One of the many things that fascinate me about the IPL, in addition to Arun Lal’s rapier wit, Ravi Shastri’s landing strip on head and the copious amounts of misti doi lathered everywhere, is the process of the entire process of the player auctions. Unlike the international game where you are either blessed or cursed by the talent that is born within your shores, here franchises can buy talent and build up their teams, with things being made fair by the fact that they can all spend the same amount of money and can only play four non-Indian players. Choosing the squad then becomes a fascinating optimization problem, one where player value (their performance potential at their buying price) and squad balance become critical determinants in the success of the franchise.
Ideally the whole auction should take place with no minimum price with players being valuated solely on their perceived potential. Just like stocks. However the BCCI, in its infinite wisdom, has base price bands for the players which they formally announced a few days ago, putting yet another needless level of control over what should be a free-market exercise.
Looking through the bands, one can do nothing but scratch one’s heads just as one does when the government valuates assets. For instance, in the highest band (i.e. Tier 1), we have players like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble while Sourav Ganguly, equally senior and equally good or bad in the T20 game, has been relegated to Tier 3. If respect was the reason for assigning Dravid and Kumble to Tier 1, then why does Ganguly not deserve the same privilege? And if true value was the reason for the assignment, then are Dravid and Kumble truly among the best players of the T20 game? This sudden appreciation in the stocks of these two players is of course doubly puzzling because in the initial announcement of the bands in November, Dravid, Kumble and Dada were all in Tier 3 (which I believe is the fairest assessment of their abilities in the T20 game—with perhaps Kumble in Tier 2 at the best). I cannot think of anything that could have happened, performance-wise, to justify Dravid and Kumble going from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in this one month. Unrelated factoid: At the end of November, Kumble got elected as an administrator in the KCSA. [Link]
And if this was not puzzling enough, it was shocking to see Gautam Gambhir languishing in Tier 3 with someone like Michael Yardy (the man has a T20 batting average of 28 and strike rate 111 and a modest bowling record, being principally a batsman) and Brett Lee (whose singing with Asha Tai has somehow seeped into his deliveries since he now bowls as effectively as Asha Bhonsle) in Tier 1. Accepted Gambhir has not had a good IPL last season, but he definitely is one of the world’s leading batsmen and worth many many times his base price.
Of course the undervaluing of Gambhir and the proper valuing might as well work in their favor, making them more of a value (definitely Gambhir) while Kumble and Dravid run the risk of having priced themselves out of the bidding, though with ten teams in the game this time I do not believe that is too likely.
One of my fears this year of course is my favorite franchise Kolkata Knight Riders. With their bidding system devised by experts from ISI (not the Pakistani organization silly), they assembled throughout the three years a collection of radio-active talent like Agarkar, Mortaza, Taibu, Bond, Butt, Mohammed Hafeez, Akash Chopra (a very good cricket writer [possibly the best in the country] but a lousy T20 batsman), Sunny Singh, Rohan Gavaskar (to name a few), which while it made them the laughing stock of the league gave people like me great raw material over the years. Now with new administration and having already taken a good decision (getting rid of their all mortgage-based securities), I am afraid that in this franchise they might leave their pricing theory models and use that thing one never associates with the KKR. Namely common sense.
However in case they stay the endearing KKR of old (since India’s greatest superstar is still its owner), here are my suggestions. Please buy Brian Lara. What an amazing addition to the Kolkata franchise he would be. Some of his fans might be disappointed seeing this legend, who has not played any cricket for the past few years, cynically trying to make money while wondering if perhaps even Sir Don might have been tempted to yank off the respirator and sign on the dotted line for the lure of the lucre. And then please buy back Agarkar along with Ramesh Powar for a perfect Laurel-Hardy act and Wasim Jaffer for his pinch-hitting abilities——-and while you are at it, Mohammed Kaif and Munaf Bobby Patel. For dynamism and Youngistan appeal, Ravindra Jadeja needs to be brought in and Bongs can never criticize someone with that first name. Since Pakistani players are not available, much to the heartburn of the owner, for international signees I would recommend Ashraful (dropped by Bangladesh) and Mortaza (bought last time for 650,000 USD and bowled the last over for 21 runs in the only match he played).
But my biggest fear is of course the absence of Lalit Modi. Without him, IPL will be like summer without the swallows, the Congress party without the Gandhis, rosogolla without syrup and latakta circus without Lucky Chikna. I don’t care what you say about him but he brought character to the IPL, being the personification of exactly what the IPL stands for—-the DLF Double D’s of excess. And since this is after all India, where public memory is as short and anyone accused of corruption has only to lie low for a year before being forgiven, I do hope that Modi will be back. With perhaps Kalmadi as his understudy and lots of huffing and puffing sweat equity.
Let 2011 begin. May IPL 4 commence.
[Images courtesy: Rediff]