Franchise insiders predict a more rational auction
"In the wake of the Mudgal committee report, do you think the auction should go on?" That was the first question posed to Venky Mysore, the Kolkata Knight Riders chief executive, who was addressing a media conference to announce a tie-up with global giant SAP on Tuesday in Bangalore. Mysore excused himself from responding, But later during the briefing he said: "franchise sport is here and going to stay."
Mysore might have spoken on behalf of the rest of the seven franchises: despite a damning report on corruption in the IPL by the Justice Mudgal committee, there was nothing today at the auction venue to suggest the BCCI was bothered.
The flags of all eight teams fluttered on a muggy Tuesday as franchise owners, heads and officials, former India captains and international coaches slipped in with big smiles to re-acquaint themselves with their friends in the IPL fraternity. The celebrity factor came when Preity Zinta (one of the owners at Kings XI Punjab) crossed paths with fellow Bollywood star Juhi Chawla, wife of Jay Mehta, the co-owner of Knight Riders. There was whispered speculation over whether an injured Shah Rukh Khan would make it for the auction. International media, specifically from the UK, were curious as to what kind of interest franchises had in Kevin Pietersen.
In that respect the build-up to what has become one of the most watched events on TV was no different to previous years. But as far as the auction goes there are quite e few differences compared to the last big auction, which happened in 2011. Then there were 10 teams, compared to eight now. Then the squads were bigger than the maximum size, enforced this season, of 27. The biggest change this time is the inclusion of uncapped Indian players in the auction - a move supported by most of the franchises.
Another change that will impact the way teams plan their auction strategy is the depletion in the pool for quality capped Indian players in the wake of retentions by teams. "In 2011 the total number of players retained was 12. This time it is 24," the franchise head of an IPL-winning franchise said. "More players have been retained and most of them happened to be top-class (Indian) players. The net effect of all this, just by virtue of supply and demand, means there is always a challenge for Indian capped players. The ones who have been retained are the better Indian players. That group has always remained small."
After managing a team for six years, franchise officials say they have learned it isn't always necessary to chase a big name. "Franchises have also become a lot more mature," the franchise head said. "You can always form a team with a talent supporting cast. Teams like Rajasthan, Punjab and Hyderabad have shown you can be competitive without really having a huge name in the team."
Does that mean marquee names like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Michael Hussey and Jacques Kallis might not attract a huge attention? The talking point about these stars is they are no longer young and no longer carry the matchwinner tag, which they once wore proudly on their sleeves.
A coach disagreed. "They will have a lot of demand," he said. "When you are thinking of these players a lot of people are saying they are not playing any more international cricket and they are not in form. But when you are picking somebody for Twenty20 the guy does not need to score a hundred for you. The expectations are completely different.
"You are looking for somebody who can give an explosive start, you are looking for somebody who can build an innings in the middle or somebody who can finish the game. From a cricketing point of view, when a known name is walking into the middle the pressure comes automatically."
Barring Delhi Daredevils, all the franchises have retained between one and five players. This means franchises will enter the auction with differently sized purses. Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are the three teams who have retained the maximum of five players. These three teams will only have Rs 21 crore at their disposal. Royals have always worked on a small budget and have tried to derive maximum benefit. That strategy has worked for them and they are bound to continue utilising it.
"As for Mumbai and Chennai, who have been big spenders in the past, it remains to be seen how they will approach this auction with a small purse," a franchise CEO said. "You can buy some good value but you can't go nuts chasing players."
Franchise officials agree owners will be more cautious in splurging big cash to buy big names. In 2011 there were 23 USD millionaires (13 Indians and 10 overseas players). "The supply is huge," the CEO said. "The demand is smaller: squad size is smaller, a franchise can only pick nine overseas players. So directionally everything suggests the pricing should be a lot more reasonable. I don't think you will see a lot more irrationality."
According to a coach most franchises are bound to cut down on the number of players in the squad because smaller numbers are easier to manage. "The supply is more than the demand," he said. "Squad size has gone down over the years in any case regardless of the cap imposed by the IPL. Last year it was 33 but many teams had trimmed their squads to the early 20s. This time expect it to be around 20-22."
According to the franchise head, if teams want to break even they will have to be prudent about how they spend their money. "I would expect teams to exercise internal discipline as far as salary caps go," he said.
To sum up the franchises are a better-informed, have spent more time over their auction strategies, and are willing to forsake the chase-the-big-name strategy for a set-up that will last longer. But the last word goes to the chief executive: "A lot of illogical things happen in the (auction) room."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo