Saner franchises, wiser spends
Ranjib Biswal, the IPL chairman, kicked off the player auction by saying the seventh edition would be "grander". If you followed the proceedings on the first day, it was anything but grand. The conclusion that could be drawn instead was that the franchises had become much smarter. Owners exercised more control over their egos. The balance sheet and the balance of the squad became key features at the auction table.
In 2011, when the IPL witnessed its last big auction, 15 players became millionaires. Today there were only five players whose bids breached the million-mark. Three years ago USD 52.8 million was splashed on the first day of the auction. Today franchises spent approximately USD 35 million to buy 70 players. There were 10 teams in 2011 and some of the franchises were still starting life in the IPL (Pune Warriors and Kochi Tuskers). Some, such as Kolkata Knight Riders, were overhauling their existing structure. Minutes into that auction, the Knight Riders had spent USD 6.4 million on three players.
Three years later the franchises have become saner and smarter. "The purse has been rationalised, and even the teams have displayed a rational approach," said the CEO of a franchise that has won the IPL in the past. "Every franchise showed a mature strategy. You will find it hard to pick out a silly bid across the board."
It was not an isolated opinion. "Auctions should be like this," said the head of another franchise. "Just go through team by team, all teams in this IPL will be absolutely balanced. In the past teams like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians were the ones whom others looked at and sometimes were envious of because of the squads they assembled. However this time pretty much every one got it right."
For him, Kings XI Punjab's purchases, and the money they spent on them, made them the pick of the franchises. "In the past Kings XI would make purchases that did not seem structured," the franchise head said. "But this time they came out really well."
Sanjay Bangar, who was unveiled as the coach of the franchise by co-owner Preity Zinta, said "lady luck" might have smiled today since he was able to get most of the names shortlisted on the eve of the auction. Kings XI bought 10 players today including two millionaires in the Australian pair of Mitchell Johnson and Glenn Maxwell. The franchise also procured Virender Sehwag, George Bailey and Shaun Marsh along with Sri Lankan allrounder Thisara Perara. They further strengthened their Indian presence with Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha and Lakshmipathy Balaji. They then utilised one of their two right-to-match cards to buy back Indian fast bowler Parvinder Awana.
It was clear franchises did not want to spend big money. Barring Yuvraj Singh, whom insiders admitted went for a slightly inflated price, there were no freak buys. In 2011, franchises had been prepared to spend USD 1.6 million on Saurabh Tiwary and USD 900,000 on Daniel Christian. Now, they were no longer interested in such indulgence.
That was the other characteristic this auction revealed: this tournament might be more about cricket than celebrity. Even a hyped-up player like Corey Anderson, the New Zealand allrounder, 'only' went for Rs. 4.5 crore (USD 750,000). "Frankly the hype that was surrounding Anderson, I was expecting him to go higher than the price Mumbai paid for him," the franchise CEO said. "At the end of the day you do not go by the name. You go by your positions. That is where the teams have become very smart. Earlier an owner would say "I want X, whatever the price". Now he wants three openers, two wicketkeepers, so many allrounders, so many fast bowlers. People come to the auction table with clear-cut plans."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo