IPL news December 24, 2013

Franchises unhappy with new retention rules

The new player-retention rules released by the IPL have attracted an unfavourable response from some franchises, who are particularly displeased by the newly introduced "right-to-match" card. The right-to-match card allows IPL franchises to buy back a specific number of their own players after releasing them for auction by matching the highest bid they attract. The card was recommended by the IPL primarily to help franchises retain a bigger core group of players. Some franchises, however, privately argue that instead of facilitating franchises to retain their core group, the right-to-match rule was devised only to benefit certain teams that were keen to ensure they retained a majority of their best players.

According to the IPL 2014 player regulations, every franchise is allowed to retain five players with a specific amount deducted from their auction purse of Rs 600 million ($9.67 million). Franchises can spend a maximum of Rs 390 million on retaining the five. Yet, the new rules state that irrespective of the negotiated amount between the franchise and the retained player, only the designated amount for each retained player (as per IPL regulations) will be listed on the books. This, some franchises argue, makes the idea of a salary cap redundant.

The new rules ensure that every franchise can hold on to a maximum of six players with a combination of retentions and players re-signed using the right-to-match card. The rule, said one franchise official, was skewed to start with.

"The rule has been tweaked to suit certain teams," argued an official from another franchise. "The team which retains five gets rewarded with one more (card) whereas the team that does not retain anyone gets only three (cards). This team should be allowed at least one more right-to-match option if not two."

Franchise officials believe that, with the introduction of the right-to-match card, certain players, like the marquee names, might want to put their hats in the auction ring to raise their worth. Considering that retention is a two-way process and is futile without the player's nod, franchises fear they might end up paying more for the same player in comparison to the previous season.

"If I tell the player I will pay him $2 million to retain him, he will not accept and say I want $2.5 million. So if I retained him I would have paid him 125 million rupees. But still I have to pay him more (than the designated amount). So the sanctity of the purse is broken immediately. Now if the same player was picked in the auction at 150 million I would not have a problem," a franchise official said.

"The rule has been tweaked to suit certain teams. The team which retains five gets rewarded with one more (card) whereas the team that does not retain anyone gets only three (cards). This team should be allowed at least one more right-to-match option if not two."
A franchise official

The right-to-match card was placed at the table during the IPL workshop in Singapore in November. The idea was to offset the original retention rule that was introduced in 2011. That rule allowed a franchise to retain a maximum of four capped players. Not all franchises subscribed to that rule. Some felt that they ended up spending more money buying players in the auction compared to rival franchises that paid half the sum to retain players. To give an example, Kolkata Knight Riders had spent $5.6 million to buy the trio of Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis whereas Chennai Super Kings retained the quartet of MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, M Vijay and Albie Morkel for $4.5 million.

Consequently, some of the affected franchises even suggested in the Singapore workshop that the IPL bring all players into the auction. However, not all eight teams were on the same page. It is understood that one of the bigger franchises wanted a combination of five retained players and three right-to-match cards. Another franchise wanted the card option to retain the capped Indian players while another was interested in exercising that option to buy back uncapped players.

This only re-opens the debate over whether the the IPL is a level-playing field as was claimed by Lalit Modi, the first chairman of the league. Smaller franchises argue that their bigger rivals have managed to flex their financial muscle and power to tweak the rules to suit their needs and buy the players they want.

"With a salary cap now, at least you know a franchise is paying Rs 390 million if you retain five players," another franchise official said. "In many ways it is a fair system regardless of the mischief you play in paying under the table. If there was no salary cap then the bigger franchises could have paid anything for any player and gone to the auction and bought more players at ridiculous costs. But today if I retain all five players I am left with just Rs 210 millon to buy the rest of the players to build a balanced squad. So the salary cap puts some sort of restriction."

According to this official the best thing to happen in this auction is that Indian domestic players will be part of the pool unlike in the past. Uncapped players till now were paid upto Rs 3 million, but franchises admit players were lured through various kickbacks. "Giving a BMW to an uncapped player would not help anymore," the official said.

Not everyone agreed. A franchise chief executive was less confident and felt the rules would continue to be bent. "The concept of a salary cap is being abused for the last five years and the trend will continue with the new set of rules. We don't know how much the teams were paying the big names who had been retained in the last season. And it will be pretty similar this time around. The right-to-match card just adds to the woes as the players' demands will keep on increasing and the teams will be on the back foot."

With additional reporting from Amol Karhadkar

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo