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Crores for cricket

india Updated: Feb 23, 2008 21:09 IST
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Shocked and scandalised by the astronomical price of $1.35 million paid for Andrew Symonds at the Indian Premier League auction in Mumbai, unconfirmed reports say the other Australian players have vowed to work harder at stirring up controversies. “Here was I being quite the gent and not accusing people of racial abuse and all that sort of thing,” one of the players Down Under said despondently on condition of anonymity, “and all I get is less than half Symonds’ packet.” Experts point out, however, that being controversial is not enough. Symonds’ swagger, his dreadlocks and his sunblock-smeared lips make him an ideal villain for Indian audiences. “Why else should Ricky

Ponting, a not particularly liked figure in India, get a mere $400,000?” asked a cricket consultant.

Some purists have been offended, not by the high prices, but at what they feel is a lack of logic in the bidding process. “Why,” asked one of them, “was Ishant Sharma sold for $950,000 while Umar Gul, the highest wicket-taker in the twenty-twenty World Cup, went under the hammer for a mere $150,000?” “Didn’t Aristotle say that man is a rational animal?” he added. TV analysts attribute Sharma’s appeal at least partly to his long hair. “I would estimate $450,000 of his price to be on account of his long hair,” opined his hairdresser. Incidentally, unconfirmed reports say that Shoaib Akhtar is thinking of growing his hair long once again. Meanwhile, quizzed about why Mumbai was unable to bag the services of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a high-ranking political confidante said that was probably because they were worried about Dhoni’s Uttar Bharatiya status.

Economists, who have been raving about the auction as another triumph of the free market, have suggested that the system should be used for selecting CEOs. Others point out, however, that the high salaries paid to international bank CEOs had not stopped them from almost bankrupting their institutions. Nevertheless, a proposal to start a nationwide auction for economists has received wide support, with most economists labouring under the misapprehension that they are woefully underpaid.

In fact, the astronomical prices paid for the players have attracted a lot of attention among other professions, all eyeing those millions. Unverified reports have come in that politicians had initially banded together to start their version of IPL, or the Indian Politicians’ League, but the project was swiftly buried once they realised nobody was interested in bidding for them. A young girl from Delhi was very upset at the news. “I had always wanted a pet politician,” she sobbed.

Incidentally, sources say the Left has been outraged by the huge amounts that have been paid to cricketers. “This is yet another instance of unbridled capitalism muscling into the space reserved for public entertainment,” said a leftist political worker. “We’ll also have to look into the rules for foreign direct investment in this field,” he added, drawing attention to Lachlan Murdoch’s co-ownership of the Jaipur team. “Foreign ownership of a cricket team could prove a risk to national security,” he hinted darkly. “Except in Kolkata, of course,” he clarified.

Undeterred by these sentiments, usually unreliable sources say that Mukesh Ambani, who paid Rs 441 crore for the Mumbai team, is planning to offload 0.01 per cent of the team for Rs 1 crore. Stock market analysts point out that would mean valuing the company at Rs 10,000 crore. “It’s a classic example of unlocking value,” said a hedge fund manager. “I can’t wait for the IPO”, he added enthusiastically, rubbing his hands at the prospect. Reports suggest that the players are sure to insist on stock options at the next auction.

And finally, questions have been raised about the Jaipur side’s parsimonious bidding, which left them short of even the minimum bid required at the auction. But others claim Lachlan Murdoch has an ace up his sleeve. “Why should we waste money bidding for players,” said a Jaipur source, “when we plan to import umpire Steve Bucknor instead”.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint