The IPL Auction: Slaves, Cows, Goats, Cricketers perhaps?

Written by  //  January 11, 2011  //  Sport  //  16 Comments

Auctions continue to be the flavour of the season in India this winter. If the lack of one had the country up in arms against A Raja and his network of friends in-charge of the 2G spectrum allocation, the taking place of another over the last weekend in Bangalore left thousands of genuine cricket-lovers in India and around the world, distraught at the strange turn of events which unfolded. Cricketers, old and young, many my childhood heroes were represented by equally sized balls to be picked out at random. Given that the task involved picking out balls, the BCCI appropriately chose Rajiv Shukla for the job, whose physical similarity with one appealed to the BCCI as a determinative factor in giving him this onerous task (and you thought the BCCI didn’t have brains?). Once a ball was picked out, prospective owners were shown other vital stats of the cricketers on screen, following which Richard, the auctioneer, mad-ley scrambled to invite bids and sent the cricketers’ balls on their way to the table of the highest bidder at the grand Ball-Room of the ITC Gardenia.  Balls A,B,C to Pune. Balls D,E,F to Kochi. Balls to Kolkata- you get the point.

Apart from this mildly disconcerting method devised to send cricketers to their respective franchises, two issues stood out for me in this auction. First, the idea of the auction itself as an allocative mechanism for supremely talented individuals; and second, the constant refrain of how the auction represented ‘Corporate India’ at work. The lack of reflection regarding the former, and the slogan-esque appeal of the latter leading to its blind and unthinking regurgitation in large sections of the print and television media disturbed me greatly. Hence this post.

The last time I heard of human beings being auctioned was in a legal history class when we were discussing the history of slavery in 18th Century America. Slaves, fresh off boats either from Africa or the West Indies would be presented at an open market. Two systems were followed: ‘slaves to the highest bidder’ where after every prospective owner inspected a slave and his ability to work, he would be open for bidding and would be sent to those who paid the most to the organiser of the auction or ‘grab and go’ where the organiser would give a ticket to everyone who paid a fixed sum and then allow a mad rush to ensue to pick up the slaves.

Both varieties are on full display in team selections for IPL IV. If the weekend auction was a shameless display of ‘cricketers to the highest bidder’ variant, Siddharth Mallya’s flying visit to Baroda for the Ranji Trophy Final today, followed by a mad scramble by other IPL teams to reach the same venue to grab uncapped cricketers is evidence of the latter. Let us, the cricket-loving audience of India, the supposed backbone of the IPL, ask ourselves a few questions in all honesty: Is this how we want our cricketers to be treated? Is this what we want Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, Ian Bell and Mark Boucher to be put through for wanting to play cricket in India? Do we really want the pride of our childhood icons- Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who have regaled us with their sublime batting for the last decade and a half- to rest at the mercy of a rabble of industrialists and film stars and their whimsical choices of whether or not to shell out some of their moolah? And what about Mohammad Kaif, whose every hit at the Natwest Trophy Final in England in 2003, we cheered till our throats ran dry? How can we tolerate three flippant, ignorant and heartless businessmen and women laugh at his expense while bidding for him with the small change left in their pockets?

Some have been quick to attribute this attitude to the free market and the heartlessness of capitalism. Pause for a moment and consider the parallels in the ultra-capitalistic West. In European football, whose collective worth worldwide would make the IPL’s riches look niggardly, though players can be traded by clubs, every player has the right to refuse to agree personal terms unless he is happy with his prospective buyers; further, if the player is out of contract, which most IPL cricketers were when the auction came around, the player can ask for a free transfer, again a method which protects his sovereignty over his existence and ensures that the respect that is due to a competitive athlete is in no way eroded. In the four classic American sports, basketball, American football, baseball and ice-hockey, the leagues which inspired Lalit Modi, the ex-Commissioner (an American term for administrator of the league), not a single player is subject to a humiliating auction process. Existing players can be transferred by their franchises (again, American English for team) with their consent, and new players are picked by a complex draft process where the weakest teams are given a preferential selection in an attempt to level the playing field. That’s why LeBron James goes to the Cleveland Cavs straight out of college; all the money in the world cannot take him to the Los Angeles Lakers. The disturbing nature of the IPL auction does not flow from any inherent flaw with capitalism, it flows instead from how a country respects its sportsmen and women. And if cricketers thought they had it good, in comparison to the lot of track and field athletes, footballers and boxers in India, the IPL auction just treated them like cows and goats at a village bazaar.

