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Indian Penny-wise League
A hint of restraint in Round One

Yuvraj Singh

Feb. 12: Sparks did fly and the price for Yuvraj Singh did shoot up but the cash cannon did not boom as loud as it did in the head-spinning days three years ago.

The first round of the IPL auction today clocked a record price for an individual with Bangalore scooping up Yuvraj for Rs 14 crore. The previous auction record was held by Kolkata Knight Riders’ Gautam Gambhir at Rs 10.8 crore.

The spectacular show by Yuvraj was made poignant by his battle against cancer and sent an inspiring message at a time the IPL is badly in need of some redeeming features.

But in terms of dollars — the currency on which the previous two big auctions were conducted — Yuvraj’s $2.25 million price is a shade below the $2.40 million commanded by Gambhir in 2011.

At one point, it had appeared that the bid for Yuvraj would end at Rs 10 crore but KKR was allowed to bid again and Bangalore eventually won the bid at Rs 14 crore. Bangalore has lodged a protest.

Besides, an analysis of the prices the Top 10 earners fetched in the three big auctions till now suggests a sharper tapering trend after the initial burst.

The Top 10 together earned Rs 74 crore ($12 million at current exchange rates) — less than the Rs 81 crore ($18 million at then exchange rates) in 2011 when IPL was seen as a golden, not goose, but elephant. Today’s figures were still ahead of that of 2008 but IPL was the great unknown when the first auction was held.

But the figures on the first day when capped players were auctioned in Bangalore cannot be seen as clinching evidence that the IPL magic is waning — an irresistible conclusion against the backdrop of scandals.

First, the Indian economy was celebrating one of its best years ever in 2010-11 when the second big auction took place. The economic growth then was a pride-pumping 9.3 per cent — far above the 4.9 per cent that is projected for this year.

Considering that the economic growth has almost halved in the intervening years, the amounts quoted on the first day cannot be seen as loose change.

Second, the IPL bidders’ pool has shrunk this time from 10 to eight with the exits of Pune and Kochi. Which means a larger school of cricketing fish is available in a narrower pond.

The pond now has 514 players, including 295 uncapped players (those who have not played for the country) as against 350 players (all capped) in 2011. Oversupply will have some impact on the prices the players will command.

Third, the uncapped players are being auctioned for the first time tomorrow. Several teams have kept back substantial amounts for fleet-footed younger players who may make a difference in action-packed short-burst sessions.

Besides, the uncertainty over the venue because of the general election also may have prompted some to hold back a bit.

Kings XI Punjab has kept back as much as Rs 14.20 crore and Rajasthan Royals Rs 12.10 crore. Calcutta has retained Rs 9 crore, making die-hard fans who were disappointed with the team’s lacklustre show today hope that it has hidden some ace up its sleeve for tomorrow.

Former captain Rahul Dravid said: “The two lots which come up for auction tomorrow morning would be crucial because you have a lot of uncapped Indian players there and everybody seems to be waiting for that.”

Dravid said all the franchises had learnt with time and IPL 7 would witness smaller squads with impact players in all the teams.

What all these factors seem to suggest is that some suitors of the golden goose may be showing maturity — something that does not go well with the naughty image of the IPL.

On the downside, the fact remains that less money was spent at the top though more was available. Each team now can spend as much as Rs 60 crore (minus the prices of the retained players who fall in a range of Rs 4 crore to Rs 12.5 crore). In 2011, each team could spend only Rs 36 crore.

In Bangalore, at least one owner conceded that the spot-fixing scandal has dented the IPL brand. “Obviously, there is a dent in Brand IPL,” Ness Wadia of Kings XI Punjab said.

A moral judgement came from unlikely quarters. “This World is a very very selfish place, have lost faith in people,” tweeted Murali Kartik who was not picked today but his surname namesake Dinesh Karthik became the runner-up behind Yuvraj at Rs 12.5 crore.

Commentator Gautam Bhimani tweeted a balm for the bruised Murali, who had been bought by Pune in 2011 for Rs 1.8 crore: “Wait for round two. The logic is bizarre. Someone will wake up to true value.”

THE TOP TEN METER OVER THE YEARS

THE MOMENTS

Sold? Not yet:The paddle goes up at Rs 10 crore and Vijay Mallya thinks he has already landed Yuvraj. The hammer comes down and auctioneer Richard Madley announces: “Sold to Bangalore.” Jeet Banerjee of Kolkata Knight Riders protests that he had his paddle up but it was ignored. The auctioneer says it wasn’t high enough to be visible but, after a few moments of confusion, decides to continue the bid. KKR gives up at Rs 13 crore and Mallya snaps up the all-rounder for Rs 14 crore. A complaint from Bangalore is pending

Phew!: The Knight Riders have already failed in their last three consecutive bids for Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Ravi Rampaul. They go a fourth time and bid aggressively for pacer Umesh Yadav. At Rs 2.6 crore, down goes the hammer. The KKR table breathes a collective sigh of relief. But the auctioneer is interrupted as Ravi Shastri walks up to him and murmurs into his ear. Delhi’s Right to Match option remains. If Delhi raises its paddle, Yadav goes to Delhi and KKR loses its
fourth bid as well. After a quick round of consultation, Delhi decides not to claim the bowler

Dravid vs Delhi: Australian pacer Nathan Coulter-Nile may not be a household name but Rahul Dravid raises the paddle for Rajasthan Royals. Delhi joins in. The two fight it out from Rs 1 crore to Rs 2.2 crore. Just as the hammer goes down, Dravid protests that he had matched the bid. Madley is caught in a fix. In true cricketing style, he asks Dravid if he had his paddle raised. When Dravid says “yes”, Madley responds: “Fine, I will go with your word.” He opens the bid once again. Dravid goes up to Rs 4 crore but gives up when Delhi bids Rs 4.25 crore.