Indians set for record payday
Here's the good news: there is a total of $72.3m dollars floating around for cricketers from all over the globe at the IPL's bumper auction in Bangalore's Royal Gardenia hotel this weekend. Most of it, though, will be spent on Indian players, with the big-ticket overseas players discovering that after three seasons of big spending, their big tickets have expired.
The reason: there are many more overseas players up for auction than their Indian counterparts. Or, to put it another way, far more overseas talent for fewer slots and vice versa.
The 2011 auction has 305 overseas cricketers for the 95 foreign slots available among the ten teams, as opposed to 48 Indians in the auction for what in reality are a minimum of 200 places. As in conventional economics, the IPL's law of demand and supply dictates that demand will fix its own price.
"If you are looking for an allrounder from among the foreign players," one franchise official said, "you know if you have ten options and you don't get the first nine, you will get the tenth, who will still be a player of quality. That is not what is happening with the Indians.The sheer scarcity of Indian talent will drive values and prices very high."
The auction is likely to indicate how franchises will conduct their business in the second phase of the IPL, where team numbers are up from eight to 10 and the schedule changes to a 74-match calendar with playoffs.
Steve Rixon, the former Australia wicketkeeper now on the Chennai Super Kings support staff, told ESPNcricinfo that the franchises at this auction would be a "little smarter" than the previous one, and make their choices very carefully over "who they are selecting, why they are selecting and whether they fit into the bigger picture."
Given the IPL's lopsided numbers, there is now a slim chance of overseas players picking up the highest IPL contract, like the $1.55m deal handed out to both Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff in 2009. It is in fact Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh who could well be in a close contest for the weekend's biggest wage slip, because they are both Indian and impact players.
Nor will it be a surprise if some of the best-known international names land far smaller pay cheques than a range of players spanning Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Robin Uthappa and Saurabh Tiwary.
The grapevine suggests that most franchises will not fill their quota of ten overseas signings. The biggest lesson from the past three seasons of the IPL, a franchise executive said, was that, "ten foreign players are too many... you waste them. Sometimes you have to leave a quality player on a bench. It's not good for him, not good for you. The optimum number is about eight. It gives you enough options: to play an extra bowler, someone may be injured or unavailable." The auction's global graph, said another official, would move east and south. "Franchises will spend more money on Indian players followed by the Sri Lankans and South Africans. Then the Australians, because of availability. That is where the England players will be hurt - usually their window is too small for teams to consider." Some overseas players will, of course, command high prices. These will be men of express pace, like Dale Steyn or Shaun Tait, who can blow open games, or batsmen who can do the same, like Chris Gayle or David Warner. Or a big name whose purse will come with the promise that he can win at least four or five games on his own and command star value. Step forward Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis.
The most unpredictable buys in the auction could well come from the new franchises, like the faction-ridden Kochi or Sahara-owned Pune, who find the entire exercise a mental and financial challenge - more so because 12 star players have already been retained. A Chennai franchise insider said the two new teams would be looking for that one star buy. Their plans, he believed, would be similar to Chennai's in 2008. "Unlike most teams, Chennai didn't have an icon player. Chennai went all out to get MS Dhoni. This time again there is expected to be a mad rush for such a player who could add the star value and the brand image to the franchise... at least one such player who could be their captain."
However one of the officials of a new franchise said his side were left with "not so many" options. "The top 10 players in the world are gone. If you take Mumbai and Chennai, they have been allowed to retain players who are easily worth around $6 million." They would do well to heed Delhi's advice: that the players with the biggest price tags aren't the only ones to pursue. Due to the Twenty20 format, a Delhi insider said, it doesn't make sense to spend money beyond a certain level on a player. "We have seen that several high-value players have not delivered in games". The brevity and speed of the game, he said, gives a less-skilled player a "better chance of delivering in a big T20 game... just like there is far less chance of a lesser player coming through in a tough Test match situation. That is the nature of the beast."
The best squad, then, is a mix of "allrounders and impact players". Or, as Rixon put it, players who fit the teams' macro-mould. "If bowling is your strength, you need strong upper-order batting. You need players who can bowl and bat..." Teams would also be on the lookout for the decision-makers who can deliver. "That is where the older heads have a role to play and that can only come from experience. That is why there are still older players on the circuit." That is why Anil Kumble will be missed.
The presence of a Tait or a Steyn, and therefore the demand for them, will be even more vital and valuable than that of a star batsman. Even over four overs, their pace and ability can ask questions of the bits and pieces players (who will proliferate in the IPL) that will likely be left unanswered.
Team like Kings XI Punjab, who have had three rough and controversial years followed by three months of legal wrangling with the BCCI, will be looking for stability. A Punjab spokesman said the franchise wants players, "who perform and not only those who command large amounts of money. It will be performance that counts and not only money."
It's the IPL so money will count. It will walk and strut and it will talk. But at the auction, it is going to speak a language not of glamour or glitz, but that of business and bottom lines. The $74.3m are, for the better part, going to have to be judiciously spent.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo, Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo