It was an early morning flight for our Ranji Trophy team travelling from Jaipur to Ahmedabad sometime in the January of 2011. While on such flights, one sees more of puffy eyes and grumpy faces, and hears a bit of grumbling too, this trip was a tad different. Different from all other mundane mornings and routines, for the day was the day of the big IPL Auctions. Even though only one of us from the team — Pankaj Singh was up for sale, the excitement was palpable nevertheless. In my years of playing cricket, I had seen players bond on different levels. The IPL auctions bringing together 15 young men, and hundreds others elsewhere, was not just fascinating but also spoke volumes about the sheer impact of this mammoth league.
While Pankaj, shy and reticent, was a bundle of nerves; the others overtly discussed how much he’d go for. Would there be a bidding war for our star bowler? Is it a possibility that he might go unsold? What if he does? Anyone who is privy to the way a team travels would know that the squad of 15 inevitably gets divided into groups of four to five players based on their comfort levels and interests. It’s an interesting exercise to take a quick tour to these groups, for the topic of discussions tell you a lot about the players themselves. One group would indulge in harmless gossip over cups of chai, the other would discuss the forthcoming match, some players would be the talkers and others mere listeners. But this morning there was only one agenda to be discussed — the IPL auctions, and everyone had an opinion.
As the team landed in Ahmedabad, the first thing everyone did was to make a quick dash to the TV monitors showing the auctions live at the airport. Gambhir was already picked for over two million dollars and others were also going for megabucks. The first round is always like that at the auctions. The moment we boarded the bus, the laptops came out and that started minute-by-minute update of the IPL auctions. Whenever a player was sold for a lot of money, there was a collective gasp along with a comment or two. Which team was looking like spending the most, which team was looking the strongest, why a certain player was a steal and why someone was way overpriced formed the core of debates on the two -hour bus journey.
Pankaj was still not sold, and he’d started getting a little jittery. The later you go under the hammer the least you are expected to get, for most of the teams would’ve spent the majority of their purse by then. He had started enquiring politely about the consequences of going unsold. If no franchise wanted him at the auction, it might mean the end of his IPL dreams. Time to say a little prayer along with biting the nails.
Finally, Pankaj was under the hammer. A couple of seconds passed, no hands went up. Few more seconds, still no response. Those few seconds felt like an eternity, for that’s how you feel when you see your world come crashing down in front of your eyes. Finally, a hand went up, Thank God! Somebody was interested and then another team showed interest. This was odd because initially there was no interest and suddenly two teams started a tug of war. We, the players, found it strange but the ones who knew the dynamics of auctions were least surprised, for this was a part of a well thought out strategy. Show no interest at the beginning and just when the player is going unsold, raise a reluctant hand. That’s the best way to strike a good bargain. Luckily, the tug of war ensured that Pankaj got close to a 1,00,000 mark and that he could sleep peacefully that night.
We were equally delighted for Pankaj for a couple of reasons. One, our star player deserved it and two, more importantly, we had reached Baroda to play the Ranji final and if Pankaj was heartbroken, he wouldn’t have been at his best in the finals. He was exceptional in the Ranji season till then and with the India cap eluding him for the longest time, IPL participation was mandatory to maintain the cash flow and staying relevant for future selections.
IPL: A gamechanger
This is exactly what a lot of cricketers will go through today, on the day of the IPL Auctions, 2014. A lot of them will be sold and still a lot of them would go unsold. Ever since its advent, the IPL has emerged as one of the biggest game changers of the recent times.
With regards to both Indian and world cricket, there isn’t an annual event as big as this. Its intensity and its influence on us has been enormous and inexplicable to a large extent.
Young cricketers have aimed at becoming IPL-only players, rather than rounded cricketers. That explains why it is so important for this generation of players to be a part of this league.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, you are either playing the IPL, or you aren’t playing at all.
As a side note, should the players and their families be happy that somebody ‘bought’ them or their kid and should they really be unhappy that they went unsold? Barring the obvious answers, if you delve a little deeper, you might understand what I’m hinting at.
Call me old school, but this whole idea of a public auction doesn’t appeal to me a great deal, for the whole process reminds me of the archaic times when men were sold like commodities.
An auction might be the best way to determine a player’s true worth (though there’s a debate even for that, for some feel the draft system is a better way) but is it really necessary to make a public show of it? Buying and selling of stocks and commodities is fine, but humans?
For now though, this process has been widely accepted.
Let the debate be for another day. Players have sent in their consent to be bought and sold, and I have given mine to be on a show to analyse the whole process. Let the auction begin!