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Are players overpaid in the Indian Premier League?

The IPL was never meant to be another 20 over tournament -- it was deliberately designed to be this grand 10 star premium product.

cricket Updated: May 03, 2018 10:06 IST
Amrit Mathur
Amrit Mathur
Indian Premier League,IPL 2018,Chris Gayle
Critics may disapprove the way the Indian Premier League (IPL) works, but focus on cash always was IPL’s unique visiting card. (AFP)

The IPL is criticised for obsessing with cash and putting commerce ahead of cricket. Why, people ask, is cash the currency of the IPL?

Critics disapprove, but focus on cash always was IPL’s unique visiting card. The IPL was never meant to be another 20 over tournament -- it was deliberately designed to be this grand 10 star premium product.

That’s why the numbers are always huge and awe inspiring. Take for instance player contracts. To some, the entire process of allocating players to teams through an auction is distasteful, crass and undignified — no different from selling cattle in a medieval village setting.

It’s appalling that the best professional athletes are subjected to public humiliation on live television. Think of the pain Hashim Amla, Joe Root, even Chris Gayle, went through when they attracted not one response from assembled buyers.

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Not only is the process wrong, there is a feeling players’ salaries are over the top. According to this reasoning, any system that gifts a top Indian player ~12 to 15 crore for 6 weeks’ work (compared to ~5-7 from his central annual contract) is fundamentally flawed.

Broken down in smaller detail, a top IPL contract roughly translates into a crore a game, which translates into ~25 lakh per hour. Match fees for an established India player (Cheteshwar Pujara) in a Test match (played over 5 days, 30 hours and 450 overs) is ~15 lakh.

If some auction numbers seem weird there is a reason. An auction is dynamic and unpredictable but the final price is market driven based on demand — supply, scarcity, team need, player’s skill set and ‘value’. Ultimately, players get what they deserve.

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Still, the question remains: Would IPL be different if player salaries were lower? Unlikely, because even if slashed by half, salaries would still be higher than in other leagues. Just to provide perspective: Ben Stokes contract with the Royals is more than the cost of an entire team in the Big Bash or the CPL.

Actually, there is a downside to high player salaries from a cricket standpoint. Players with fat pay cheques are burdened with ‘contract pressure’, the increased expectation of performing at a level that justifies cost, in addition to score board and match pressure. When a million dollar player walks out to the middle, his bat weighs a few kilos more. Moreover, wide pay disparity causes friction in the dressing room.

Even on cost benefit terms, splurging 20-25 % of squad cost on hiring one resource is principally dodgy. Ten years of IPL shows this doesn’t make economic sense because returns on high cost assets are low. This season, retained Indian players ( Axar Patel at Kings, Sarfaraz Khan at RCB ) are not sure of making the playing 11, nor has Jaydev Unadkat delivered anything spectacular.

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Punjab mentor Sehwag defended his expensive Indian players saying they add star power, and he is happy if they help win a few games. Perhaps that should be the final word: If plenty of money is swirling around in the IPL, why grudge top talent a few extra crore.

(The views expressed are personal)

First Published: May 03, 2018 10:01 IST