Fringe benefits

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Unsung and uncapped, lesser known players hit the jackpot at IPL’s auction

Yuvraj Singh’s jaw-dropping price of Rs 14 crore — forked out almost inevitably by the irrepressible Vijay Mallya — may have hogged the headlines at the IPL-7 auctions in Bangalore, but the real story is of the hitherto unsung “fringe” players.

For the first time, the Indian Premier League’s governing council decided to allow uncapped players — those not having played any international cricket — to also enter the auction process. So far, the system was that these players, mostly Ranji Trophy regulars, had their price fixed in advance, and that was that. Rates for such cricketers ranged between Rs 10 and Rs 30 lakh, with a few exceptions.

So while the dashing Punjab and India all-rounder may have walked away with a salary that rivals some top players in the European leagues — over a £100,000 per week — it was the cash trickling down to the journeymen of Indian cricket that has finally helped the IPL live up to the early promise to a better deal fro everyone.

Thus we saw the Hyderabad Sunrisers fork out a cool Rs 3.75 crore to retain the services of the unregarded Karan Sharma, a Grade II Indian Railways employee who is nominally a “fitter” by trade. The Railways leg-spinner just as a by the way, cost more than the reinvigorated Ishant Sharma, now piling up the wickets in faraway New Zealand, or India’s pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, and even more than the explosive Virender Sehwag.

“This was a first when I was going to be a part of the auction, so the tension was whether I would be bought by anyone,” Sharma was quoted later as saying. “I knew that I was in with a chance since I had a good last year with Sunrisers, but was delighted to witness four teams going for me. I am still watching re-runs of my bidding on various channels.”

Still watching re-runs of the auction would also be Himachal Pradesh medium pacer Rishi Dhawan, who at Rs 3 crore became the second highest-paid uncapped cricketer after Karan Sharma at these auctions. Kings XI Punjab co-owner Preity Zinta was at her bubbly best at the Bangalore extravaganza and had no hesitation in going the distance for Dhawan, who was the highest wicket-taker in the just concluded Ranji season.

As Dhawan recalled later: “Things moved so quickly within two minutes, it did not allow me to react properly. I only realised later I had been bought for Rs 3 crore. I was just so excited and happy that I was busy celebrating. The calls started coming and as I got busy attending them, I didn’t even know which was thefranchise that had bought me.”

Of the eight teams in the bidding wars, the Rajasthan Royals expectedly spent the most on uncapped players. Shane Warne first, and then Rahul Dravid, the Jaipur-based franchise’s two captains so far, have gone the way of the unheralded performer, in the process throwing up names like Paul Valthaty, Sanju Samson and most memorably Pravin Tambe.

This time too, they were no different, forking out Rs 14.3 crore on the domestic pool, and also making up the biggest squad of the eight teams with 25 players. Mentored now by Dravid, RR was one of three teams including the Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians to retain the permitted five players from IPL-6 and thus had a smaller purse available. They have spent wisely, and well, as have the Mohali-based Kings XI, who walked away from the auction with a solid base of proven Australian performers and a solid core of local talent.

Commenting in the squad, the team management, which also includes Mohit Burman of Dabur and Ness Wadia, said, “We are pleased with the overall composition of the team and we feel that we have managed to add strong performers to the squad. By bringing both young and experienced players on board, we have tried to create a balanced team which can perform well.”

As for Mallya’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, the team composition reflected their owner’s larger than life persona — India star Virat Kohli as captain, the likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, and Yuvraj Singh as the big draws, a total team strength of 21 and not a penny left in the kitty at the end of the auction.

But then, as star buy Yuvraj Singh told ESPN-Cricinfo put it once the dust had started to settle after the auction: “Everyone’s talking about my being the highest-paid player and being bought for so much at an auction. That also means that there is a lot of focus on you and on how you have to win matches, it adds responsibility.”

Now that the cash has been splashed, the wait now starts to see where the blessed tournament itself will actually be played — at home, or away thanks to the general elections that are around the corner.

(Rahul Banerji is the sports editor of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle)

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