Shortly after a few morning cuppas of my favourite south Indian brew from Matunga, news broke that the two new teams for IPL’s Season 4, Pune and Kochi, had been sold for $370 million (Rs1,687.2 crore) and $330 million, respectively; by the time I had sorted out how many zeros this entailed if converted into rupees, we had got into the Super Over climax between Chennai and Punjab. Whoa! There’s only so much tension a good man can take on a Sunday.

In an age when film stars are paid Rs35 crore for endorsing a mobile phone or a 22-year-old West Indian rookie cricketer is (reportedly) snapped up for Rs10 crore, surprises are few and far between where such money transactions are concerned. Even so, the auction for the two new teams was a bolt from the blue.

The Sahara and Rendezvous groups, which won Pune and Kochi, respectively, showed a level of desperation which stymied the pre-auction favourites, Gujarat’s Adani group and the Videocon group, which were eyeing Pune. If you ask me, there’s a dramatic story there somewhere on why a sport should invite such frenetic bidding and counter bidding, and how the tables were turned on those who were a cinch to win.

All said and done, the whopping sums paid by Sahara and Rendezvous Sports World will have sent tremors all over the sporting world. I suspect even Lalit Modi, chairman, IPL, was stumped by the bids spiralling way beyond the $225 million base price, but recovered quickly enough to proclaim that the IPL was recession-proof. Dilute the hyperbole, and it is still mind-boggling.

It must seem incredible that the price paid for two teams now should be greater than that paid in sum for the eight original teams in 2008! That’s more than 300% growth, albeit on valuations, for the existing franchises in the IPL. Is this a mirage? A balloon which can be pricked any time?

Rumour, speculation and debate still continue over the bids. I have been inundated with queries on Twitter and in person. Have the two teams been grossly overvalued? Is this sound economics or ego-driven madness?

Experience counts: Jacques Kallis. PTI

But these bids may only be the precursor to what is likely to happen this September, when the contracts of all the players lapse. A fresh auction will then ensue, but before that, a tug of war already seems to be developing between the franchisees: some of whom want all players to be under the hammer, while some want it legislated that at least four players can be retained.

Where this will take players’ salaries is the big buzz already in board rooms and dressing rooms. Some of the figures being mentioned for stars with strong brand value are so astronomical that I can’t even repeat them here for fear of being considered a lunatic. All I can say is that cricket, and particularly the IPL, appears to be going out of whack.

Talking of star players, it is interesting to see the pattern of the previous two editions of the IPL being repeated in the third: T20 is widely considered to be a young man’s game, but it is the Golden Oldies who are still proving to be the more compelling performers.

The talismanic Shane Warne was the chief architect of Rajasthan Royals’ victory in 2008, with his bowling and leadership. Adam Gilchrist’s ebullient batting coupled with his high-energy ethics for fitness and team commitment saw Deccan Chargers win in 2009, where the runner-up was Bangalore, led by the grimly determined Anil Kumble.

This season, Sachin Tendulkar has emerged front-runner not only as batsman, but also as captain of Mumbai, which looks to be a strong contender for top honours along with Kumble’s Bangalore and Gilchrist’s Hyderabad. Warne has been a trifle upstaged so far this year, but after pulling a game back against Kolkata, they could be on the road to recovery; or at least capable of tripping a few teams along the way.

Despite the blazing 37-ball 100 by Yusuf Pathan, and some sparkling knocks by the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Saurabh Tiwari and Suresh Raina, the dominant batsmen have been Jacques Kallis, Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden, Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Virender Sehwag (not Golden Oldies yet, but old enough), while the two best bowlers have been the Sri Lankans, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan.

What explains this? Strong arms and legs are vital in this format, but perhaps even more so, experience, strong nerves and well-founded basic skills. Aah, yes, also a mind that is ticking all the time.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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