Peak player power — Hardik Pandya hits IPL auction prices for a six | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Peak player power — Hardik Pandya hits IPL auction prices for a six

ByAmrit Mathur
Nov 28, 2023 07:07 PM IST

Basically, Pandya has not only latched on to a juicy half-volley, found a gap in the field, but taken the player salary game ahead

When the player retention/release names were announced one thought that in IPL many decisions defied reason. But a closer look revealed a smart method – no madness – except in some cases.

File photo of Hardik Pandya(Kunal Patil/HT Photo) PREMIUM
File photo of Hardik Pandya(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

In a way the entire exercise was HR at work where employers off load non-performers while holding on to assets. Teams need to reset, find players to strengthen their squad, fill gaps with replacements – all this within the 100 crore player purse.

The Pandya switch-hit makes sense because Mumbai Indians wanted a multi skill set player (batsman/bowler/captain) and Pandya is the total package, also insurance in case Tim David doesn’t connect near the death. Pandya wants more money, which is okay in a corporate set-up because bright people will move if not rewarded adequately.

While MI and Pandya win big, Gujarat Titans are the losers, having lost their captain who was a prime asset. They are helpless victims because they can’t do much if a guy is firm on exiting. Also, why would GT or anyone else want an unhappy player. Prudence dictates that you mask your disappointment and issue a PR statement – totally insincere – wishing the departing player ‘good luck in future endeavours’.

While Pandya’s move is rational, some retentions/releases seem quite baffling. Kolkata Knight Riders have sacked the entire new-ball attack -- foreign talent (Lockie Fergusson, Tim Southee) and Indian quicks (Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav, Kulwant Khejroliya). It is difficult to figure out how Sam Curran escaped the axe, or the reason Cameron Green changed teams but kept his inflated 18 crore contract. That some big-ticket players (Wanindu Hasaranga, Harshal Patel, Shahrukh Khan, Harry Brook) will be subjected to market correction is not unexpected.

The real story, however, is hidden behind what one sees at first glance. But before that a quick rewind.

In IPL auctions the teams have an upper hand compared to players because they can cut losses by off-loading those not performing and retain a player who was bought cheap at the same low price even if he suddenly becomes big, as in Rinku Singh’s case. The three-year auction buy freezes price and the only way for Rinku to get a better deal is to agree to a trade where the franchise too gets an upside.

Like in Pandya’s case, trades have happened in the past as cash deals or swaps but usually without transfer fees. Were players retained earlier paid beyond their advertised price? Quite likely because IPL rules allow that – retention is subject to negotiations between the player and the franchise. IPL is only a neutral umpire who decides (not the price) what is deducted from the player purse. This gives us an idea about the possible arrangements of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah — the big boys.

Herein lies the problem. IPL is structured as a closed league without promotion/relegation of teams, no up/down or entry/exit. This protects teams – they are guaranteed central revenue (TV, media, sponsorship) with no threat of losing money. For teams it’s win-win even if they lose badly. It is like telling a batsman he won’t be dismissed.

Another fundamental of IPL is that teams are given a level-playing field and have equal resources – a 100 crore player purse. But this advertised equality in IPL is a myth and is conveniently bypassed through retention/negotiation rules, spend on support staff and extra benefits gifted to players. Such expenses are outside the player purse and teams spend more than what’s written in the books.

The transfer fee is one more way of breaching the player purse limit. This allows a rich franchise to pump in extra resources and acquire talent by making offers – as with Pandya – that simply can’t be refused. Put differently, IPL created a noble system, then handed each team useful tools to wreck it.

Basically, Pandya has not only latched on to a juicy half-volley, found a gap in the field, but taken the player salary game ahead. This is the first time a top player has walked out to seek true value for himself, and in doing so changed the auction dynamics and altered the power equation. Till now teams controlled players; now top players will call the shots.

What’s new in this? With precedent set while negotiating future transfers/trade/retentions, star players won’t be bound by the auction price or the player purse. They will factor in the profit of the franchise and their desire and ability to pay. For the big boys (Dhoni, Kohli, Rohit, Shubman Gill, Bumrah, KL Rahul), the auction price will only be a minor statistic and a reference point. A mere starting point in the salary discussion.

Interestingly, instead of crying foul and screaming in protest, teams will adjust to the new reality and bow to player power. Having made serious investments in multiple global leagues to extend the brand and develop loyal fans across the world, they need iconic players with strong following to build their business. In this world view, higher cost to have a Pandya in the dugout is a legit business expense.

So, how will the game play out for the big boys? My guess: Next few years could see a massive surge in player fees, for them it could be Diwali after Diwali. Players will laugh their way to the bank. For this game-changing twist, everyone should step aside and salute Pandya for hitting a spectacular six. 50 crore contracts five years from now? Don’t be surprised.

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