24 January 2011 Sports cricket: ipl

Twenty Questions, One Answer

In the IPL auction, rules faded before the Greenback
Twenty Questions, One Answer
Twenty Questions, One Answer

In theory, the auction of players before IPL-4 was a triumph of free market economy. Thus, a Lara or a Ganguly was ignored, a Dravid devalued; conversely, the stock of Saurabh Tiwary or Robin Uthappa soared. Clearly, the franchisees are building teams of the future. But the logic of the market, underlying which are visions of a profitable future, isn’t immune to human foibles. Wonder why? This is because the rules of the market are made by men. And the human weakness that can flourish best in this astonishing human marketplace flush with money is greed, as the following story will illustrate.

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Before IPL-2, a cricketer from a South Asian country was desperate to play in the tournament. All he wanted was $50,000. His agent tried to strike a deal with one IPL team for this sum. “But they didn’t want him,” says the agent. Yet the same team bid for him with fervour in the auction, finally bagging him for $6,50,000. “Why did this happen? Obviously, he split the money with someone in the team management,” he says.

One senior official with a franchisee says the IPL, ostensibly a celebration of free market economy, is in serious need of regulation. “The exit of Lalit Modi hasn’t changed anything,” he says. “It continues to have the worst aspects of free market economy—corruption, rule-bending, conflicts of interest.” He says the IPL is forcing teams to work their way around rules, specifically the rule capping the franchisee’s purse to $9 million before this year’s auction. “The player retention rule was opposed by all teams other than those which wanted to retain M.S. Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. Thus, an ambiguous rule was framed to work around the $9 million cap.”

Teams were allowed to retain a maximum of four players. For each player retained, a team’s purse was cut by a certain sum—$1.8m for the first, $1.3m for the second, $9,00,000 for the third and $5,00,000 for the fourth. Logic dictated that Tendulkar or Dhoni would be paid $1.8m when they were retained by Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, respectively. But the auction created the absurd situation of several players selling for much more than $1.8 million. Really, wouldn’t Tendulkar and Dhoni have fetched a better price than the $1.8 million earmarked for them?

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There’s speculation that Tendulkar and Dhoni will get massive sums, much more than the declared $1.8 million.

But the purse cap was just a sham, couched in ambiguity, as Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya indicated. “If you retain four players, $4.5 million was reduced. But it (IPL) did not tell how much we have to pay to the players. Once a player is retained then the contract is between the player and franchisee,” Mallya said after the auction. This ambiguity, believe franchisee officials, was left deliberately in the rules. “If Tendulkar or Dhoni had not been retained, they would have been sold for at least double of what Gambhir ($2.4m) or Yusuf Pathan ($2.1m) were,” says an official. There’s speculation that Tendulkar and Dhoni, the biggest names in Indian cricket, will be paid massive, undisclosed sums—at least $3.5m and up to $6m. And though their franchisees will pay them these sums, they gained because only $1.8m was docked from their purse, leaving them with a bigger amount to bid for others than it would be possible had Tendulkar and Dhoni been bought in the auction ring.

But there’s also an illegal way of compensating “uncapped” players, those domestic-level
cricketers who have been placed in three fixed payment categories. Players who made their debut in the last two years were to be paid Rs 10 lakh, those playing for two to five years were to get Rs 20 lakh, and those playing for over five years Rs 30 lakh. In practice, though, this rule is being blown to pieces, essentially because each team needs at least seven Indian players in a playing XI, and there’s serious paucity of talent. The bigger B-list players are thus being wooed with money, cars, even apartments. “Many of the players are being offered over Rs 1 crore—way above what the IPL has designated for them,” says one player representative. The cash component has to be in black, as the disclosure of excess amount would violate the IPL rule.

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This scenario gets even more complicated because of the rule banning contracted players from negotiating with others outside the transfer window. They also have to adhere to the guidelines about signing up with teams that represent their “catchment” areas, and of re-signing with them after their contract is over, if the franchisee so wishes. “The franchisees are chasing players with money; if you get caught, you’re doomed. If you get away, you make more money!” Ravindra Jadeja, for instance, was caught last year for talking to another team to enhance or encash his value—and was banned. “The rules aren’t made for the players—the players are incidental,” the agent says.

The rules pertaining to uncapped players were ostensibly formulated to reward experienced players, and to ensure young players weren’t spoiled by sudden riches—thus a limit of Rs 10 lakh for a player active for two years. But a senior franchisee official points to a flaw. “What’s the difference between Saurabh Tiwary (sold for $1.6m) and Manish Pandey? Both are 20 years old, both are talented, exciting players. What’s the difference? Why are they protecting Pandey from big money, and letting Tiwary get crores?” he asks. (Tiwary was entered into the auction ring on the basis of just three odis he played.) This official suggests, “Why throw them to the wolves, encouraging the teams to act illegally? It would have been better to choose uncapped players by draw of lots.”

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The official says the rules are absurd, though the intent was right. And the rules have turned absurd because, as he says, “those making them have commercial interests in the league.” He’s referring to N. Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary and president-elect, and a member of the IPL governing council

Obviously, those who have become millionaires overnight are not complaining. Take Tiwary, for instance. He’s relaxed, says his goal is to play well—and play for India. Does he need protection from the deleterious effects of big money? His manager, Nishant Dayal, says, “It’s not about money—it’s about how much he was wanted by teams. My role is to make sure that he keeps his eye on his goal, of playing for India for a long time.” For one Tiwary, there are dozen others, unknown and unsung, who are complaining of having got a raw deal, of having been reduced to becoming the bonded labour of the IPL bazaar.

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