As IPL evolves,it will need to upgrade its process of selecting players
With season five of the IPL looming,144 players,Indian and foreign,came under the gavel at a supplementary auction in which 25 players were picked eventually for close to $11 million. With the Kochi franchise terminated and the Pune franchise not taking part in the auction,eight teams vied for players with a total salary cap of $2 million each,unless a franchise had retained any players,in which case the budget was reduced by that amount.
As at previous auctions,exorbitant amounts were bid for current Indian talent. Ravindra Jadeja won the bragging rights,having been picked for $2 million by Chennai. There has always been a slant towards Indian players due to their availability,roster space seven Indians in the playing XI as opposed to four international cricketers and the relative star power and popularity Indian cricketers enjoy among the fans. Perhaps the biggest shocker was the Trinidad & Tobago spinner Sunil Narine (picked for $700,000 by Kolkata) who had shot into prominence by beguiling the entire Chennai line-up and taking four wickets in their Champions League match-up. Sri Lankas Thisara Perera,for $650,000 by Mumbai,was also surprising. Among the omissions,most of the England squad remained unpicked again,as were potentially explosive players such as Irish all-rounder Kevin OBrien at reasonable reserve prices. Honestly,there doesnt seem to be any particular reasoning behind the picks or omissions,nor the remuneration players receive. This is possibly due to the somewhat ambiguous nature of the auction itself.
The IPLs evolution is unique when compared to any other professional sports league. Unlike North American professional sports leagues,cricket is dominated by the international calendar,and cannot emulate their processes. Professional football leagues,including the English Premier League (EPL),have a system that takes into account the international calendar,but do have players available for the bulk of each season. The EPLs player selection process deals with loans,purchases and trades,but the system is evolved to the extent that there is a methodology and framework whereby the selling team,the purchasing team,the league and the concerned player,all benefit from the transaction.
Due to a loaded international calendar,the IPL for the most part is the shortest league in terms of duration and overall time commitment. It is also in the enviable situation whereby the worlds best cricketers and overall talent pool,with very few exceptions,are usually available for selection. What it doesnt have yet,however,is a player selection,retention,and transfer process that is sophisticated,dynamic or robust enough to keep pace with the rapidly evolving (and escalating) pay scales and related requirements to ensure parity and equitable distribution.
Universally,the auction system is the one aspect of the IPL most feel requires immediate change. A system designed to select players on the basis of market forces,the auction is conceivably meant to determine players values,along the lines of a player draft as per the US leagues or any other professional sports league. Its implementation,however,leaves much to be desired,and this is due to the fact that draft systems or player trades/ loans evolve over time,and are not based entirely on individual parameters that revolve around money. It would be fair to say that most leagues player drafts are sophisticated processes that have evolved over decades. They are determined on the basis of players representatives/ associations negotiating certain salary floors (on a player-by-player basis) and salary caps (on a team-by-team basis) with the commissioners office,and also with individual teams. The outcome of these negotiations determines,among other things,the range and strictly mandated league-specific regulations governing drafts,team selection,salary caps,player loans and trades,salary arbitration and free agency. This process is known as collective bargaining. From the IPLs perspective,this concept is somewhat futuristic,since an evolved council representing players and franchises does not exist,and may take some time to evolve.
The silent bid definitely needs to be looked at in future auctions. In this auction,when both Chennai and the Deccan Chargers reached the $2 million limit for Jadeja,they put in a silent bid to the IPL. The silent bid amount by both teams was undisclosed and Chennai was declared the victor. The silent bid,like many aspects of IPLs auction,is unique in professional sports. The differential amount that constitutes the silent bid does not go to the player rather,it goes towards IPLs revenue coffers. The system does not enhance transparency and accountability even if the IPLs intent is beyond reproach and this is merely a tie-breaker. The minimum reserve price system also ought to be reconsidered,or else players such as V.V.S. Laxman will find no takers a pity,really.
As the IPL moves from nascent to established,it also needs to upgrade and modify its systems and processes.
The writer is a sports attorney. Views are personal