Recession-proof or proof of recession?

As the doyens of business and entertainment,flanked by agents and former players,raised their dazzling neon paddles in the second IPL auction...

Written by Kunal Pradhan | Published: February 7, 2009 12:11 am

As the doyens of business and entertainment,flanked by agents and former players,raised their dazzling neon paddles in the second IPL auction,it was clear the prices would raise the bar,even in these times of economic uncertainty.

Finally,after many pitched battles,Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen — undoubtedly keeping an eye on the goings-on in India from the Caribbean islands — were pocketed for an astronomical,some might even say obscene given the global meltdown,price of $1.55 million each.

The IPL is “recession proof”,Lalit Modi had said on the eve of the auction,and these figures are now being highlighted as proof of that proclamation. But,just as all that glitters isn’t gold,selective number-crunching doesn’t always give the real picture in matters of economics.

Despite what the IPL commissioner,and the various team owners,would like to portray,the T20 cricket league does not exist in a geo-political vacuum. The auctions were always going to be only a small indicator of the health of the league because of two factors.

First,the teams knew they had only $1.4-$2 million to spend on the players,a cost which had been taken into account a long time ago,and because there were only a few slots to fill,a lot of that money could be concentrated on one player they really wanted.

And second,with the game strongly emerging as the dominant partner in the marriage between cricket and entertainment,it’s more prudent to minimise spending on operational costs than to cut corners on players.

But even considering these factors,the other end of the numbers spectrum reveals that many of the teams did keep their exuberance in check and their purse strings tight during the auction. Along with Flintoff and Pietersen’s prices,consider these figures as well — while Rajasthan had an available spending limit of $1.88 m,they dished out only $1.03 on two players; Kolkata spent $600,000 out of $1.21m; Mumbai 1.17m out of 1.76m; Delhi $550,000 out of 1.45m; Chennai 1.74m out of 2m; Punjab $500,000 out of 1.45m; Bangalore 1.71m from their 1.95m quota; and Deccan were the most frugal,using only $250,000 out their $1.9m.

So,though they aren’t willing to admit it,most of the franchises did economise,as they should,in these tricky times.

The cricketing argument

As the IPL prepares to enter its second year,from a cricketing point of view it anyway surprises me that some of the players fetched such high prices . I thought Rajasthan had proved beyond doubt last year that big-ticket players were not needed to win a Twenty20 tournament of this nature because the gap in utility cannot justify the difference in prices between world cricket’s superstars and lesser-known,domestic talent.

Swapnil Asnodkar from Ranji minnows Goa was a manifestation of that in last year’s IPL as he thundered in the opening overs to give the Royals one blazing start after another. Some fans might have wondered why he wasn’t inducted into the Indian one-day squad straight after that,but the selectors and the Team India think-tank know better than to read too much into Twenty20 performances,especially in the case of batsmen.

Test cricket acts as a filter,automatically separating the supremely talented from the honest triers because of the format’s unforgiving nature. Keeping your head against relentless pace and high-quality spin over a six-hour innings is a very different challenge from lashing out in a 12-ball 32,which is a fantastic knock in T20 and usually a worthless effort in a Test match.

So,not considering what they bring to the IPL team as a brand,is so much money for an international star really worth it from a purely cricketing perspective? Does having a 7.3-crore player guarantee the title,or even a long run in the tournament? After all,Rajasthan won the IPL with their “rag-tag” team,while Deccan finished dead last despite their galaxy of stars.

More clarity will come on some of these on-field questions when the tournament kicks off in April,watched once again by millions. But will its popularity lead to profits for the owners,or will this season see them go deeper into the red? Most importantly,will the cry for more sops be as urgent as it was in the chintan baithak after the tournament’s 2008 edition?

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