The IPL Auction 2011 just wrapped itself up a few days ago, and there's still a lot of buzz revolving around it. I thought I'd write down my thoughts about the IPL and the auction.
If you haven't read Sharda Ugra's cricinfo post titled "The Joke Was On Cricket", do so now. It's a very well thought out article and brings up some interesting points. Did you finish reading it? Awesome. Ugra talks about how the auction was insulting to players and their families in a way, and I agree with those views to an extent. However, the IPL is after all a business and you expect that there will be winners and losers. Not every player is wanted. I'll take the example of Sourav Ganguly. The guy is really old. He hasn't played competitive cricket in a while. He's also been extremely shoddy the past 3 years playing for his IPL team. If you buy him now, you have to pay him for 3 years. His base price was $400,000. That's $1.2 million right there. If he's barely fit to play now, he sure as hell won't be a player worth keeping for 3 years. It's just common sense that nobody wanted him. What he should have done was not be in the auction at all. Instead, he doubled his base price a week before the auction. Now take a look at another great Indian player Anil Kumble. Anil Kumble has been by far the best bowler this last IPL, has led his team to an IPL final and semi-final, a Champions League victory and semi-final. I would say he was amongst the best captains and IPL players to have played the IPL. However, he understood the situation, and decided to pull himself out of the auction and instead be a mentor to his team (and my team) RCB. I think this was a brilliant move. This way he gets to stay on and help his team (instead of being transferred to another team), he gets a paycheck (although maybe not as big as before), and he gets to influence young players to do better in their lives.
Now, obviously Mr. Ganguly is a far more accomplished and intelligent man than I am, so surely he had thought about this. Why did he go through with it anyway? Answer: Money. $1.2 million is a lot of money. The kind of money that Mr. Ganguly did not see for most of his career. I completely understand why he would go after it. Now consider the case of a foreign great. Brian Lara. Easily amongst the very best batsmen to have walked the planet. Now why would he get himself into this auction when he at 41 years old hasn't played competitive cricket for a while? Again, money. Mr. Lara is from the West Indies, where there is absolutely no money. Having himself been from an era of cricket where cricket did not pay as much as it does now, I can understand why he stood in the auction. If by some stroke of luck he got bought, that would be a big pay day for him. Why not take a chance? What's to lose? I don't blame these players for wanting to be in the auction. However, playing cricket is not the only way to make money, as Mr. Kumble so clearly demonstrated. I think they would do better in coaching/advisory roles for teams.
Having talked about unsold players in the auction, I want to talk about the auction itself. Sharda Ugra brings up the NFL draft in her article. If you're unfamiliar with the NFL draft system, look it up. Being a big fan of the NFL, I see how the IPL derives some of it's structure from the NFL. I am of the opinion that the NFL is probably the best run professional sports league (except perhaps for the NBA) in the world. I firmly believe that the IPL should not in fact run an auction every 3 years (or ever). Instead, a NFL draft like system would work much better. This way you have teams on an even footing unlike the EPL where the richest team has the best players (like Manchester City). You also get rid of this cattle sale type thing. My one biggest problem with the NFL draft is that Sam Bradford gets paid 5 times as much as Peyton Manning. Now that's complete hogwash. Now this is already somewhat true in the IPL. Think of it like this: Irfan Pathan gets paid twice as much as Zaheer Khan. Seriously? This needs to be fixed, and I'm not sure how this can be done properly.
If you auction off your players every 3 years, the team has no identity. Case in point: look at my team RCB. No Kallis, Dravid, Steyn, Uthappa, Taylor, White, Pietersen, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, etc. These were players that made RCB. This was RCB's identity. One of the primary reasons I was such an ardent fan of RCB was that a lot of our players were local Karnataka boys. When you said RCB, you meant the B. Now, the RCB team just looks like team RC. There is no B in there. If the rumors I'm reading that Manish Pandey will be going to Pune are true, that would mean that we only have 2 old RCB players in Kohli and Mithun. Mithun barely played any games for RCB. He'd also be the only Karnataka boy in the team. Our new team looks more like the Delhi Daredevils. Nannes, Vettori, Dilshan and AB.
