The 2016 IPL auction in Bangalore ended with 94 players being sold for Rs 136 crore but more than the totals, it was how the teams spent their money this time around that mattered. They didn’t throw pots of it at established, experienced internationals – Shane Watson was the most expensive player at Rs 9.5 crore – but at the same time they were happy to hand out big fat contracts to newbies that even die-hard fans of first-class cricket in India would struggle to recognise.
Adding an extra wrinkle this time around were the two new franchises – Rising Pune Super Giants and Gujarat Lions – that had to build their teams from the ground up (they only had five players each heading into the auction), unlike the other six franchises that were mostly looking to strengthen existing squads (Delhi being a notable exception).
Here are three broad trends that we noticed during the auction:
Franchises spread the money around
In years past, there have been at least one and sometimes two or three players on whom franchises have lavished huge sums of money. Think Yuvraj Singh getting Rs 16 crore and Dinesh Karthik Rs 10.5 crore last year. Or Yuvraj (again) getting Rs 14 crore and Karthik (again) Rs 12.5 crore in 2014.
This year the pair went for Rs 7 crore and Rs 2.3 crore respectively, which is to say that they did not crack double digits combined. The biggest buy, as mentioned above, was Royal Challengers Bangalore, getting Watson for Rs 9.5 crore.
The discretion the franchises showed when it came to established players meant there was more money to be spent on those with little or no international experience. Watson, for example, began his international career in 2002 and has played 301 international matches. Meanwhile left-arm spinner Pawan Negi, all of 23 years and 31 days old, has played zero times for India but was bought for Rs. 8.5 crores.
Likewise South Africa all-rounder Chris Morris, who has played just 15 times for his country, was bought by Delhi Daredevils for Rs 7 crore, the same price Sunrisers Hyderabad paid for Yuvraj.
Similarly, M Ashwin, a leg-spinner from Tamil Nadu, who played only three first-class matches and six T20s in his career, was bought by the curiously named Rising Pune Super Giants for Rs. 4.5 crore (his base price was Rs 10 lakh) on the back of a good Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament in which he took 10 wickets from those six matches.
In comparison, Samuel Badree, who has played for the West Indies and has an economy rate of 5.36 from 121 innings, was bought at his base price of Rs 50 lakh.
It was almost as if the franchises thought they got such good deals with the better known international players that they could afford to splash the cash on potential in the hopes that one or two would pay off.
Multi-dimensional players were in demand, specialists not so much
Aaron Finch has a Twenty20 average of 34.08 from 136 innings and a strike-rate of 133.40. He does even better in T20 Internationals, averaging 41.61 with a strike-rate of 151.47. Yet he went unsold the first time his name was called before eventually being bought for Rs 1 crore in the second round of bidding organised for players that had previously gone unsold.
In contrast, Carlos Brathwaite, the seam-bowling West Indies all-rounderwas the subject of bidding war that resulted in him being bought for Rs 4.2 crore by Delhi Daredevils, an amount 14 times his base price of Rs 30 lakh. The 27-year-old Brathwaite averages 14.61 from 27 innings with a strike-rate of 137.66. He’s only played two T20Is and made a total of two runs.
There’s no comparison between their track records and yet Brathwaite was the man in demand while Finch was an afterthought.
Kevin Pietersen, who cost Rs 9 crore last year, was had for Rs 3.5 crore this time around, a savings of 61 per cent. But 20-year –old Deepak Hooda, who won the best all-rounder award in domestic 50-over cricket last year, commanded Rs 4.2 crore.
“When one of my relatives told me [that I was picked] I went blank for a while,” Hooda said. “I instantly hugged all my friends who were with me. I knew it would be a good auction for me. I was confident of being picked up, but didn't expect this price.”
Similarly, wicket-keeper batsmen such as Sanju Samson, who was bought by Delhi for Rs 4.2 crore, and England’s Jos Buttler, who was snapped up by Mumbai Indians for Rs 3.8 crore, were also in demand.
But players who attracted no attention include Hashim Amla, Mahela Jayawardene and Cheteshwar Pujara, three batting specialists. You got the feeling that if Sir Donald Bradman had been part of the auction, there might have been second thoughts about picking him up too (all he does is bat).
During the T20I series against Australia, Dhoni said “You need more individuals who can do more than one job on the field, especially if they are good fielders and then they can contribute with the bat or the ball, if needed. It just adds to the strength of the side.”
The IPL franchises seem to agree with the India captain.
Indian bowlers, though, were mostly given a pass
Since each team is limited to playing four foreign players in their XI, Indian bowlers have always commanded a premium and this auction was no different. Ashish Nehra, who resembles an arthritic grandfather in the field and averages a less-than-handy 5.71 with the bat, was sold to Sunrisers for Rs 5.5 crore. Dale Steyn, still the best fast bowler in the world, and a player who was released by Sunrisers, cost Gujarat Lions less than half that (Rs 2.3 crore).
Preity Zinta, the co-owner of Kings XI Punjab, said the franchise was willing to hand Mohit Sharma, a bowler who isn’t part of India’s World T20 squad, Rs 6.5 crore because they needed someone who could bowl at the death and he was their first choice. That they ended up in a bidding war was unfortunate but also unavoidable.
Ishant Sharma was another who was able to cash in, getting a tidy Rs 3.8 crore from Rising Pune. This is a bowler whose economy rate in the IPL has been 11.35 and 9.18 the last two years.
Such are the incentives in the IPL that you can see the logic in it even while wondering about the effectiveness of it all.
Not all Indian bowlers had cause to celebrate though. World Cup winner Munaf Patel, who played his last IPL game in 2013, once again found no takers.