Just imagine the mayhem had M.S. Dhoni been preferred to a younger peer in the national side and the reason was non-performance and a lack of appeal. The barrage of conspiracy theories would have burst through the ceiling. For such is his cult that Dhoni — Captain Cool, the finisher without parallel — is entitled to live and leave on his own terms. Not for him, the banal dishonour of being stripped of his position, or to use the sporting euphemism, “asked to step down”.
But after just one forgettable season in the Indian Premier League for newbies Rising Pune Supergiants, Dhoni was asked to hand over the reins to Steve Smith. There were something unusually pragmatic about the way his fans handled the news. Maybe, the newest IPL franchisee hadn’t forged an emotional connect with the audience. Hence, the piece of news was treated, well, like a piece of news. Read it and get on with life.
The prudence (or its absence) of preferring someone like Steve Smith over M.S. Dhoni can be dissected, vis-a-vis age, experience, pedigree or familiarity to a system. Or all those pedantic cricketing tropes by which cricketers are compared and condemned. But in the IPL, or for that matter in any franchise-based league, there exists a larger market dynamic that governs their planning, strategies, and even whims. So perhaps, with just one more year of assured longevity, the Pune franchise wanted to try out a few things to make an impression. They didn’t give Dhoni the gift of time because they didn’t possess it themselves. Hence, sacking Dhoni isn’t a definitive sign of his waning leadership skills and shouldn’t be perceived strictly through the prism of sport.
While the ambition of non-franchise leagues, franchise leagues and national teams is the same — to accumulate silverware — their metrics and methods are different, the forces at work diverse. Franchise-leagues are as much market-driven as they are ambition-fuelled. This is best reflected in the auctions, which measures a player’s value and utility — where every player has a price tag.
The overriding principle of any auction is free market economics — the demand-supply equation. It manifests everywhere, be it the bazaars or shopping complexes. You go with a list of essentials to buy, which you buy irrespective of the price. You might also fetch goods that you think could be useful and some you might buy out of sheer indulgence. It’s not always meritocracy that matters.
A skewed demand-supply equation explains Ben Stokes’s hefty Rs 14.5 crore purchase, for genuine all-rounders are a rare commodity — the likes of Botham, Hadlee, Kapil or Imran aren’t bountiful. The same theory explains the overwhelming demand for out-and-out pacers, or for those with unusual skill-sets that are in high demand in the shortest form. That explains Royal Challengers Bangalore’s urgency to shell out Rs 14.5 crore for the Tyler Mills, which, when you consider that he was the second-most expensive player in Monday’s auction, is certainly over-priced. But Bangalore needed him, more so after Mitchell Starc’s decision to abstain from this season.
Some other influential variables are the budget (a franchise’s overall purse as well as the base price of a player), availability of a player throughout the season (due to national commitments), injury background, consistency and current form. Unlike national teams, IPL teams don’t invest long-term or go by mere talent (words like nurture and mould strike hollow notes).
So Pakistan-born South African leg-spinner, Imran Tahir, the number one spinner in the shorter forms, at least according to the ICC, going unsold doesn’t imply that he’s worthless. He went unsold because he might leave mid-way through the league, as England is touring South Africa in late May.
Likewise, there were no bidders for Ishant Sharma, while someone as untested as T. Natarajan was scooped up for Rs 3 crore, a crore more than Sharma’s base price. Naratajan’s future is speculative, but who knows, he could turn out to be an inspired choice.
There are also random picks, a few whimsical buys, some for the sake of buying and some out of indulgence. But the basis of it, of course, is the simple supply-demand code.