IPL franchises grapple with retention rules
Should they spend two-thirds of their purse to retain five players, leaving them with a third of the money to buy the rest of the squad? Or should they release everyone and utilise the right-to-match cards in the auction to buy back the players they want? Should they retain just a couple of players or, balancing finances with team-building, retain the maximum of five to maintain the core of the team? These are some of the questions that the eight IPL franchises have been grappling with since the IPL released its retention rules last month.
Ahead of Friday's deadline for submitting their retention lists to the IPL, franchises admit that the exercise has been challenging, with some even suggesting the negotiations put in danger the team's relationship with the player. The one thing that's clear is that there will be many reasons other than cricket dictating whether a player is retained or ends up in the auction.
The biggest hurdles for the franchises have been figuring out how to best utilise the right-to-match cards, a first-time feature of the auction, and how to deal with players' often inflated demands. The second point arises because player and franchise have to agree upon a salary, which brings up the issue of negotiations.
The right-to-match card allows IPL franchises to buy back a specific number of the players they have released for the auction, by matching the highest bid those players attract; if they match the bid they win the player. The card was recommended by the IPL primarily to help franchises retain a bigger core group of players.
However, franchises will have to balance their wishlist against their purse. "If you retain five players you spend Rs 390 out of Rs 600 million, which is 65% of the purse. So you are left with one-third of the purse to buy another 20 players to complete the squad," a franchise head told ESPNcricinfo.
In 2011, when retention was first introduced, only Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians retained the maximum of four players, and the amount each paid for all four - $4.8 million - was far less than the $6.5 million Kolkata Knight Riders paid at the auction for Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis.
Have franchises learned from this experience? "If I have four players I want to retain, it will be smarter to do that because you will probably get them cheaper that way than at the auction," an official said. "But the downside is that the negotiations between the franchise and player can get messy because the player thinks he is worth more than being offered. When the haggling starts, it is madness."
The hard bargaining is done mostly by Indian players, because of the gap between demand - each team must have seven Indians - and supply.
The problem is aggravated by the fact that the IPL has specified amounts to be deducted from the purse for each player retained, which some players are reportedly interpreting as their salary and so pushing for that figure to be paid to them. Players are now expecting the kind of money Knight Riders paid to get Gambhir - he was the most expensive player, bought for $2.4 million - at the 2011 auction, franchise officials say.
There is also the danger of the franchise haggling too much with a player it is keen to retain. What would happen, for example, if a senior player agrees to a salary that is far lower than he is worth and then sees juniors picked up for more at the auction - how will that go down in an ego-heavy dressing-room? And how will that player motivate himself?
Even allowing market forces to determine a player's price at the auction isn't a good tactic, franchise officials say, because players could feel unwanted. Being put up for auction indicates that salary negotiations have broken down, leaving the player to wonder about the loyalty factor after being at a franchise for three years or more. In the end it's all down to simple man management.
There is a caveat for the player too: if he opts out of retention, feeling he can get a better price at the auction, he runs the risk of not being picked up at the price he has set for himself. For instance, M Vijay or R Ashwin, both Super Kings loyalists, might opt for the auction pool with the notion that Super Kings may use the right-to-match card, only to find that other franchises are not pressing for them in the bidding.
Some franchises are contemplating not retaining any players, which will give them a full purse at the auction and also three right-to-match cards in case they want to buy back any of their original players. The risk is obvious: the franchise might end up paying more than what it would have bargained for.
There is a downside to going halfway with retention too, as one official pointed out. "There is no point in just retaining two or three players," the official said. "Retaining three - as Royal Challengers Bangalore have done - gives you only one match card, and with half the purse you have to buy three or four high-priced players. So it is prudent to retain all five, and get a sixth through the card. You can build a team around six very good players."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo