forces. These fears came true following the auction of players. Sports pundits have, at various stages, questioned the methods of recruiting the players. Auction of a cricketer is a degrading thought, noted a veteran who was involved with the ICL too. It is unheard of in any other sport. In football, for example, a player's movement from one club to another is a process that is monitored and conducted during a particular period. The transfer is dictated by certain rules. The players are not auctioned. The IPL auction, critics observed, was more about the franchises and less about cricket and cricketers. The franchise owners thought little of publicly humiliating some of the game's icons, especially Sourav Ganguly, who remained unsold, as did Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle, among others. There was also no transparency on the amount paid to the players who were retained.

Franchise owners have also questioned the catchment area clause, which has not been defined properly. Kochi and Pune had a lot to complain about on this front. Once the auction process was over, the focus shifted to the uncapped players, and it was a sight to see at the Moti Bagh ground in Vadodara on the eve of the Ranji Trophy final when agents descended on the domestic players to herd in the best possible ones.

A TV grab showing Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya, his son Siddarth Mallya, and former Royal Challengers captain Anil Kumble during the auction on January 8. Kumble pulled out of the IPL.-G.P. SAMPATH KUAMR

The vexing issue of uncapped players came up as soon as the auction was over. Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya wanted the BCCI to give uncapped players some protection. He was concerned about the possibility of players being poached. Whispers of under-the-table offers to players only fuelled the race to sign up players from the pool of the uncapped. I urge all the franchisees and the IPL Governing Council to exercise the utmost vigilance while signing [on] uncapped players, Mallya said.

The IPL has guidelines in place for uncapped players, who become important in the signing-up process because the teams have to fill the spots left for domestic players. The choice was left to the player, who was supposed to sign on after a three-way agreement involving him, the BCCI and the franchisee. The players were assured that they would be free to sign on with the team of their choice. Uncapped players were put in three categories: Those who had made their debut in the last two years fell in the Rs.10-lakh bracket; those who had played for two to five years fell in the Rs.20-lakh slab; and players with more than five years of domestic cricket experience were to get Rs.30 lakh.

Murky deals

But reports of some murky deals involving uncapped players only increased the BCCI's concerns. Players such as Ambati Rayudu and Manish Pandey were the most sought after even as a few players were disturbed by veiled threats from some quarters. The case of a left-arm spinner was indeed worrying as he was dissuaded from moving to a new team by a top franchise owner.

Some BCCI officials were upset with the franchisees using their senior and respected India players to lure youngsters to their teams and disrupting their concentration during domestic matches, including the Ranji Trophy final. Why would the young players even be interested in first-class cricket any more? They are being paid much, much more if they bag an IPL contract and play 20/20 for just a few weeks in the year, said a former India captain.

The IPL, argue some coaches, has not helped groom or produce any good-quality player for the national team in the past three years. The BCCI's job is to strengthen grass-roots cricket in order to strengthen the Indian team and not act as an employment bureau. Very sad state of affairs, bemoaned the coach. The IPL is being used like the VRS [voluntary retirement scheme] by senior retired players, joked another coach. He was not far off the mark. The biggest beneficiaries of the IPL recruitment process have been former players, involved as support staff, and many mediocre cricketers from the domestic circuit. Many among them stand little chance of playing for India but an appearance in the IPL assures them of financial security beyond their expectations.

Apart from the few stars who were retained and spared the auction process, the one icon who stood out for his integrity and self-esteem was Anil Kumble. He pulled out of the auction, citing business commitments. He also made it clear that he was not comfortable with the thought of playing for a team other than India or Karnataka. The legendary leg-spinner's act was the saving grace as cricket strove to protect its identity in the commercial world of the IPL. A bizarre cricket bazaar indeed!

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