The auction in Fort Aguada’s ballroom was compelling drama partly because the basic concept of establishing a mandi and putting players under the hammer is novel and exciting. No less interesting is the process of purchase — bidders have to raise a paddle to announce an intent to buy, then declare a number. Once that is accepted, they are required to sign a paper to confirm the transaction.
That players should get assigned to teams is this manner is unique. For centuries, cricket has worked with a structure where selectors pick players but this cash-driven innovation signals that times have changed. In contemporary sport, market rules. It decides worth and valuation.
The bazaar, as we have discovered, is frustratingly unpredictable. Just as the box office is impossible to predict, cricket pundits and punters are often caught on the wrong foot by the complicated dynamics of the auction.
This was evident in Goa. Proceedings commenced, with the auctioneer making a brief speech about the rules of engagement. There was an undercurrent of tension as franchisees, unsure of the googlies awaiting them, reviewed last-minute their strategies. The beginning was undramatic, top players fetched top prices, club owners played their hand on expected lines and these deals were concluded within minutes.
The surprises came soon after, none more riveting and unexpected than the long and fierce battle for Mashrafe Mortaza which lasted almost as long as it takes to bowl 20 overs. It is difficult to explain why Luke Wright, a T20 specialist, received no bids, or the rationale for the price commanded by Tyron Henderson and Ravi Bopara.
One possible reason could be that this time, owners were focussed on their needs based on a better understanding of team requirements and therefore disinclined towards indiscriminate buying.
Many times, the sequence in which the players are offered decides whom you buy. The normal tendency is to make your pick straightaway instead of waiting for the one who could be your first choice, even if it means committing a bigger number to another player.
While auctions usually raise prices (that is the fundamental idea anyway), this time in Goa, there was no bidding at all for some purchases.
After a while, as franchise owners ran out either of cash or of slots available for buying players, teams bought players of their choice by paying the reserve price — without having to put up competing bids. So in some ways, the true winners from the auction were the franchises and not Pieterson, Flintoff or Duminy.