The fickle finger of franchise favour
On the whole, I think reality television has not had a beneficial effect on human civilisation. There's only so many times you can watch the desperate efforts of inadequate fellow homo sapiens to crawl a few inches higher up the blasted slopes of Mount Fame, an ascent for which it appears many of them would sell their bodies, their families and their last shred of human dignity, before you begin to warm to sociopathy as a way of life.
Cricket is not immune to this virus. We may not yet ask our captains to participate in a dance-off during the lunch interval or a live-cockroach-eating duel to settle drawn Tests, but every year a number of nervous, trembling cricketers are gathered together for the cruel but dreadfully compelling reality event known as the IPL auction.
Many are called, or rather, many have their agents call, but few are chosen, and those who are chosen are often chosen for no immediately apparent reason. Maybe Player A is in luck because the owner of the Bangalore Headbutts is trying to assemble a squad full of players whose names begin with vowels. Perhaps Player B gets the nod because the PR department of the Chennai Canary Catapaulters thinks he'll look lovely in yellow.
Aside from the physical absence of the contestants (although how long before we see players parade one at a time like hopeful beauty queens?) the auction has all the ingredients of a really persistent reality franchise. There's a sprinkling of proper celebrities, a cast of plucky unknowns, and the return of some old favourites you thought had retired. There's the large cash prizes for the winners. And there's the tug of painful playground memories.
Anyone who has ever stood awkwardly in a dwindling row, affecting nonchalance as two captains whittle down the mass of the possibles to the unfit, the uncoordinated, and the undesirables, knows how those IPL auctionees feel. You can imagine them, in hotels, in dressing rooms, in taxis, tuning in to hear the auctioneer call their name, a little boy's voice screaming in their heads, "Pick me! Pick me! What about me!"
Poor Ravi Bopara has been up to the auctions many times, and on nearly every occasion he has trailed back home, dragging his Kings XI scarf behind him, red-eyed, sniffling, telling anyone who'll listen that he doesn't like the stupid IPL anyway, so there. Just like school, it's not fair. The fickle finger of franchise favour points, but not at you, and having pointed, moves on, usually to another Australian you've never heard of.
This year it was the saviour of Australian cricket himself, Mr Glenn Maxwell, who scooped the big prize, trousering a million dollars from the Mumbai Indians. He has potential, but does he have a million dollars' worth of potential? Perhaps. He certainly has an instinctive grasp of the concept of self publicity. This is what he said ahead of last year's World Twenty20:
"I feel like I can be that flair that Australia really wants to see. That could mean a run-out, a brilliant catch, a breakthrough wicket with the ball or big hitting. I'm really embracing that 'x-factor' tag. I don't really have too many doubts; I don't think I'm going to try to back down any time soon either."
He scored eight runs. (I'm not sure whether he backed down at any stage, and Statsguru doesn't have any stats on the number of existential doubts a player experiences per tournament). But it didn't do his auctionworthiness any harm. Other players take note: self-deprecation may be good for the soul, but if you want to shine at the IPL beauty pageant, you have to sell yourself. And it wouldn't hurt to mention world peace.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England