With ten teams and 74 matches, what a tournament like the IPL needs most is competition. To ensure fair competition and close matches, the basic requirement is a level playing field — this was also the official logic behind the $9million cap on the franchises’ purses for the auction.
But as it often happens in India, even among the powerful, the most powerful get away with bending the rules to their advantage.
The IPL’s two most powerful teams — in non-cricketing teams — are Mumbai Indians (MI) and Chennai Superkings (CSK). Mumbai has the deepest purse of all the franchises — owned as it is by same man who owns the world’s most expensive home, Mukesh Ambani. The owner of CSK is NSrinivasan, who, besides being an industrialist, is also BCCI secretary and part of the IPL governing council’s decision-making team.
Now that the auction is over, it is clear that the two most powerful teams — in terms of the players in their kitty — are also MI and CSK. And this is not due to any brilliant cricketing insights into players’ forms or team composition or bidding strategy. They have the best teams primarily because they managed to sidestep the $9million price cap for buying players — through the player retention option.
Player retention queers the pitch
Not surprisingly, no franchise was really keen on the player retention idea except for Mumbai and Chennai, both of whom already had good players and naturally, didn’t want to let go of them.
But if, as the IPL chairman Chirayu Amin keeps parroting, transparency is paramount, then the actual amount that MI and CSK will be paying their retained players should be deducted from their $9million purse, not some arbitrary figure that bears no relation to what they would really be paying. In effect, while Team Kochi and Team Pune, the two new teams, and all the other teams who began from scratch will have to build their teams from a budget of $9mn, MI and CSK will be doing so with probably $12 million or $15 million or god knows what amount.
Just look at the facts and figures: MI retained Tendulkar, Harbhajan, Pollard and Malinga for $4.5 mn, while Kolkata Knight Riders had to shell out exactly the same amount, $4.5 mn, for just two players: Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan. If all the players had been thrown into the auction pool, as ideally should have been done, how much do you think MI would have had to shell out for Sachin, Pollard, Bhajji and Malinga? Or CSK for Dhoni, Raina, Vijay and Albie Morkel?
As per the current rules, the four retained players have been ‘valued’ at $1.8mn, $1.3mn, $900,000 and$500,000 respectively. Now, just keep in mind that the most expensive player of the auction, Gautam Gambhir, was bought for $2.4 mn. Imagine: if Dhoni or Sachin had been allowed to be part of the auction, and all teams had been allowed to bid for them, how much would they have fetched? At least what Gambir fetched — that is, $2.4mn? In other words, MI and CSK should have had at least $600,000 ($2.4mn minus the $1.8mn they were deducted from their purse for Sachin and Dhoni respectively) less in their budget than the $4.5 with which they went to the auction.
And we are not even thinking here of what a steal Pollard must have been for Mumbai (they got him for $900,000 as the third player retained). Pollard was their single most important player in the last IPL and it is inconceivable that he would be playing for them this year for just $900,000. They have to be paying him much more — and it is simply not fair to the other teams that the extra sum that will be paid to the retained players is not reflected in the $9mn spending cap in the auction. If both MI and CSK had had to bid for all the players, alongside newbies Kochi and Pune, and other teams who did not retain players, then:
1. Their real strategic thinking would have been tested, instead of their financial muscle fetching them the best players
2. It would have ensured that all the teams had only $9mn to buy the players, and so had an equal opportunity to create their best teams, unlike now, when MI, CSK, Bangalore and Delhi can pay, say, $4mn, or whatever they want, to Sachin, Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Sehwag respectively, unfettered by the $9mn cap.
3. The IPL’s competitiveness takes a hit: now, you have two super-strong teams, in MI and CSK, and the rest. This won’t help the competitiveness of the matches featuring either of these and any of the rest of the teams. The more predictable the results become, the more boring the matches. Who loses at the end? The BCCI? The franchises? The fan? The game itself?
There is the question of why didn’t the other teams retain their four best players, instead of releasing them into the auction pool. Delhi could have retained Gambhir — who was bought by Kolkata for $2.4mn — for just $1.8 mn. And Rajasthan, who retained Warne and Watson for $1.8 and $1.3 respectively, could have retained Yusuf Pathan for $900,000, or could they?
Obviously, a player will agree to be retained only if the franchise agrees to pay him what he considers to be his market value. There is no doubt that if Rajasthan had had as much funds as Mumbai, they would have retained Yusuf Pathan for the ‘price’ of $900,000, and then paid him his ‘real’ price (he was bought by Kolkata for $2.1 mn) ‘separately’.
Anyone who’s been following IPL knows that Rajasthan has been having trouble paying its dues, and there was no way they could afford to pay Yusuf what he commanded in the market — they simply could not have retained him though they would have loved to.
I am guessing the same must have been the case with Delhi and Gambhir. It’s anybody’s guess how much they will be paying Sehwag — it certainly cannot be just the $1.8mn he has been ‘valued’ at. And they may have just decided they didn’t have the funds to pay a similar huge fee to Gambhir as well. Gambhir, if retaine