Kolkata Knight Riders’ owner Shah Rukh Khan says the new player auction rules for the fourth season of the IPL in 2011, are somewhat unfair, and that all players should go into the pool. You can almost understand his pain. Three years of bragging about his team in front of the whole wide world and he has won squat so far. Now, finally, that he has a chance to haul over his defunct squad and start from scratch, the weird player retention rules set for the auction will queer the pitch for him. Probably he will end up retaining a couple of players, even though he may not want to!
Amongst them will possibly be Sourav Ganguly, who hasn’t made a decision yet, if he will keep on playing in the IPL- atleast that is the official line! Ask Sanjay Manjrekar of the situation and he will come out with the famous ‘elephant in the room’ remark of his and as compared to the previous occasion, this time it will be quite apt. Now before all Dada fans start kicking their computer screens, consider the big headache in front of his team owner, or for that matter, any of the eight team owners who have this power of retaining their favourite and/or best players.
A purse of nine million USD to assemble a thirty-man squad for the next two seasons has been afforded to all parties involved. If the eight existing teams do exercise their right of retaining players, then for the first player a fee of 1.8 million will be cut from their purse, irrespective of player fees agreed. The second player will cost 1.3 million, a third 900,000 USD and the fourth 500,000 USD, which is the cap – no team can retain more than four players with a maximum three Indians and two overseas ones. This in turn means if four players are retained by any franchise, they would have to pick the rest of the 26 names with a purse of only 4.5 million will be available to them. Does that sound like good business or good team balance to you?
The Indian Premier League is after all a business and a most result-oriented one that we have seen for sometime in Indian sport. With the kind of money invested in buying the franchises, building teams and a brand name, they would want a good shot at glory – and the prize money – to have a decent return to show for their investment. Spending half your money on just four players isn’t the kind of venturing many would want to indulge in, yet there are names around that seem to be priceless, or there about.
Would Mukesh Ambani not want to retain Sachin Tendulkar for his Mumbai Indians team? Can you even imagine Sachin playing for any other team? Maybe MS Dhoni can be pictured in a different jersey than the canary yellow of Chennai Super Kings. But he is the biggest draw in Indian cricket today, as per the number of ads he is doing, so can India Cements really bear to lose him? There are others in the same mould, without whom their teams might have achieved less in the last three years; Jacques Kallis for Bangalore, Shane Warne for Rajasthan Royals and Virender Sehwag for Delhi, though one has to say they are not as sure-shot deals to go through in comparison to the two names prior.
There are others to consider; Kings XI are in a fix whether or not to sell their franchise, and if not that, then it must be whether or not to retain Yuvraj Singh. While even a blind cricket fan will tell you that VVS Laxman will possibly miss the cut at Deccan Chargers, the likes of Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist haven’t exactly become indispensable either. Of course the less said about Kolkata Knight Riders, the better. Point is retaining a player merits an argument based on either of the three – ability to win matches, brand image and sentimental value. It is indeed tough to find a lot of players – starry ones or otherwise – who would fall in this intersection. But the big question is, even if players fulfil one criterion, is it worth 1.8 million USD and so on?
Records suggest that no player has been consistent across all three seasons of the IPL. Stars ate dust in the first season when youngsters rose to prominence and then the roles were reversed in South Africa in the second season. In 2010, it was a fine balance between the two. About the branding part, there is just so much sponsorship and marketing associated with this game in India and in particular the variety of cricket associated with IPL, that getting new faces to sell everything from apparel to face-creams to motorcycles to pain relievers, won’t be a big problem. The big conundrum is regarding the sentiments of the Indian masses and if history is anything to go by, they should not be messed with.
And therein is the problem for Mr.SRK. Just as Sachin cannot be fathomed playing against Mumbai in Mumbai, can anyone imagine Ganguly turning up against KKR? While the first could happen ideally speaking – although the chances of that transpiring are about as bright as the world ending in 2012 – the second is more likely a possibility. When the Kolkata team owner sits down to evaluate his options, will he go with a near-forty year old who doesn’t play cricket around the year but can fill the Eden Gardens to the brim? If he does so, won’t that entice him to loosen up his purse strings a bit more and keep someone like Chris Gayle or Brendon McCullum as well? How about either of them instead of Ganguly?
The bottom line is not to pick on any one team’s plight, but to highlight the calculations which will keep the franchise honchos awake till the very night before the auction, and quite well, during the bidding process as well. This is where they will earn their pay or lose their jobs, like after the first season – anyone remember the dirty linen washed in public by Vijay Mallya? The new rules have allowed for a lot of permutations and combinations which will shake things up a bit and lead to quite a few interesting battles on the pitch next fall. And that is indeed needed, after the mess one Lalit Modi has left behind!