The IPL's month long trading window, which began on December 22, expired on Thursday with two trades having taken place. It's an indication that, in a recession-hit world, franchises have decided to wait until the auction on February 6 - where the players up for grabs could include Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Michael Clarke - to make their purchases.
The only swaps were between Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi Daredevils and Ashish Nehra of Mumbai, and between Robin Uthappa of Mumbai Indians and Zaheer Khan of Bangalore Royal Challengers, though a few junior players were signed on by the franchises (see sidebar).
There were five ways through which a franchise could buy a player: in the auction, through actual trading, signing uncapped players, buying domestic players, and buying replacement players (those who joined a franchise to fill another player's absence). There was also no limit on spending during the trading window, unlike next month's auction which has a US$2 million cap. However, times have changed since 2008 - and, as franchise officials pointed out, the process was unfamiliar to most dealing with it.
IPL officials, though, appeared pleased with the activity. "What finally ends up in a trade is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of trading," an IPL source said. "There has been a significant amount of active discussions that took place and multiple strategies were worked out." The biggest positive, according to him, was the seriousness with which squads have been looked at, and the strategies followed, keeping in mind the nature, integrity and composition of the team, were of the highest order.
Franchise officials agreed with that assessment, pointing out that the teams' focus was more on individual needs, and on specific players. "There is a lot that has happened under the surface, there were a lot of serious discussions," Joy Bhattacharjya, the team director of the Kolkata Knight Riders, said. There were only two trades, he said, because people were still trying to understand how it would benefit their teams. "For instance no franchise is willing to go to the market and say that I'm trading because I want to make more money," he said.
Amrit Mathur, Delhi's chief operating officer, agreed the trading was governed by team needs and not money. "[In the] rest of the world, trading is governed by economics whereas here in IPL it is more about team building.". He did not expect too much movement because each team was clearly regarding what it wanted in terms of team composition. "The need was only to fill certain gaps, so you were targeting a specific type of player," Mathur said. "The two options were either to do it through trade or wait for the auction."
"There were blockbuster trades that got cancelled," Bhattacharjya said. Kings XI Punjab officials are believed to have discussed getting Harbhajan Singh ($850,000) for Ramesh Powar ($170,000) from Mumbai but were put off by the price. Bangalore Royal Challengers put Dale Steyn on sale initially but withdrew him after he helped South Africa to their first-ever Test series triumph in Australia. Mumbai wanted Rohit Sharma from Deccan Chargers but the price tag of US$750,000 was too high.
One popular route of buying new players was signing contracts with uncapped players such as New South Wales batsman David Warner, who joined Delhi Daredevils even before he shot to fame by scoring 89 off 43 balls in a Twenty20 against South Africa. The other signings included Ryan Harris (Queensland allrounder) for Deccan Chargers, Moises Henriques (NSW allrounder) for Kolkata, and Graham Napier (Essex batsman) for Mumbai.
Some youngsters on the domestic circuit have also been signed. Deccan snapped up Hyderabad batsman T Suman along with Himachal Pradesh wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla, while Rajasthan Royals have signed Raiphi Vincent Gomez, a hard-hitting Kerala batsman.
Franchises were also unable to sell their Pakistan players because of the lack of buyers following the breakdown in relations between the two countries after the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. There were no takers for Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi, two popular names in the subcontinent. Bhattacharjya admitted Kolkata's only option was to buy back Shoaib, who was a replacement player last year, and take the "hit" in the period he is with them.
However, Bhattacharjya said the repurchase of two of last year's replacement players - Ajantha Mendis and Brad Hodge - had "immediately improved the quality of the team drastically".
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo