Indian Premier League February 20, 2008

The day cricketers sold like stocks

On-field action aside, we could have just witnessed the most eventful day in cricket's history, one when players were bought like stocks at a share market

Adding to the glitz was the presence of Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, whose company owns the Kolkata franchise ... © AFP

Click here for a blow-by-blow account of the auction

On-field action aside, we could have just witnessed the most eventful day in cricket's history, one when players were bought like stocks at a share market. In the frenetic Indian Premier League auctions, which lasted 10 hours in the Hilton Towers in Mumbai, six players raked up more than a million dollars each, and over 70 others earned immediate financial security. In one day of tradings, the face of world cricket has been changed: for better or worse, is for time to tell.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Andrew Symonds were the big winners on a day when Indian and Australian players were the most wanted. A whopping US$14.6 million was spent on 25 Indians, including big sums for those on the fringe, while the 13 Australians were worth US$6.7 million, with relative unknowns like Cameron White and David Hussey thriving among the big daddies.

The auction wasn't without its surprises. Glenn McGrath was not picked up in the first set of bids and needed to wait till the end before he was bought at the base price. In contrast Ishant Sharma, a bowler just two seasons old, benefitted immensely from the recent performances, ending as the costliest bowler in the pool.

The trends were hard to miss. Teams have not looked to buy just match-winners; they have invested in a mix of cricketers and brands. The fact that Dhoni is getting more than double of what Gilchrist will is a case in point. As for the young players, especially the batsmen, the franchises have all preferred the popular over the proven: Robin Uthappa was worth more than Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting put together. Stunningly Yusuf Pathan, who's played just one Twenty20 international, was deemed about three times more valuable than the experienced Scott Styris.

The day kicked off with the blockbuster news of Dhoni being bought for US$1.5 million by Chennai. That set the ball rolling, and no other player was able to catch up with it by the end of the day. Dhoni was part of the first group of players (the marquee players) to be auctioned and grossed more than double what Adam Gilchrist did ($700,000 from Hyderabad). It took the franchises only about 20 to 25 minutes to decide the teams for the six biggest names in the fray.

The second round of bidding featured some more senior players for sale, and surprisingly McGrath and Mohammad Yousuf didn't find any takers. It was later learnt that Yousuf was a disputed property as he had been asked by the court not to participate in any league that is rival to the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Harbhajan Singh and Sanath Jayasuriya were the big draws in this round and Mumbai dug deep into their pockets to procure the two. While a $975,000 salary might not be too high for Jayasuriya, Harbhajan's taking away $850,000 did come as a surprise.

After a brief lunch break, the kind we see in a rain-curtailed ODI, Andrew Symonds came pretty close to beating Dhoni. In the third round, featuring the star players from outside India, Symonds was bought by the Hyderabad franchise for $1.35m. The franchises would have known of Symonds's decision to not tour Pakistan later this year, because Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden - two other Australians auctioned in the same round - were not fought for nearly as hard and went for $400,000 and $375,000 respectively. The New Zealanders, Brendan McCullum and Jacob Oram, were interesting picks as they drew $700,000 and $675,000 from Kolkata and Chennai respectively.

Bangalore, who were relatively quiet till then, surprised all by digging deep into their coffers to procure Jacques Kallis for $900,000, while Kolkata bought Chris Gayle for $800,000 in the fourth round of biddings, which featured stars who were perhaps one rung lower than the top draw.

By the end of the fourth round, one could vaguely look into how the teams were going about their selection. Hyderabad, for example, were going all out for big hitters: Symonds, Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, and Shahid Afridi had cost them $3.3m by then. Mohali were looking for solid batsmen (Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara) and a fiery pace attack (Brett Lee and Sreesanth).

Kolkata were going for a more equitable distribution of salary, not bidding outrageously for superstars but looking to get as many good players as possible, while Jaipur kept their cards close to their chest, having spent only $1.15 by the end of four rounds.

In the fifth round, Delhi surprised everybody in the auction for wicketkeepers - spending $825,000 for two wickekeepers, Dinesh Kartik getting $125,000 more than AB de Villiers. Bangalore followed their trend of banking in safe players and picked Mark Boucher for $450,000.

The allrounders, the hot properties in Twenty20 cricket auctioned in round 6, had more surprises in the offing. Irfan Pathan, whose bidding started at $200,000, was finally bought by Mohali for $9,25,000. His brother, Yusuf, and Cameron White, another largely untested player at the international level, were bought for $475,000 and $500,000 respectively. No-one, though, was ready to pay a dollar more than his base price of $175,000 for Scott Styris.

When it come to the young batsmen, it was down to the real box office. India's dashing Twenty20 stars were showered with money while Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina and Manoj Tiwary - those not part of the World Twenty20 squad, got their share too. David Hussey was the only non-Indian lesser-known batsman, to draw a favourable response from the bidders. David actually found more takers than brother Mike, and was bought by Kolkata for $625,000; bidding for him started at $100,000.

By the time we moved to the last round of auction, for the lesser-known bowlers, the franchises were spent, both physically and financially. Umar Gul, one of the best bowlers in the Twenty20 world championships, was bought for a mere $150,000 by Kolkata, while Chaminda Vaas, Makhaya Ntini, and Dilhara Fernando all went for their base prices. But Kolkata offset the Gul steal and stung the last surprise of the day by buying Ishant for a whopping $950,000.

Things have happened too fast to make a sense of it or predict where we are headed, but in one day one thing was proven: in a free-market environment, the players' worth and selections would not be judged by how they played, but as a commercial commodity.

Top ten players at the auction
Player Franchise Base price Winning bid
Mahendra Singh Dhoni Chennai 400,000 1,500,000
Andrew Symonds Hyderabad 250,000 1,350,000
Sanath Jayasuriya Mumbai 250,000 975,000
Ishant Sharma Kolkata 150,000 950,000
Irfan Pathan Mohali 200,000 925,000
Jacques Kallis Bangalore 225,000 900,000
Brett Lee Mohali 300,000 900,000
RP Singh Hyderabad 200,000 875,000
Harbhajan Singh Mumbai 250,000 850,000
Robin Uthappa Mumbai 200,000 800,000

Icon players
Player Franchise Price
Sachin Tendulkar Mumbai 1,121,250
Sourav Ganguly Kolkata 1,092,500
Yuvraj Singh Mohali 1,063,750
Rahul Dravid Bangalore 1,035,000
Virender Sehwag Delhi 833,750
All figures in US$. Icon players' price calculated at 115% of next-highest earning player in the same franchise.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo