“We want to be referred as the Manchester United of IPL” - Surbramaniam Badrinath, after Chennai Super Kings won the Indian Premier League in 2011, for the second time.
And over the course of the IPL so far, CSK have deservedly earned that tag of being the Manchester United of the IPL. More than the creating the startling fan following and an almost unbreachable fortress at Chepauk, the standout feature of CSK has been the success they have had as a team. They have reached the eliminator stage of all the editions so far, winning the crown on two occasions. And their trophy cabinet also boasts of a Champions League trophy.
Now, all of these have been a result of CSK’s policy of retaining the crucial domestic and a few international players at any cost. The likes of Dhoni, Raina, Badrinath, Ashwin, Vijay, Albie Morkel have become synonymous with CSK. But it won’t remain the same if the threats of the 2014 auction materialise.
It has been learned that most of the IPL teams have called for all the players in the pool for next year’s auction. Now, what effect could such a move have on the often-neglected cricketing side of the IPL? An auction of all the domestic and foreign players would result into a more or less complete overhaul of the most of the teams. Such a situation might turn out to be a thriving joy ride for the media who might get another Gayle-ish performer to write and talk about; someone who failed miserably for his first franchise and then totally turned the tables under a different owner. Or even better for them, if they get another Yusuf Pathan to lambast, who seems to be playing in a parallel world to that of Gayle.
But what does it do to the teams? Think of what has happened to the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s bowling attack, after Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Praveen Kumar moved to other franchises. Yes, Vinay Kumar is coming of age, but the RCB attack still looks vulnerable on most occasions, even after first innings’ totals of 180+. Imagine what shape the Mumbai batting may take if they are to part with Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma. Even CSK won’t remain the same team if they have to let go of few of their primary players in the first XI.
And while teams like CSK and MI may lose the balance they have tried to create over the years, the anticipated auction could just worsen the situation for teams like Pune Warriors, Kings XI, Sunrisers Hyderabad and KKR, who sold the right players at the wrong time and are still struggling to find the optimum balance.
And what does it do to the fans? One of the reasons many compare CSK to gigantic brands like Manchester United is because of their unbelievably enthusiastic fans. Be it the electric atmosphere inside the Chepauk, or the millions of tweets, CSK fans have created a brand out of themselves. A reason behind such a crazy fan base has been the presence of local talent in the form of Ashwin, Badri and Vijay, and also because of a stable line-up. CSK fans have got used to cheering for more or less the same XI every time the IPL is on.
When RCB sold off Rahul Dravid, they almost lost their local flavor. Yes, they did make it up by getting Gayle and AB De Villiers, but losing The Wall almost meant losing the flavor of Bengaluru. And we all are familiar with Kolkata’s fanaticism with Ganguly; we all remember the scene in Eden Gardens last year when Ganguly was playing for Pune, against KKR. Dada’s fans created a hostile atmosphere for the home team. They made it clear to Shah Rukh Khan and his boys that no star player, no trophy could ever match the magnetism of Prince of Calcutta.
So, can any good come from the 2014 auction? While there have been no indications, imagine the resurfacing of Pakistani players in the IPL. Imagine the boost bowling line-ups would get with an Umar Gul, Junaid Khan or a Mohammad Irfan. History stands testament to the impact Pakistani players can create in the IPL. Nasir Jamshed could be the ideal opening bat for any team looking to accelerate in the first 6 overs. And one doesn’t even need to imagine what havoc Saeed Ajmal could create on any opposition.
Six years of IPL has taught us that a dream team isn’t one with all the big stars, but the one, which boasts of players who bask in the glory of each other. A star-studded, multiple-billion dollar Manchester City did win the league last year, but their local rivals still remain the big daddy of English Football because when players stay together, only then do they become a team. The men behind the IPL need to realize that they shouldn’t compromise the sport at any cost, and they need to realize that fast.