Why the hullabaloo over the IPL auctions?
While the official viewing figures for the IPL auctions are yet to be released, Star India this season has targeted 700 million viewers across TV and digital platform. Cricket as a sport is already the most watched form of entertainment in India and over the last weekend of January (27th -28th), the auction if not capturing a similar number of eyeballs, did generate a lot of interest.
After all, with mouth-watering amounts and the razzmatazz of Bollywood on offer, it had all the intrigue of a thriller as franchises looked to outbid each other for the best players. In fact, the auction process is a delicate balancing act of trying to get the best players among the players available while adhering to the salary structure.
Most franchises had to do their homework and as was seen in the auction, having a well-balanced squad is also a requirement, for injuries may affect the performance of the team. In fact, some of the franchise's strategy left a lot of viewers puzzled as evidenced by Kolkata Knight Riders, which has the least number of players this IPL.
Two days after the IPL Auction for the tenth edition, a voice of disapproval was aired by New Zealand Cricket Players Association’s Chief Executive, Heath Mills. Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, stated that “the system is archaic and deeply humiliating, who are paraded like cattle for the world to see”.
As per the report on Espncricinfo, even the IPL has indicated that it may consider moving away from the current system. Attacks of the current system being undignified and cruel have been labelled on the IPL governing council and as such, it seems a reasonable move away.
Taking into account all these heavy-handed statements, let me point out other few sports where players are “picked” and “bid for”. Let’s start with the most heavily watched sport in the world, i.e., football, where players coming through an academy system are often the subject of various number of bids, i.e,. if the player is made available by the club, if the player chooses to run down his contract or if the parent club is of the belief that it will augur the development of the club by incoming finances.
It seems Mr Mills has very conveniently forgotten that players are not forced to enter into the IPL auction. It is the BCCI, which currently has bulging finances that enable them to host a tournament, which most players look forward to. Further, the honest fact is that players are now moving away from the traditional forms of cricket and with careers of professional sportsmen being for a shorter time span, it is only right for them to make the most of their skills. T20, as a result, has found more suitors and professional cricketers, looking to extend their career and have a good pay-day, will more often than not choose this format, which enables them to make a higher wage, than representing the country at times.
Rashid Khan, the wily leg-spinner from Afghanistan is a prime example of this system. Rashid is well aware that his national team still has a long way to go before they can start competing with the top sides in ICC tournaments such as the World Cup or the Champions Trophy (50 Over format). In fact, the onus is on Rashid to extend his career and show the same level of consistency with the hope that others around him also achieve the same. Now, it may or may not pan out, but in the interim, as a professional cricketer, why pass out on an opportunity to make big bucks?
Other professionals in any other industry would loathe to miss out on such opportunities. The IPL is currently the most lucrative career option and the statements by Mr. Mills reeks of “grapes gone sour”. The ECB have been wary of making any such statements, even though established internationals such as Joe Root and Eoin Morgan went unsold. The fact that only seven New Zealanders were considered good enough to be picked up by franchises, shows how cricket has evolved. And frankly, there are differences in conditions as well.
Mooted Draft System
Yes, a mooted draft system on the lines of NBA, may be a welcome move but frankly it’s just a renaming of the system. The fact that the best players will be offered to the best teams will ensure continuity for the better teams. However, in an auction system, it shows the drive of the respective franchises to go toe-to-toe with the best teams and offers every franchise an equal opportunity to compete for the best players.
Mr Mills also hinted at the players' lack of control over their own destiny. Well, most franchises are willing to pay through the nose if the player they are looking for fits their plans. No budding player, even those playing in the NBA, when they are playing for their colleges are aware of where they will end up.
The current system does have its problems as it doesn’t let a team build stability or execute plans with a fixed goal in mind. There has also been the accusation of developing players either being overused or underused, which might cause injuries or stall one’s career. In the end, it is the players who have the option to choose whether they want to be a part of the IPL or not or for that matter franchise cricket as a whole.
Specialists are now the norm when it comes to franchise cricket. Ultimately, as professionals looking to make a living out of what they are doing, they need to enjoy it while at the same time ensure that there is a financial stability in their lives which will allow them to express themselves with more freedom.