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A cool $800,000 has already been spent within five minutes, as Michael Clarke is being introduced as the third player up for auction. But then, just before bidding commences, a member of the Pune Warriors entourage waves across the room to someone. Richard Madley, the auctioneer, stops his introduction and melodramatically peers over his glasses in the direction of the man and exclaims: "Don't wave at your friends! That'll cost you $25,000 every time you do so!" This is met by haughty laughter from all corners of the glitzy Chennai function room. They were laughing with, rather than at.
The Indian Premier League has been in existence six years now; captains, owners, advisers and assistants have been playing the same game for long enough to share some common ground. Even the auctioneer himself, Madley, has been involved since the very first auction in 2008. He still, to this day, apparently says his life's greatest moment was declaring the sale of MS Dhoni to the Chennai Super Kings for 1.5 million US dollars at that first auction.
Anyhow, four hours and fifty minutes later, a hand wave less than $12 million had been spent on 37 players from six different countries. Glenn Maxwell was this year's big winner, being brought by Mumbai Indians for one million dollars. The services of Ajantha Mendis, Abishek Nayar, Jaydav Unadkat, Thisara Perera, Chris Morris, Kane Richardson, Dirk Nannes and Sachithra Senanayake were all acquired for figures in excess of half a million. Even Luke Pomersbach, a man with just one international cap to his name, fetched $300,000.
For the team owners and captains the auction is a time to fine-tune squads, solve injury problems, plug gaps and add to the brand image of the franchise. As one owner put it: "the money doesn't matter" - to these people price is merely a figure, not an obstacle. This lavish demonstration of wealth, power and influence is totally bizarre and grotesque.
As Glenn Maxwell's fee cruises past Ricky Ponting's and brushes aside Michael Clarke's before settling comfortably on the too perfect and showy one million, the heart of the cricketing purist is twisted in frustration. When Kane Richardson becomes one of the biggest buys of the day, Vernon Philander's name card has long since been discarded in the unsold tub, which nestles next the Pepsi-can-lectern that Madley is stood behind. This isn't fair the purist within you cries. This isn't right. But then as the day goes on and Thisara Perera's price leaps from $100,000 to $350,000 in a matter of seconds, and then $350,000 to $500,000 and $500,000 to $600,000, you let out a laugh. A stifled 'what the f**k is going on?' kind of laugh.
Madley churns out numbers at a ferocious rate as the auction bats are poked up in the air by franchise owners like proud school kids with a new toy. The price leaps, jumps and skips from figure to figure; sale after sale exceeds your estimations. More bids, more money, more players. Advisers of all owners hurriedly speak on the phone - a quick check up with the accountant one would expect - a wave of the hand gives the go ahead for yet another ludicrous $25,000 raise. You laugh again now. 'This world is mad' you think to yourself as Fidel Edwards quadruples his year earnings in less than 30 seconds. 'Absolutely mad.'
It's not enjoyment, but it's not hate either. It's a reluctant and growing sense of twisted pride: cricket is worth something, in fact, it's worth a lot of something; that's cool. This exclusive, arrogant, crass show is cricket's luxury brand. The owners are probably wearing jewellery twice as expensive as the players they're bidding for. The sudden wealth injection into cricket has been damaging to many aspects of the sport, and this is well documented. But the annual IPL auction is when cricket flaunts its scary potential and for a brief while you allow it, you tweet about it, you enjoy it and you embrace it.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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