And if the IPL bazaar is representative of the cold yet calculating nature of the thinking of ‘Corporate India’, as large sections of the media believe it is, and what several commentators posit as a feeble justification, then I shudder to think where India will be three decades hence when with the rising clout of India Inc, thinking of this nature will most certainly be predominant in public life, far beyond the confines of club cricket. But let’s for a moment deconstruct this so-called behemoth-esque ‘logic of corporate India’. On closer scrutiny, one finds this all-pervasive logic touted by the media as sweeping across the board, which saw the likes of Ganguly, Gayle and Lara go unsold, riddled with inconsistencies, so much so, that the attribution of such a justification for the auction seems misplaced altogether. The media would have us believe that the franchises want young players—is that why they spent the big bucks on 35 year-old Scott Styris, 36 year-old Brad Hodge and 29-year old Davy Jacobs, certainly no greats of the world game? Also, that they want people who have established T20 records- Ishant Sharma, Manoj Tiwari and Brett Lee fit that bill or am I looking at the wrong records? I could go on and on…But I’ll end with one stat which I think captures it best- Ravindra Jadeja, going for $950,000 when his base price was $100,000. As a very knowledgeable cricket-loving friend of mine quipped, “wouldn’t even take him on a buy one get one free offer”. QED.

It’s tempting to say at junctures such as these that cricket is the biggest loser. But there is a bigger loser this time. Us; as we imagine the majestic cover drives of Ganguly, the trademark back and across shuffles of Lara and the swashbuckling hoiks of Gayle and we rue on what we might have seen.  And compare it to what we did see- a bunch of upstarts having a ball. Literally.

16 Comments on "The IPL Auction: Slaves, Cows, Goats, Cricketers perhaps?"

  1. Alok January 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm ·

    Unlike slaves, the cricketers here actually get the money, as opposed to their owners, so I haven’t exactly tapped into my limited sympathy reservoir for Ganguly, Lara et al.

    Let’s face it, our icons and heroes *want* the money, and if they really really felt humiliated then that is something they should have thought about before entering this auction (something which probably occurred to Anil Kumble when he withdrew). Unlike slaves they entered into this auction freely and of their own accord, so yeah, I don’t feel much sympathy for the rejected.

    It’s not as if the players are starving performers picked up off the streets for rich men’s entertainment. They are all established and fairly successful in their field, and they all wanted to cash on some obviously easy money that corporate India is throwing their way. It is just that some of them had a higher sense of their own worth than those (who they thought would be) paying them.

    As for me, what little interest I might have had in the fortunes of any team has been sucked out of the IPL. None of the teams are recognizable any more, and as far as I am concerned, the IPL is India’s richest playing rich men’s fantasy cricket and trying to peddle beer and cement to the rest of us at the same time.

  2. Arghya January 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm ·

    Alok, well distinguished between the position of slaves then and cricketers now but that really is beside the point.

    You make some very contestable assumptions that reputed cricketers want to play in the IPL because they want money. While I know that that is not true for Ganguly personally, the IPL is obviously an opportunity to do what they love most- play cricket. And yes, if there is money involved then certainly they are no saints to reject it. And it’s not just about players rejected, it’s about players undervalued, and the entire idea of players being bought and sold.

    And it’s not that these players who were unsold had a ‘higher’ sense of their own worth. From the majority of what is being written and said in reaction, most of the country feels the same way too. Except the owners, their lackeys and some apologists.

    Perhaps the fact that you can’t recognise any team may perhaps hold the key to why this is happening and why the cricketers you don’t feel any sympathy for have been rejected and others have clearly been devalued- the IPL is not about cricket any more.

  3. Ashok Kumar Samajpati January 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm ·

    I must say i was ekdum aghast when i heard about sourav ganguly who’s also known as the ‘gourav of bengal’ not being sold…i mean come on…how many matches have we won at the blade of his bat? how many of our collective imaginations have been set abalze when he galloped down the pitch as if astride a noble steed diving into battle as he walloped bowlers of all shades and sizes over the stadium???my pulse still quickens when i think of the day he took of his shirt at lords and flung it around with gay abandon!! too much i say….and he, the prince of all our collective hurts..i mean hearts is being thus disrespected…for whom the bells of victoria memorial toll will now toil as a coach/manager/cheerleader for that obnoxious, despicable excuse for an actor shahrukh khan?? i cannot stand for this…eta to cholbe na…in fact i have decided to start a campaign in our very own kolkata…since these hurt..erm heartless mercenaries from the corporate world who’re sucking the lifeblood out of our economy like a bhadralok sucking the syrup from a rosogolla enjoy balls so much i will send them rosogollas everyday….but wait a minute..i will not send them sweet rosogollas but bitter one everyday till they succumb to our demands and make our dada the head of IPL worldwide…hahahahahaha…that will teach them to mess with our darling boy…they will then know the bitter taste of their own medicine!

  4. Nirav January 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm ·

    Firstly I really liked your article. I share most of your views, including the culture of corporates in our country. We are definitely becoming an aristocratic society which has minimal values.

