For the tenth year in a row, cricketers were sold like cattle in the annual Indian Premier League auction. When first conceptualised, it used to be an odd event, but now it has become a routine affair, almost a part of the average fan’s annual cricket calendar.
There is a shift in this ritual now, in that it has slowly moved away from awe-inducing entertainment to a studious look at how a cricketer’s value is measured. Looking back at Monday itself, Ben Stokes’ value is staggering especially for someone who will not be available from the first week of May. It can be assumed he will perhaps never be available for a full IPL season.
So did the price get jacked up based on his all-round skills itself? Or did the hype surrounding him get the better of franchises who were so desperate to empty their pockets? The answers to these questions, even in this pertinent case, are subjective at best. Maybe Rising Pune Supergiants see value in investment in him for the first 10 matches alone, never mind the rest, and that is just one of many possible assumptions.
The underlying point herein being that there are numerous such permutations possible for each player’s value, and they are based on a plethora of factors, ranging from the ego tussle between rich owners to coaches whispering in the ear of those raising the auction paddle to the actual utility of the player concerned.
Even so, there is a fundamental principle that rarely changes. Capped Indian players are always in high demand, and not just for their experience. Picking them allows franchises to bolt down a spot in their playing eleven, which otherwise could have gone to an overseas player (using up their limited numbers) or even a youngster (who might not have necessarily been tested yet).
There is history to back this up. You go back all the way to 2010, when Mohammad Kaif was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for $250,000 (base price $100,000).
2011 was the year of player retention and re-auction, and so exorbitant prices for Yusuf Pathan (Kolkata Knight Riders bid $2.1 million while his base price was $300,000) and Robin Uthappa (erstwhile Pune Warriors paid $2.1 million while his base price was $200,000) were the norm.
Currency changed, but the trend didn’t. Royal Challengers Bangalore paid Rs 14 crore for Yuvraj Singh in 2014, and Delhi Daredevils paid Rs 16 crore for him in 2015, both bids escalating from a base price of Rs 2 crore. RCB even paid Rs 10.5 crore for Dinesh Karthik (base price Rs 2 crore) that same year. But those ‘bids’ were adjusted over subsequent seasons.
A common denominator in all those auctions was the price India-capped pacers have fetched. RCB paid a whopping one million dollars for Vinay Kumar (base price $100,000) in 2012. They paid $525,000 for Jaidev Unadkat (base price $100,000) the following year. Currency adjusted, Zaheer Khan (base price Rs 1 crore) fetched Rs 2.6 crore from Mumbai Indians in 2014, and then Rs 4 crore from Delhi Daredevils the following year. In 2016, Ashish Nehra went for Rs 5.5 crore to Sunrisers Hyderabad from a base price of Rs 2 crore.
This is where an anomaly creeps in. Last year, Rising Pune Supergiant got Ishant Sharma for Rs 3.8 crore from a base price of Rs 2 crore. He endured a tough season, featuring in just four matches with an economy of 9.86. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t his worst performance yet, with an economy of 11.35 in four matches for Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2015.
Eight matches in two seasons is hardly a justifiable parameter, but time spent with two different franchises in this interim has seen a poor return in investment. At the same time, Ishant has been plagued by injuries too. It has nearly restricted his international career to the longer format. So much so, an injury cost him a spot in the 2015 ODI World Cup squad, something both he and the team management had been building up to since his match-turning performance in the 2013 Champions Trophy final.
Ishant did feature on the ODI tour to Australia in January 2016, but that was his last ODI appearance, as the Indian attack was continuously thumped for 300-odd runs in each of the five matches. The selectors have taken a different route thereafter, and his chances of making the cut for the upcoming Champions Trophy are pretty bleak.
Does it categorise him as a Test specialist bowler then, akin to the status bestowed on batsman Cheteshwar Pujara? Perhaps yes, for Ishant last featured in a T20I in 2013. Four years is a long time in international cricket, and even longer in franchise T20 leagues, which have spiralling changes in patterns and player usage from one season to another.
Again, with the IPL franchises unanimously neglecting him, it makes for a standout happenstance. It can be argued that Irfan Pathan is in the same boat, but he is no longer an international player, and additionally he was never categorised in the pacers’ classification as such.
Ishant’s omission then becomes all the more glaring when you see Munaf Patel (Gujarat Lions got him for base price Rs 30 lakh) and Varun Aaron (Kings XI Punjab bid Rs 2.8 crore from base price Rs 30 lakhs) back in the mix. Then, you have uncapped players who struck gold on Monday, and most among them – T Natarajan (Kings XI Punjab), Basil Thampi (Gujarat Lions), Nathu Singh (Gujarat Lions) and Aniket Chaudhary (RCB) – are seamers.
In putting up a base price of Rs 2 crore for this year’s auction, Ishant out priced himself away from a fruitful bid. So, where does he go from here?
Ishant’s only option could be a call-up in case a first or second choice pacer gets injured in the build-up to the upcoming IPL season. Even then, any particular franchise will have a tough ask coughing up the requisite amount. Instead of sitting at home though, signing up for a county stint remains a viable option, given India’s overseas tours within the next year. Make no mistake, however, his immediate limited-overs’ future is in some jeopardy.
Updated Date: Feb 21, 2017 13:17 PM