We were committed to spending our salary cap, says Rajasthan Royals’ Manoj Badale
After a two-year suspension from the Indian Premier League (IPL) when their co-owner, Raj Kundra, was found guilty in an illegal betting and match-fixing probe, Rajasthan Royals will be back in the 2018 season. At the IPL auctions over the weekend, the Royals bought, among others, England’s Ben Stokes for Rs12.5 crore and Jaydev Unadkat for Rs11.5 crore, besides a host of uncapped players, as they set about rebuilding their team.
In an interview, co-owner Manoj Badale (the other partners are Lachlan Murdoch and the Suresh Chellam family) spoke about the auction and the upcoming season. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What did the two-year absence from the IPL mean to you?
As a company, we ceased doing business, which is a challenge. If you look at it unemotionally and objectively, there aren’t many situations where, on the basis of an alleged misdemeanour (over betting) of an (approximately) 10% stakeholder (Raj Kundra), the entire company receives a punishment. From a pure business perspective, I didn’t understand the logic of that. When the company you built with care and attention is constantly associated with the words “spot fixing” or the like, it’s pretty disappointing. People seem to have merged our various controversies together with the spot fixing of 2013 (when three Rajasthan Royals players were found guilty). When you read that history, spot fixing had nothing to do with our suspension. But that’s life.
What could you do differently going forward?
I don’t know what else we could have done in 2013. We have a clear set of ACSU (anti-corruption and security unit) guidelines, which you sign as a franchise. So nothing is going to change other than strict adherence to what’s best practice.
There is a cynicism associated with the IPL…
I have always got the sense that there is a schizophrenic relationship between the media and the IPL. The causes of that, I guess, are that I am not sure if in the early days the IPL was desperately respectful of the media. I am the wrong person to speculate on that because I don’t live here.
Did the auction go the way you wanted?
Since 2010-2013/14, we have got a few retentions, so we were only supplementing. This year, we rebuilt from scratch. The retention and RTM (right to match) rules put us at a competitive disadvantage going into the auction. Hence our planning and prep had to be more precise.
Inevitably, you have two-three misses. It would have been nice to get a player you have invested in developing, like Karun Nair, and we are respectful of players like (Ravichandran) Ashwin (both bought by Kings XI Punjab).
The Royals seemed to have spent more money than they usually do.
It was exactly same approach we always have: Start with a clear view of roles we are trying to fill. We had only one retention, less than in the past, so it felt like we were spending more because what you retain isn’t as visible. What people forget is that other teams have spent big money before the auctions.
Secondly, because the TV rights have gone up, the salary caps were lifted. They have gone up by around 25%. So, inevitably, what you pay for certain players automatically goes up. The real difference for the Royals this year is we committed before the auction to spend our salary cap, which historically we haven’t done. That was afforded to us because of the profitability of the franchise based on the TV deal.
The other difference in our strategy this year is we spent a lot more on our playing eleven versus our overall squad. What we spent for Stokes, for the last several years we spent a similar amount on Shane Watson.
Spending Rs11.5 crore for Unadkat was also surprising.
It was part of the plan. We had six clear targets, which we knew would be expensive given that they were targets for other teams. While you might not think Unadkat is a marquee name, if you look at his performances in the last IPL, he was one of the reasons Pune (Rising Pune Supergiant) got to the final.
Two other interesting players you got are Jofra Archer and Aryaman Birla.
One of the benefits is I live in the UK and I have knowledge of English cricket. Archer is a rare talent identified by the English hierarchy. We were not surprised by his success in the Big Bash League (BBL). What was worrying was that given his success in the BBL, everyone knew who he is.
We have been tracking Aryaman for a while. We have always been huge admirers of his talent and surprised by how much he developed. We like his left-arm spin and his batting this year has been outstanding.
What was the kind of preparation that went into the auctions?
Getting an edge on the scouting has become harder because the scouting process has become easier—because there are so many domestic T20 tournaments. Why a player will get a bit up (in valuation) has more to do with auction dynamics than necessarily the absolute value of the player.
Your strategy has involved getting a lot of uncapped players.
Our franchise, more than others, has proved over the years that sometimes those players are actually ready earlier than you think. The other reality of the IPL is it’s a tough seven-week tournament played on different wickets and conditions. There is no such thing as a set playing eleven. You need a minimum of 16-18 players given that there would be injuries too…. The slight difference is uncapped players have become a lot more expensive. Fundamentally, it makes good business sense. The other aspect when you are rebuilding is you have to think about the age profile. We target players who are not just investments for this year but for the next five-six years.
What are your expectations from the 2018 season?
The margins between teams are so narrow that any expectations about winning are dangerous. You can control the things you can control and put yourself in the best possible chance of competing. We have always had the same objectives: to make the play-offs. Once you are there, you are at best two matches away from winning.
Do you feel you need to build credibility again?
I have been with the franchise longer than anyone, including my co-owners. We have always run the franchise the same professional way that we run the other (Blenheim) Chalcot businesses. Like any business, you need to evolve the strategy and how you run the business. But fundamentally, it’s the same. You can only ask people to judge you by your actions.