Students talk about a yearly schedule of internal assessments, entrance tests, prelims and the mains. Cricketers speak of an annual schedule where the IPL is the only exam that counts. India’s domestic calendar is crammed with Mushtaq Ali (20 overs) Vijay Hazare ( 50 overs) and Ranji ( 4 days) but the IPL is the centre of cricket’s universe — everything spins around it.
CSK celebrated its 2021 IPL win at a public function in Chennai the other day but preparations are already on for the next season. It starts end-March, only four months away and all cricket from now till then is either practice ( for established stars) or an audition ( for the rest ). For every first-class player, the IPL is the main act. All else is a sideshow.
Picture this: Ruturaj Gaikwad and Venkatesh Iyer are in a casino, smile on face, both holding 10 cards, each inscribed with the logo of an IPL team.
The imagery is obviously fake but the underlying message is real. Both are eagerly waiting for the mega IPL auction, the mother/ father of all auctions as 10 teams create squads for IPL season 15. On the table, a king’s ransom of ₹900 crore to ‘buy’ 250 players. Cricket Diwali is round the corner, and the smell of cash is in the air.
The bidding will be fierce for top Indian talent. With two new teams, the IPL job market has 36 new openings and fringe players are waiting for an appointment letter, hoping the ball runs for them at the auction. But Gaikwad and Iyer, stars of IPL 2021, are already smiling in anticipatory celebration.
Both currently sit at the bottom of the pyramid, their contract value a low ₹20 lakh. Where will they end up in the upcoming auction? Difficult to say but cricket pundits who monitor the IPL player Sensex feel they could safely fetch ₹7-10 crore. Not surprising because last time K Gowtham (Karnataka all-rounder) went for ₹9.25 crore and CSK didn’t give him a single game!
Of the two, Iyer’s rise is particularly striking. He made the senior Madhya Pradesh only two seasons ago, and his first-class career is quite unremarkable: Ten games, plenty of promise but no hundred. Yet, an impressive run with KKR pushed him to the top and when Hardik Pandya disqualified himself with injury and poor form, Iyer was picked for India—a double promotion his colleagues at MP/KKR would not have anticipated.
Gaikwad, in comparison, is someone with established credentials. Made runs in the previous IPL and in the domestic circuit he is respected as a quality player. With five years of Ranji and lots of white ball experience, nobody is surprised he has stepped up to the next level.
The IPL mega auction is set to change the lives of many young Indian players. In a way it is simple economics with demand exceeding supply, and the simple fact is there aren’t 36 quality players around. Prices will rise and (relatively) ordinary players will strike big at the auction. Experience shows all-rounders and finishers are valuable and the market is always hot for Indian mystery/ leg-spinners. Off-spinners are out of fashion and teams are reluctant to pay good money for Indian quicks.
Actually, more than Gaikwad and Iyer, it’s the big boys who stand to rake in big money. Some will be retained, at a price which is mutually negotiated. Virat, Rohit and MSD are expected to stay with their current franchises and all three could easily breach the ₹20 crore magic figure.
Apart from these superstars, a few others too are on a good wicket and are likely to take the auction route. Tactically, this is a smart move because IPL teams are looking for Indian captains and there are only a few who fit the bill. As it is the ‘4 foreign players in the eleven’ creates complications for overseas players, and if captains Morgan and Warner lose form team selection becomes a massive issues.
Given these dynamics, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin, KL Rahul would fancy their chances to bag a mega deal. Unconfirmed reports are circulating about offers of ₹100 crore over four years to some players. These could be wild but financial numbers in the IPL never cease to surprise.
While Indian talent can expect a lottery, the market is likely to course-correct for foreign talent. Some IPL superstars may have played their last game and teams have realised splurging ₹16.25 crore on Chris Morris or 14 crore on Kylie Jamieson doesn’t make cricket or commercial sense.