Do players get the right value for their talent in the IPL?


Earlier this week, the Indian Premier League (IPL) once again minted some fresh crorepatis out of little-known, domestic cricketers via its bidding-based auction system. It’s been a recurrent theme at the IPL auctions for many years now. Perfectly sane, brilliant minds sitting on the round tables at the auction somehow get triggered by the sight a cricketer and can’t stop themselves from continuously lifting the paddle up (if you haven’t seen the auction, that’s how bidding is done) until something, or someone, break the mysterious spell and make them stop.

How else would one make sense of the big money spent on acquiring players who are yet to prove themselves at the top level and may not necessarily make it to the playing eleven? And how would one rationalize the fact that an unproven talent is getting more money than an established performer?

The most expensive uncapped player (one who hasn’t played international cricket) in the recent auction was Sameer Rizvi, a righthanded middle-order batsman. Rizvi was picked by Chennai Super Kings (CSK) for `8.4 crore, which will give him more money than the more illustrious names like Moeen Ali, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shardul Thakur, Shivam Dube Mitchell Santner and Devon Conway, to name a few.

Rizvi must be a good talent to command such a price. In T20s, he averages 49 and strikes at 134. For a middle-order batsman, it’s a good return. But nothing extraordinary. His recent exploits in the UP T20 League where he scored 455 runs, including two centuries, and hit the most number of sixes probably made the IPL teams notice his talent and take a punt on him. But, at the end of the day, it is a state league and only one season old. Had he repeated the same success over a couple of seasons, that would have been a better yardstick to judge him as a batter.

However, Rizvi is not the only uncapped player to get such a high valuation. There is also Kumar Kushagra (Rs 7.2 crore) with Delhi Capitals, Robin Minz (Rs 3 . 6 crore) and Sushant Mishra (Rs 2.2 crore) with Gujarat Titans, M Siddharth (Rs 2.4 crore) with Lucknow Super Giants, and Subham Dubey (Rs 5.8 crore) with Rajasthan Royals. And there were many others in the past.

It’s tough to explain this with cricketing logic because it’s not about cricket. It’s about the process of acquiring a player. The auction system that IPL uses creates scenarios where prices can quickly spiral out of control. And, at the end of a ‘battle of paddles’, a team may have overpaid for a player and compromised its ability to create a balanced squad. On the other, the player in question may have to join a team that’s not best suited for him. It’s a system where two parties intending to work together in the near future can’t possibly decide on their own if their interests align with each other in exchange for an amount that both deem justifiable. There is always a chance that someone else, with more money in the purse, might spoil your plans. There is always a chance that a franchise might acquire a player for purposes other than on-field performance, like brand value. In an ideal world, Quinton de Kock wouldn’t have to sit out for most of the season because there are too many wicketkeeper-batsmen in the side. Or, a proven performer like Rinku Singh wouldn’t be getting just Rs 55 lakh while those who are yet to be tested the top level are counting their crores. But, it’s not an ideal world. It’s a world that cherishes auction dramas, overnight stardoms and rags-to-riches stories. It’s a world where every well-intentioned process could be exploited by those who have deep pockets and a will to gain an advantage by any means.

Football is a shining example of this. Despite so many measures to stop concentration of talent, you still have Manchester Citys and Paris Saint-Germains. Still, IPL organisers need to find ways to reward performers. Perhaps a post-season window for renegotiation of contracts between the franchises and the retained players. A system where the Rinkus of the IPL world can get what they deserve instead of waiting for the mega auction to arrive every three-four years. A system where franchises can reward their players for good performances without having to release them in the hope of re-acquiring them in the auction. But for that to happen, mega auctions have to be scrapped to allow teams to have a long-term vision. Perhaps, the IPL needs a bit of fine-tuning.

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