    However I have no sympathy for ganguly or lara. And I dont buy the point of love for cricket.For if ganguly has love of cricket he can do lot of things like cricket administration, coaching and not tv shows like Dadagiri…

    It is purely love of money.I understand your sympathy as they were our childhood hero’s .But one cannot simply survive on past achievements.

    Secondly IPL is not against cricket.It is an evolution of cricket, for the youngsters and of the youngster. There are other formats like test cricket for oldies , purist to enjoy .

    This is change buddy.Any one can criticizes it . Few can truely accept it

  5. Dhananjaya January 12, 2011 at 6:56 am ·

    Interesting post, Arghya. Good comparison with the American leagues, which is what the IPL seems to be inspired by. Just a small point – players in the American leagues don’t have complete autonomy and are open to being traded without their consent the moment they sign a contract with a franchise. The drafting process is of course, as you pointed out, a far better and fairer system of inducting new players into the league.

    I’m not a fan of T2o cricket in the first place so I don’t have much time for the IPL but I do think it should evolve a better structure for itself for it to become interesting. Only my opinion of course. Given its roaring success, that’s hardly going to matter.

  6. Anisha January 12, 2011 at 8:06 am ·

    Hey Arghya, thanks for the article. I started to respond to you and Alok and then my comment quickly became a rant that got so long that I’m going to have to post it separately. Which I will do soon.

  7. Anisha January 12, 2011 at 9:08 am ·

    And here we go. My response to Arghya’s post: http://www.criticaltwenties.in/sport/the-ipl-auction-a-response

  8. Suhrith January 13, 2011 at 3:56 pm ·

    Arghya,

    Excellent post. I do, though, tend to agree with Alok and Anisha and I feel little sympathy for the likes of Ganguly and Lara, as much as I admired them as cricketers. That said, I think the most distressing and most striking aspect of the frenzy is not the auction itself but the utter lack of attention accorded to the ongoing Ranji Trophy Finals between Rajasthan and Baroda.

    You touch upon Siddharth Mallya’s visit to the Finals to pick uncapped players, which evoked similar acts from other team owners, but the fact that the only attention given to the Finals is in the context of the IPL auction, it must be said, is highly disconcerting. The Ranji is India’s premier domestic competition and rightfully should remain the path to an Indian test cap for aspiring youngsters, as well as forgotten stars looking to make a return to the country’s side. It would be worrying if youngsters aim for huge IPL contracts as opposed to what was once the ultimate accolade – the Indian test cap – although I suspect this may already be the case.

    Take Irfan Pathan, for instance. Once a promising test cricketer, who has gone astray in the last couple of years. He says he retains an ambition to regain a place in the Indian test team, but having earned an enormous IPL contract, I doubt if he’ll spend any time looking to get back the prodigious swing of his early days. I would imagine he’d rather concentrate on developing cutters, a variety of slower deliveries and slow-bouncers.

    No doubt, a good test match player, in most cases, would be capable of adapting to any format, but when one can spend half the time and sharpen their shorter format skills and earn millions of dollars, I doubt too many young kids would be looking to hone the skills that could, perhaps, earn them a place in the Indian test team. The Ranji has long lost its sheen, and the authorities seem to be giving a diddlysquat about it, something which hardly bodes well for the future of Indian cricket.

  9. Radhika Krishnan, Advocate, Chennai. January 14, 2011 at 1:51 am ·

    Arghya,

    Brilliant post! My view exactly. It is sad to see supremely talented humans being offered for “auction” and worse still remaining “unsold”.

  10. Arghya January 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm ·

    Thank you for the comment Ma’am.

  11. Arghya January 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm ·

    I agree entirely. If the IPL becomes the touchstone for judging talent and the aspirational end of which all young players dream, then we won’t have cricket as we know it any more in India.

    Perhaps symptomatic of our country and the ‘get rich easy’ attitude that seems to be all powerful in this day and age.

  12. Arghya January 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm ·

    Yes Dhananjaya, you’re right. I should have clarified in the first place. I meant- if the players in the NBA (I’m not entirely sure of the position in the other leagues) are free agents, then they can go where they want; if they are under contract then there usually is a mutually consensual termination. If there isn’t there is of course damages for breach.
    Thanks for the correction.

  13. Aditya Shamlal January 19, 2011 at 7:34 am ·

    Arghya,

    Excellent post, and while agreeing with most of your points, what seems to have been lost is the equitable requirement of an auction. The two new franchises basically put it as a condition precedent that a new auction must take place, because if they don’t get a fair shot at the players, it would be next to impossible for them to build a team.

    Having said that, now that a league of ten teams has been confirmed and if, for whatever reason, that does not change for say the next three years, there is no plausible reason to have yet another re-auction in 2014.

  14. Vuthy boardshort April 5, 2014 at 4:43 am ·

    It’s hard to come by educated people for this topic, but
    you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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