The Indian Premier League (IPL) Governing Council shot down some fantasies when it released the rules for player retention for the coming edition of the blue riband event. Fans who were dreaming of seeing the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Steve Smith, Ravindra Jadeja and James Faulkner in the auction pool were woken up to reality.
Many are surprised that the IPL Governing Council dragged its feet for so long to announce the salary cap and retention rules, but those who have been tracking its decision-making since inception will tell you that arbitrariness, ad-hocism and lastminutitis are in evidence from the inaugural year. And somewhere along the way, players’ interest appears to have been compromised.
We shall get to the players’ interest after we look at how the IPL Governing Council has treated teams — banned for two years for breaching IPL rules against betting by team owners — with great respect. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) have been champion outfits, no doubt, but should they not have been asked to start from the bottom of the ladder?
CSK can certainly consider themselves immensely fortunate that they will be able to draw from players who played for the side in 2015 and who were part of the stand-in squads, Rising Pune Supergiant and Gujarat Lions, in the time it was reduced to being an onlooker. Rajasthan Royals have also emerged as a beneficiary of the largesse of the Governing Council.
By collecting the franchise fee from CSK and RR during the period of suspension, IPL Governing Council may have allowed them the chance to return with their privileges intact.
To be sure, the presence of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) in the meeting appears to validate the argument that no team is being favoured. But the moot question that should have been asked and answered is whether a team, that has been banned for two years, should come back with privileges that others have got?
Let us now look at how the retention rules appear to be skewed in favour of the franchises and perhaps a bit against players. Of course, it is important for franchises to retain players, but should they be accorded the privilege of keeping only the ‘marketable’ cricketers and leave most to the uncertain, if dynamic, forces that operate during an auction?
The franchises get to have their say but who looks after the player interests? Should the Governing Council not think of the players as key stakeholders and consult them? Of course, a non-performing player, from a cricketing as well as a team sponsors’ perspective, can be a burden on team’s treasury, but that must be the risk associated with making wrong choices.
With the league having established itself so strongly — it has withstood downturns in economy and fixing scandals — it is time that the Governing Council decides that the system of auctions is done away with and the franchisees allowed to scout the new talent and not release a dozen or more players each year. Isn’t it important that all players are granted financial security?
The retention rule was introduced for the 2011 edition of the IPL with teams being allowed to keep a maximum of four players, including one overseas player. In 2014, they were allowed to retain up to five players and were given a Right to Match (RTM) card that allowed them to match the successful bid for any of their squad members by another team.
Now, in its collective wisdom, IPL has reduced that number to five players through a combination of retention and RTM during the IPL Player Auction. The decision to have only a few retentions will leave many players hoping that they would secure a better deal at the auction rather than be left in the lurch.
Yes, there are some, like former India cricketer Aashish Kapoor who point out that the increased salary cap, and the rule that the teams must spend at least 75 per cent of that, is the real security for the players. Between the announcement of the list of retained players and the IPL Players’ Auction, the cricketers will be left living in hope that they get the best possible deal.
There is one other question that remains. Why does the IPL Governing Council not announce such policies only a few weeks before the Players’ Auction each season? It will be fair and appropriate for it to lay down the policy applicable for three or five years, if not longer. There will be fewer murmurs about a team or two being favoured and the rules will be viewed as transparent too.
Then again, even in the inaugural year, IPL allowed each franchise to pick a ninth overseas player on the second day of the auction. With most teams unaware that the auction would be extended by a day, Rajasthan Royals capitalised on a large purse to buy overseas players like Shane Watson, Morne Morkel, Dmitri Mascarenhas and Sohail Tanvir for precious little.
Player contracts were initially for a three-year period and then changed to one year with the option of extending for either one or two additional years. Indeed, IPL has always been familiar with ad-hocism, with rules being framed in a hurry and at the eleventh hour. As an evolving leader in the world of sports, IPL needs to raise the bar higher than it is now.
Can we hope to see a set of rules for player retention for the coming years being frozen, more so with the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators watching? Your guess is as good as mine.