Monday’s Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Bengaluru made two English cricketers millions. By far the two most expensive buys were all-rounder Ben Stokes and fast bowler Tymal Mills. The pair will both have contracts in excess of $1million, a sum that is more than either could earn in a year playing for England, and they will get that for just six weeks work.
The last time England players were the big story at an IPL auction was in 2009 when both Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff got contracts worth more than $1.5million. Since then England players lack of availability, and their somewhat prosaic approach to one day cricket, has meant they have not cashed in. Even when they have put their services up for sale, they have rarely created this kind of buzz.
Things have changed. England are now playing hugely exciting, if somewhat inconsistent, white ball cricket. Their run to the final of the World T20 in India last year showed the world what they were capable of. Combined with on-field success, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) management has finally awoken to the developmental opportunity that the IPL jamboree provides its players.
Stokes was already being spoken of as the hot-ticket item in this year’s auction before it got underway, but in an interview with The Telegraph early this week he was saying it wasn’t about the money, more about that opportunity to learn in the biggest Twenty20 cricket tournament.
““I just want to get picked up. That is the main thing about it,” Stokes told Nick Hoult. “I asked Jos [Buttler] how it was and he said it is “gun” which is what we [England players] say for awesome. Since he came back from the IPL you can tell from the way he has played he has gone to another level in terms of hitting, his consistency and where he can hit the ball. He has always been able to hit around the ground but playing in the IPL has taken him another level from where he was.”
While Stokes may have wanted to learn, he certainly won’t be displeased with getting the highest-ever salary given to an overseas player. He will be paid Rs 14.5 crore by the Rising Pune Supergiants. At this season’s IPL, only Virat Kohli will be paid more.
Some were shocked by the bidding war that took place for Stokes’s services, but it isn’t actually all that surprising. There are two aspects that combine to give a player a massive payday at the IPL auction. The first is scarcity. A guy who can score 258 from 198 balls in a Test match and then bowl at close to 90mph is a rarity, there certainly isn’t a domestic player that can do that for an IPL team. In fact there wasn’t another player in the whole auction that has the combination of batting, bowling and fielding skills that Stokes possesses.
The other side to it is marketability. The huge cost of running an IPL franchise is offset by being able to bring in big bucks from advertisers. Having Stokes in your team’s kit drinking a well-known brand of soft drink is a marketing man’s dream. There hasn’t been an England player since Andrew Flintoff that has had such a heady mix of charisma and talent.
Once teams have decided that a player can contribute both on the field and to their bank balance, and they have the available funds in their purse, they start bidding and don’t stop until they get their man. Stokes was the fortunate beneficiary. Hopefully by the end of the IPL season both he and his Pune team will think it was a fair deal.
Tymal Mills getting Rs 12 crore was more of a surprise, but the reasons for his selection were similar. He is a bowler who can send the ball down at over 90mph, can completely deceive batsmen with his clever slower balls, and he is a recognisable name thanks to the significant success he had in India in the T20 international series earlier this month.
Mills has had an interesting couple of years. At the start of the 2015 season, shortly after moving from Essex to Sussex, he was diagnosed with a narrow spine. This congenital defect means that if Mills bowls long spells he could face significant movement issues later in life. The condition is so serious that he has been restricted to playing T20 cricket where he bowls a maximum of four overs a match. His dreams of playing Test cricket for England were over, but thanks to the advent of T20 he can still have a very lucrative career. Mills is an automatic selection for the England T20 side, and now he has a massive IPL deal. In two years he has gone from fearing that he may never get to play professional cricket to being one of the highest paid cricketers on the planet.
Others have also benefitted from the IPL’s new found fondness for English players. Eoin Morgan, England’s one-day captain and the man who has overseen their transformation from plodders to bashers, was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 2 Crore. Chris Woakes has been selected by Kolkata Knight Riders for Rs 4 crore. Jason Roy will also be plying his trade in India in April and May, having been picked up for Rs 1 crore.
Finally, after a snobbish attitude towards the IPL that was completely unjustified, the English are starting to see its appeal. When Kevin Pietersen was praising the tournament he was given short shrift by many, now they can finally see what the tournament can give to their players. And in return the IPL has actually opened their arms to them. There are no losers here.