<b>Close-in:</b> The grander, the better...
The pantomime of Indian cricket, the Indian Premier League (IPL), finally got underway through an auction, that showed that the enthusiasm, seriousness and grandeur of it is still pertinent to its popularity. The tournament maybe a cricket circus for the die-hard cricket fan but the commercial success of the format has every other stake holder, be it the players, franchisees or the followers glued to it. The bidding amount to weigh the value of each cricketer, very similar to the sale of a yearling at a horse auction, makes it glamorous and exciting. At first ,one saw it as similar to the yesteryears slave trading but a decade later it has become a part of our DNA.The research, the requirements and the strategies are planned by well known cricket brains and many hours are spent on the formation of the best unit. The glee on the faces of the franchise representatives when bids are finally won by them shows the involvement and the satisfaction that each one of them derives with every success.
The credit for conducting the auction successfully must go to the newly appointed administrators of the Supreme Court of India. They accomplished their first task and that was to get the popular IPL underway. The Lodha committee recommendation should also make the franchisees happy, as two of them now become a part of the IPL core committee.

The auction this year was quite interesting. The two English players, Ben Stokes and Tymal Mills, managed to get a big bonanza for their respective skills. This happened because of their performance in India during the recent series. The Rising Pune Supergiants paid a whopping amount of Rs 14.5 crore for Stokes, hoping that in their last season of the IPL, he may win the cup for them via his lusty hitting and aggressive bowling. The former New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, a shrewd cricketing brain and the coach of the Pune side must have been instrumental in this purchase. Their disastrous performance in the last IPL requires him to prove his worth this year or else his value would drastically reduce in the coming year, when he will be pitching for another contract. So he has conveniently ensured that the Supergiants open their purse strings generously.
This interestingly also brings us to the games played by the support staff off the field. Being a part of any of the franchise teams is a lucrative profession. It’s a short, sweet and an easy way of earning a substantial amount for various professionals in the field of sports. The sad part of the entire set-up of the IPL is that the importance given by our own Indian owners seems to be inclined towards recruiting foreign staff and cricketers. Indian coaches, advisors, fitness trainers in most cases are assistants or helpers to the foreigners. India, at present is not only the best cricket Test side but is also one of the top sides in the limited over formats. This has been achieved by some astute thinkers from our cricket fraternity.
Unfortunately, one does not see that in the frame work of the IPL. How can one substantiate the thought that, a Tymal Mills and some of the other foreign fast bowlers are more valuable than a presently playing Indian bowler Ishant Sharma? A Rs 10 crore difference between Mills and Sharma is hard to accept even for a layman, even if it was as a left arm replacement for Mitchell Starc. The most outrageous move, however, for me was the removal from captaincy of one of the worlds most successful 20-Twenty captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and handing it over to Steve Smith.
The success of most sides that have won the IPL has been because of the performances of the Indian players. With just four foreign professionals in the playing side, nurturing and mentoring the Indian cricketers, especially the youngsters, is a prime requirement of the leader. One did see Smith leading in a few games in the IPL before but his interacting skills with the Indian contingency during his captaincy was questionable. Most of the young Indians struggle to understand English, forget Australian or New Zealand accents. Not many have the ability of a Shane Warne, who through body and sign language had Yusuf Pathan following his order to the tee.

Cheteshwar Pujara is another case of a cricketer who has been branded as one only fit for Test cricket. He is today one of India’s leading batsmen and for him not to be a part of any of the sides is quite bewildering. He is a far better player than so many of the Indian and foreign recruits. He has performed well in the domestic 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. Money cannot be a reason for this as most franchisees have still plenty to spare. Therefore, his or Hashim Amla’s success at the Test level has branded them as players for the conventional format but not for the commercial ones.
The problem with the IPL franchise owners is that they all seem to be more concerned with the glamour quotient of their ownership rather than seeing it as a commercial success. The IPL has still not matured as none of the owners are looking for big bucks but are happy to break even. The brand value of a Test star in their midst for a sponsor is a very important aspect in projecting their franchise. When TCS was one of the sponsors of the Rajasthan Royals side in the IPL, the value and benefit that they got from having their clients and associates interact with Rahul Dravid, Shane Warne, Graham Smith and Ross Taylor was immense. Understanding this will take some time for team owners as for them the IPL showcases their power and success as individuals.
The IPL was also initiated for franchisees to put in place a cricket structure that would nurse and blood young Indian cricketers from their regions.The idea was to develop, on the lines of a Manchester United, Real Madrid and other such successful sporting establishments, a structure that would benefit Indian cricket. Apart from Reliance, who have shown that sports needs to be nurtured at home, none of the others have even shown an inclination to look in that direction. One can only hope that in the next contract, the BCCI ensures that the development of grassroot cricket be made a mandatory requirement for each franchisee.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
Yajurvindra Singh