Moneyball: The Value of ‘S’ & Hidden Assets

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The most respected person right now in the Rs 32,000-crore RP Sanjiv Goenka (RPSG) group is the numerologist who understood the value of one 'S' in a name. Rather, the invaluable benefits of dropping 'S' from a name.

Rewinding to 2016, when the group bought the much-coveted Indian Premier League (IPL) team, all efforts were made to ensure that the team's name had the same abbreviation as that of the group. Hence was born the Rising Pune Super Giants (RPSG). Adding intangible value to the corporate brand was the thought behind the move, but that did not fly with the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI). Finally, the team had to settle with Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS). Not exactly what the group wanted, but nothing to fret about.

RPS entered with what was arguably one of the best teams, with none other than the league’s most successful leader, MS Dhoni, as the captain. With the likes of Steve Smith, Kevin Pietersen, R Ashwin, Faf du Plessis, Mitchell Marsh, they were, on paper, a strong contender for the title, and definitely for the playoffs. And it could not have been better, when their campaign began with a bang, running over then defending champions, Mumbai Indians, in the inaugural match. That was, however, the only high point of the season for them. Everything went downhill after that and all that could go wrong went wrong, including having to play three home matches in faraway Vishakhapatnam. The team finished second from bottom, just about avoiding the wooden spoon with a last-ball win in the final league match.

Come 2017, the management did two right things as far as the team was concerned – replaced MS Dhoni with Steve Smith as the captain (though with a disastrous communication strategy which got them the much-deserved flak), and emptied their purse on one player, Ben Stokes (Rs 14.5 crores), during the auction. The new-look team was decent but lacked depth in the bowling department. It was totally dependent on all the top 5 players putting up consistently good performances, and Stokes coming up with outstanding contributions in all the 14 league matches. Basically, there was only a Plan A. And that had to work, at all times.

And, oh, they changed their name, dropped 'S' from Supergiants.

But the name change did not seem to have changed the team’s misfortunes as problems started even before the matches did. Both Marsh and Ashwin were unavailable due to injuries, and an already weak bowling attack looked pathetic. The team then, surprisingly, bought Imran Tahir, a player who had not found any takers in the auction. They again began with a win, but then slumped to three defeats in a row, and all analysis from armchair pundits about their bowling attack was coming true.

Then started what has been the comeback and success story of the season where the following players were instrumental in taking the team to the playoffs, and then the finals – Jaydev Unadkat (Rs 30 lakh), Rahul Tripathi (Rs 10 lakh), Washington Sundar (Rs 10 lakh), Shardul Thakur (Rs 20 lakh), Lockie Ferguson (Rs 50 lakh), Imran Tahir (Rs 50 lakh). A total of Rs 1.70 crores. If you add Manoj Tiwary (Rs 50 lakh), a veteran who has also played well, the total spend on these players rises to a meagre Rs 2.20 crore. All bought at base price. But the contributions they have made have been priceless and the Return on Investment (RoI) on them is humungous even when you take into consideration the positive impact that a Stokes has had on the fortunes of the team. The fact remains that this winning combination was not strung together by design. It was not Plan B, C or T. It just happened. And it evolved and refined itself with each game as these fringe players gave performances which could not be ignored. This brings us to the criteria for determining the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the league, a position held by Stokes currently for his all-round performance. If Stokes had not performed, both he and the RPS management would have been sniggered at with we-told-you-so judgements. But if these base-value players had not contributed, no Stokes, Smith or Dhoni could have ensured this successful run.

Unadkat, with 22 wickets, is second amongst the top bowlers this season and has played three matches lesser than Bhuvneshwar Kumar from Sunrisers Hyderabad who tops with just four wickets more. Imran Tahir, who wouldn't have played in any team this IPL if Marsh wasn't injured, took 18 crucial wickets before having to leave for national duty. Tripathi, with nearly 400 runs, is the 8th highest run-scorer, while nearly all big names from across the world, barring a handful, have been dismal flops during the season. Though RPS is the best example, there have been similar fringe players across teams who have come to the fore for their team while superstars have been found wanting.

Now that RPS has surprised every single person by being the first team to reach the finals while the biggies are struggling for a spot against them, the worth of dropping a letter from the name gains credence. Whether you accept its value on not, depending on which side of the destiny game you stand, there is no ambiguity about the fact that despite 10 years of IPL, team managements are still struggling to create value from their assets because of over-dependence of non-performing superstars, while other gems rot on the bench.

The fear is that the success of RPS might now drive team owners more to numerologists, rather than astute strategists who can create a winning team taking into consideration all the hidden assets they have. So, in IPL 2018, don’t be surprised if the teams competing are Royal Challenger Bangalore, Delhi Dar1edevil, and King XI Punjab!

CP Thomas is a co-founder of SportzPower and The Fan Garage

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