Ahead of the Hockey India League (HIL) auctions on Thursday, it would have been natural to believe that India captain Sardar Singh would be on the priority list of several franchises. He, after all, has been the standout performer for a major part of last five years. Half hour into the auction, franchises followed the script as they found themselves in a bidding war for the playmaker.
But just as the bid amount touched $50,000, Sardar’s fortunes took a nosedive. Suddenly, the teams seemed to have lost interest and Sardar was eventually picked up by Punjab Warriors for just $58,000. It can be described as a steal for Punjab as Sardar brings a lot to the table.
For the player, though, these are embarrassing turn of events. Three years ago at the auction for the inaugural edition, Sardar was the highest-paid player. However, Punjab ended up paying $20,000 less than what Delhi Waveriders did back then.
By asking his former team not to retain him, Sardar hoped to go for big bucks at the auction. And the amount he went for seemed respectable until Dharamvir Singh went under the hammer. The forward was bought for $60,000 by Kalinga Lancers and overtook his captain. The surprise turned to shock when one after other, majority Indian players would surpass Sardar.
India forward Akashdeep Singh, sold for $84,000 to UP Wizards, fetched the highest price for an Indian player followed by former India player Sandeep Singh, who was bought by defending champions Ranchi Rays for $81,000. A list of Indian players were sold at a price more than that of Sardar’s. Even unestablished and injury-prone players like Jasjit Singh and Gurwinder Chandi ended with more than what Sardar got.
And by the end of the auctions, Sardar’s name was not even in the list of top-10 Indian players bought by the six franchises. More than Sardar’s low price, what came as a bigger surprise was the scramble between the franchises for the other players. The demand for strikers was sure to increase after the new regulation where field goals will be counted as two, was announced. Even though Sardar does not score many himself, he is one of the key playmakers which is why him being cold shouldered came as a surprise.
Explaining the small amount for Sardar, Dilip Tirkey, mentor of Kalinga Lancers said that he didn’t fit into their team’s plans. Others too gave similar explanations, insisting they had ‘better foreigners to choose from for the same position.’ The challenging nature of HIL means that teams go for players who can match their needs. Once the mainstay of the Indian team, Sardar has not been at the same level of his in the past one year. During the 2014 Champions Trophy held in Bhubaneshwar, Sardar suffered a calf and ankle injury. Since then, he looked to run out of steam in matches and has failed to replicate his earlier aggression during the game. The precision in the passes has been missing and the Sardar of old is now rare.
“Sardar has definitely been the best player for the country but over the past year we observed players and found that some of the Indian players are improving a lot and we wanted to buy them. Surely they will get more price,” Dhanraj Pillay, UP Wizards coach, said. Echoing similar thoughts, Dabang Mumbai mentor Viren Rasquinha said the scarcity of Indian field goal scorers led to the high price for other players. “Every team, after the new goal rule, needs good field goal scorers. Since there is a scarcity of those players in India, the teams fight for the best that is available. Someone like Mandeep Singh has got a price tag of $70,000 because currently he is one of the best in India,” Rasquinha said.
Luck also played its part. Featuring in Lot 2, Sardar’s name was drawn just half hour into the auction. The teams were cagey at the beginning and looked like they wanted to save their money from the $725,000 allotted budget for the later part of the auction.
The fall of Sardar in HIL and its auction has marked the change in the way franchises bid for players, even the star players. The price for India captain may not reveal the complete picture about Sardar’s value. VR Raghunath, UP Wizards player and Sardar’s India teammate, described the amount as ‘decent.’ But that will hardly be any solace for a player, especially in a tournament where players’ worth is measured by what he earns when put under the hammer.