Goa: With apologies to the unknown West Indian song writer of the 1960s, a calypso written about Friday’s player auction of the Indian Premier League would probably go like this:
Cricket, lovely cricket,In Goa where I saw it In the second auction Where money was sunk into those two little pals of mine Freddie Flintoff and Pietersen
Cricket purists profess a strong dislike for the Twenty20 game in general and the IPL in particular, deriding it as sideshow powered by glamour and money. And both were in lavish quantities today at the second auction.
The who’s who of Indian industry and Bollywood descended upon the Taj Aguada resort in the somnolent state of Goa to buy players. There was heavy security around the hall where the action was scheduled with barricades that could be only be opened by RFID enabled identity cards. The normally hospitable hotel staff doubled up as stern security guards to bar pesky journalists like this writer from entering the sanctum sanctorum of Indian cricket’s riches. A lone portly sniffer dog which obviously was interested in snoozing in the warm sun was dragged around on a leash to complete the picture of full security.
With the media cordoned off almost half a kilometer away (or so it seemed), all one could do was to wait at the gate for the rich and the powerful to arrive. Juhi Chawla, yesteryear sweetheart of the film-going masses, who is now associated with the Kolkata team, arrived almost half an hour before time, clad in outsized shades – that hallmark of celebrityhood designed more to attact paparazzi attention than keep them at bay. In keeping with the traditions of celebrityhood, she realized her faux pas of arriving before time rather than fashionably late — and retreated in a hurry.
Meanwhile, her team managers lost their way around the huge resort to find themselves in the media room, from which they had to run away in a hurry, faced with a barrage of bouncers from the assembled hack pack.
Bemused tourists — those few arrived at this time of the year to take advantage of smaller crowds in the off-season — were looking a bit harassed at the beginning, while a couple of adventurous ones, started to join the fun, whipping out cameras to shoot the array of cameras outside the entrance. One open-jawed tourist started took multiple photos of Nita Ambani on being told that she was the wife of the richest Indian.
The stream of celebrities kept coming, long after 10am, the scheduled start of the auction; and apart from sunglasses, another thing they had in common — at least a couple of them — were personal security guards, who kept them out of harm’s and journalists’ way.
The late entry didn’t seem to have pleased the auctioneer Richard Madley, formerly of Christies. He was shown on TV telling franchises to “take a five-minute break so that we can start in ten” to speed up proceedings.
There were six rounds of bidding split into three sessions, between which Lalit Modi made appearances with various gushing team owners to discuss their latest acquisitions.
Industry barons and Bollywood idols alike had lots of cricketing wisdom to share — even if they had in their teams people with actual cricketing knowledge to talk of such things.The favourite word of the day was balance and it was used by a whole lot by Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta, Nita Ambani, Vijay Mallya and Ness Wadia to hold forth on the virtues of their teams.
It was not only the players who made money in this auction, but agents too. Spotted some distance away from the auction hall was Neil Fairbrother, a former England international, who remains etched in this writer’s memory for the dour innings he played in the lower-middle order of English one day international (ODI) squads a decade and a half ago. All he would say was that he was representing Andrew Flintoff, but with agents often getting 10% of a player’s earnings in deals like this, Fairbrother is likely to have made more money than some of the players who got sold in this action. ”It was a good series,” he said referring to a particular series against India, but remained mum about the business end of the IPL.
Which was true of everyone in the end. There was a marked reluctance to discuss financials, except for expenditures, and all one got to hear was ‘development of Indian cricket’. Even in that no one discussed the why, how and when.
Cricket purists: Take note.