Dressing-room rankings have never been this public and when the players run around in the Indian Premier League in April it will be the six figures on their heads that hold more currency than the numbers on the scoreboards. While secrecy is a condition of Australia's 25 national contracts, there was no privacy at the auction in Mumbai on Wednesday and 13 of the country's "stars" suddenly discovered their world value.
A few of the Test representatives were shocked to rate so low, even if the threat of international tours restricting their participation over the next two years diluted their attractiveness to the franchises. Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey have grown used to their world-beating status and if they ever make it to an IPL Twenty20 tournament they will operate in the unfamiliar role of support cast. Spectators will rush to the headline names of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly before thinking of the cut-price Australians.
This was not exactly what had been promised in all the IPL fanfare. The senior men, who may get a chance to play in April if the Pakistan tour is cancelled, are in the awkward position of not being rated at half the value of a few of their less-credentialled team-mates. In judging the talent as entertainment-commercial-cricket commodities, the auction has hit expectations and self-belief.
"I have had my fair share of endorsements over the years and always felt the Indian people have warmed to me when I have been there," Ponting said in his column in the Australian. "Lots of things have gone through my mind in the past couple of days. Even my involvement in the Harbhajan thing but I thought: 'Hang on, Andrew Symonds was involved in it as well.'"
How Ponting (US$400,000), Hayden ($375,000) and Hussey ($350,000) cope with the teasing from Symonds, whose $1.35m package was more than the trio's combined bids, will be fascinating. Ponting has already joked about Symonds now having to buy all the drinks and further sniping will form part of the in-house game.
Brett Lee, whose $900,000 fee shows franchises wanted him despite the international calendar constraints, and Adam Gilchrist ($700,000) also have many reasons to smirk over the final weeks of the CB Series. Runs may be the value on the field but over the past decade big money has entered the dressing room.
"You want to know what you are worth and you don't want to know what you are worth," Nathan Bracken said from Sydney during the auction. The comment was one of the most revealing of the entire process, showing the players were worried about a new statistic to measure themselves. Bracken's badge reads $325,000, putting him on the same line as Parthiv Patel, India's No. 3 wicketkeeper, and not far behind his three batting counterparts on the pay-scale.
A handful of dollars can turn office workers against each other when salaries are revealed, so it will be intriguing to see whether hundreds of thousands of greenbacks do the same to team-mates. Events in a far-flung hotel have changed the dynamic of an Australian team. The most successful are not the best remunerated and the senior players have been sold at a significant discount.
The thought of being No. 2 has never been attractive to Shane Warne. In the West Indies in 1999, when Stuart MacGill was ahead of him in the Test team, Warne considered retirement, and his failure in earning the Australian captaincy will always nag. A year after his international exit Warne is not in the country's top five IPL signings, but the most incredible development is he is rated below Cameron White, a one-time legspin protégé who has turned into a domestic batting allrounder.
This ignominy and a sale price of $450,000, which ranks Warne among the mortals Zaheer Khan and Mark Boucher, might lead a man who loves to be loved to contemplate not bothering with six weeks in India. He is still rated in the English counties and, apparently, at poker, so his options are not as one-dimensional as some of the other recent retirees.
|This ignominy and a sale price of $450,000, which ranks Warne among the mortals Zaheer Khan and Mark Boucher, might lead a man who loves to be loved to contemplate not bothering with six weeks in India|
Warne's not-so-magic number makes him the fourth-highest paid in the Jaipur squad behind Graeme Smith, a man who once dobbed on Warne's sledging, and the Indian fringe players Mohammad Kaif and Yusuf Pathan. However, the most demeaning result of the auction for Warne was his place $50,000 below White, who also has boasting rights - if he ever dared use them - over Ponting, Hayden and Hussey. In his early days at Victoria White would have cleaned Warne's spikes for free. In India he'll be able to pay to have Warne's done and cover the costs. Oh the shame.
At least Warne is still the most financially viable player in his family. Mr Cricket's brother David Hussey was almost twice as expensive as Michael. The batsman with the highest sustained Test average since Don Bradman, Michael is in the ICC's top ten for Tests and ODIs, but he didn't register a bid in the first round. He had to wait until the end with the other outcasts, including Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Simon Katich, to find a temporary home.
By the time Michael ended up with Chennai his younger sibling, who has played one Twenty20 international, had flown to Kolkata for $675,000, which is more than the best annual Cricket Australia contract. The pair had some famous arguments as children but in this instance David has Michael's number - and a few of his team-mates'. A dropping hammer in India has provided more spark to family and dressing-room rivalries.
Indian Premier League
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo