For all the stick the Indian Premier League (IPL) has got in recent years, Monday’s auction seems to suggest there is much that is right with the tournament. Just two years ago, in the wake of the betting scandal that overtook the annual T20 extravaganza, leading to the suspension of two of the franchises, Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, there were calls to scrap the whole thing. But better sense prevailed and the baby was retained even as the bathwater was thrown out.
Monday’s auction process showed that the IPL is now here to stay and, for that, much of the credit needs to go to the role of companies that own the various franchises. Clearly, the increasing corporatization of the league has made it more professional. Mostly, it is the self-correcting mechanism that is built into the format of the tournament that has led to its revival in a healthier avatar.
It is evident that the team owners are putting their money where their mouth is. Reliance Industries isn’t into it as a Sunday picnic. Team owner Nita Ambani is seen at the forefront of the bidding as well as the planning. Sanjeev Goenka, a relative newcomer to the IPL, is expending enormous time and energy to guiding Pune. After last season’s failure, he has made the most aggressive moves replacing cricketing icon M.S. Dhoni as captain with Steve Smith and forking Rs14.5 crore for all-rounder Ben Stokes.
The open auction has been the key to the cleansing. The transparency of the bidding process ensures that players get their due and there is no scope for underhand deals and favours that have marred many of the sports leagues in the country. The transparency also ensures that the IPL has emerged as the most impartial gauge of players’ worth based on their perceived potential. Thus, explosive English fast bowler, the 24-year old Tymal Solomon Mills, could be an excellent long-term anchor for Royal Challengers Bangalore who’ve paid Rs12 crore for him. His congenital back condition means that he may not be a regular in the English test team and could end up as a short-format specialist.
Contrast that with the fate of Ishant Sharma who remained unsold. Though only 28, his frequent breakdowns have marked him as a dodgy investment. Nor are owners willing to compromise on performance. Last year, Delhi Daredevils bought Pawan Negi for a humongous Rs8.5 crore in 2016. After a season of modest showing, his price this year was just Rs1 crore.
On this year’s bidding, the IPL can lay claim to being truly global (with the sad exception of the wonderfully gifted Pakistani players). With two Afghan players now joining the fray—Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan—both bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad with the latter fetching Rs4 crore, this is a huge boost to the spread of the game and could well be the Peter Ndlovu moment for cricket.
Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean, became the first footballer from Africa to be signed up by an English club, Coventry, in 1991. Thanks to the impact he made, it opened the floodgates for players from the continent. From three players in 1992-93, when the premier league began, there are over 50 players from various countries in Africa turning out for clubs in England. In turn, it has boosted the game in these countries with teams like Algeria in 1982, Cameroon in 1990 and Nigeria in 1994 performing creditably in the World Cup, culminating in 2014 when two African teams, Nigeria and Algeria, made it to the second round. Prior to that, no African nation had made it past the first round.
A performance-driven league means that for the players there is all to play for now. With young Mohammed Siraj, the son of a rickshaw puller, bagging a lucrative contract, the IPL shows how transformational a role sports can play. So little is known of young Milind Tandon, for instance, that the sketchy Cricinfo entry for him merely describes him as a right-hand bat. For the 23-year-old who turns out for local Delhi club side RP Academy in the DDCA (Delhi & District Cricket Association) league, the Rs10 lakh contract from Rising Pune Supergiants could be the ticket to a bright career. Or take left-hand bat and slow left-arm orthodox bowler R. Sanjay Yadav who plays for Chennai-based club VB Thiruvallur Veerans in the Tamil Nadu Premier League. All that is known of him is that he’s played one T20 game versus Kerala. Indeed, the fairy tale nature of many of the picks makes sports a viable career for young kids.
Just for that, IPL deserves some credit.
Sundeep Khanna is a consulting editor at Mint and oversees the newsroom’s corporate coverage. The Corporate Outsider will look at current issues and trends in the corporate sector every week.
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