I grew up watching Robin Uthappa come in to my school and annihilate our cricket team. I hated his guts as a kid. Damn Josephites. When he played for RCB however, there was a genuine bond there. It was someone you associated with, and identified as a "fellow Bangalorean". Someone who understood your city, and someone who grew up like you did. You saw Kumble, and you thought about him and Srinath being the last men in a test innings yelling at each other "Odu Odu Odu!", just like you did playing cricket on the street. I simply don't see how I could ever have this sort of support for Saurabh Tiwary (not to pick on him alone, just someone like him). Yes there were non Bangalorean players for RCB who were extremely popular. Whether it was due to yelling "Uthappa! Tathappa!" when Uthappa and Kallis were batting, or yelling "Ross the Boss!", these players very quickly became adopted Bangaloreans. Speaking of adopted Bangaloreans, I think Virat Kohli is a prime example. He hails from Delhi, but when he played in Delhi, the spectators booed him. When he plays in Bangalore, everybody loves him. I don't even know why he plays Ranji for Delhi anymore. He should just move to Bangalore and play Ranji for Karnataka. But I digress. These players were the first on scene for RCB and we identified with them quickly. Now they're part of the RCB image. Watching Kallis, Steyn and Taylor play for other teams simply doesn't "feel" right. For me it was Uthappa, for someone else it was Dravid, for someone else it was Manish Pandey, or Vinay Kumar.
I'm the first to acknowledge that player transfers happen in all sporting leagues. Brett Favre went to the Vikes, Cristiano Ronaldo went to Madrid, Thierry Henry went to Barcelona, etc. However, this is one player moving out. What if Giggs, Scholes, Fletcher, Nani and Ronaldo all went to different clubs in the same season? Now obviously there are clubs like Real Madrid who make these sort of sweeping changes every other year because they think they have money, but that's not the norm, it's the exception. Now remind yourself that Manchester United has existed forever. People love Ferguson and he has built a reputation of always doing the right thing for the team. It so happens I hate the guy and his stupid club, but that's irrelevant. RCB has been in existence for three years. Man U has it's identity written in stone. RCB is still building it's identity. And you can't trash it up every three years.
This is yet another digression, but I seem to love doing that so I'll go with it. Recently, Dr. Mallya posted an entry on the RCB fan site (or so I believe). Essentially he says that he went for a young team, and the goal was to win. Here's a bit of a newsflash. Nobody went into that auction thinking, "oh, I want to pick a team that will lose". I also don't buy the whole "young" thing. Look at our players: Dilshan, Vettori, Nannes, Zaheer, Kaif. Young? Methinks not. I'm a huge admirer of Dr. Mallya and I do believe that he has acted in the best interests of the team. I don't blame him for completely destroying the identity of the team. I place the blame on the IPL auction itself. He acted reasonably well given the framework of the IPL auction. I do not understand why more players were not retained, specifically Steyn, Kallis and Uthappa. I'm sure there was good reason at the time, I'm just not aware of it. For what it's worth, I think the Chennai Super Kings and to an extent the Mumbai Indians did a decent job of preserving their team's identity. I also can't find fault with KKR for thrashing their old team entirely (except for Tiwary) given that they were absolutely horrible the last three years.
One thing I noticed yesterday was a tweet from @RCBTweets which was cheering on AB deVilliers when he was playing very well for RSA against India in the recently concluded ODI. The tweet was published while RSA was still batting. Now I'm all for applauding good performances, irrespective of which team the player is on. This is good sportsman spirit. However, you don't do it when he's your opponent, and you're still in the game. When you're playing the game, you acknowledge that your opponent has played well, but you compete, and play to win. As an Indian cricket fan, you don't go around saying "Yay deVilliers, keep hitting em". It doesn't matter that deVilliers is an RCBian. He's not playing for RCB at the moment, he's playing against India. I think that India comes first. Always. When he's playing for RCB, by all means cheer him on. This is something that never happened until the IPL came into the picture.
This is a digression, but I think it's one worth pointing out. I've been to a few college football games at Michigan. I've also seen a few cricket matches at the Chinnaswamy stadium. I've also watched a lot of FIFA world cup matches on TV. Have you noticed that at every college football game, and at the FIFA world cup games, they always sing the national anthem(s)? Have you noticed the same at a cricket match? I haven't. This is not just in India, but is true across the world (or so I believe). I think we should be singing the national anthem at the start of every IPL game, and national anthems of both teams at the start of an international game.
I know I said a lot about team identity and fan following and what not. However, what really matters is winning. If the new RCB team wins, people will support them. If they lose they'll trash them. Unfortunately it seems like this is the case with two of my highest priority sports teams. Same thing seems to be happening with the Michigan football team. One thing's for sure though. No matter what, come game day, I'll be singing The Victors at the top of my voice and yelling "RCB! RCB! RCB!".
Forever, Go Blue! Go RCB!