The colour of money …

October 14, 2007 – About 4 months ago – This was Andrew Symonds.

The feeling has come from the carry-on that surrounded India’s Twenty20 World Cup win. When we got here, it was just everywhere.

Our blokes thought it was over the top. Some of the things their players have been given and the way they are treated, it’s like they are rock stars and princes.

The Indian government gave them a heap of money. Yuvraj Singh got a Porsche. Blokes are getting houses and blocks of land.

Two days before our first game, the Indian players didn’t train because their guys were shooting commercials.

It’s been irritating because it’s been in our face. We see them on television every day.

PLAYING over here is so hostile. This is my fifth time here and the key is you can’t let the language barrier and the conditions get on top of you. The day-to-day stuff can wear you down and cricket can suddenly become a chore.

A few weeks before that, his views on Twenty20 :

It’s a frustrating game because you can be beaten by the lesser sides and they have to be good for a shorter period of time to beat you.

At least in one-day cricket you get the chance to work your way back into the game if you get into trouble, the same as in Test cricket over a much longer period

There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?”
Kerry Packer’s words to the Australian Cricket Board in 1976 rang in my memory bank again yesterday.

And a few other words did too. Like – Lucky Bastard !

But then one needs to think and put this in perspective. One thing that the markets have taught me is this. They may be a lot of things – irrational , over-exuberant, over the top and even absurd – but they are never wrong. Because they exist and money guides them there. It may not be things you like, but the market is the one that shapes the reality that we must adjust to.

And yesterday, the new vision that is the Indian Premier League took a big step towards becoming a reality that we must soon accept. Clearly though, thats no easy task. For like is the case with accepting any new paradigm, there are two schools of thought. One that is willing to give it a chance (often because there are things in it in their favour) and the other bunch that crucify themselves between regret of the past and fear of the future.

The first lot is easy. It includes the money spinning BCCI, the channels that have bid for telecast rights, the owners of the franchises and most of all the professional sportsmen who will get a far larger pay cheque than they usually do and an access to the still throbbing Indian consumer market. Take the case of Andrew Symonds for instance. A few weeks after the diatribe against the crowds and frenzy in the country and just after the racism charges against Bhajji, he’s been picked as the second most valuable player. The US$1.35 million fee for what is essentially a 44 day tournament (59 matches across 8 teams) is a fantastic reward for a guy who has made some hard choices (England or Australia) and then made his mark. Despite his run-ins with many things Indian, the market has paid a price for his performance (including that man-of-the-series in October). Its probably hardly a coincidence that he’s announced hours after his bid was finalised that he would not tour Pakistan (and hence accept a pro-rata fee) even if Cricket Australia finds the security good enough for the team. For someone whose best attribute outside a cricket field was a rhyme 20 years ago at the Alliance Francaise, the offer is probably poetic justice for a career constructed without shortcuts. An opportunity too good to miss.

There are others as well. The Pathan brothers with $1.40 million between them are secure with Irfan’s rediscovery as an all-rounder of merit helping him with a large purse while Yusuf Pathan, with one international game and $ 475,000 (against $400,000 for Ricky Ponting) probably typifies the power of the brand in India.

From the player point of view, is it lopsided ? Sure it is. Yusuf Pathan being paid a bigger fee than VVS Laxman, and between him and Mohd Kaif (not even a ODI contender at the moment in team India) making the Jaipur franchise US$1.15 million lighter is one of many signs that there were teething problems aplenty with the format of an auction. But from here things enter a transfer market two years down the line. And thats when the prices will find their new and probably progressively more correct levels. Thats just the way it is. What it has done though is that its allowed “market forces” into the game. Its a toe-hold but its probably the most important development of all. Players are graded by their respective boards and were graded as they came up for the auction yesterday, but what followed has been an independent assessment of relative merits that has finally been the arbiter. Whether or not its been correct is immaterial, in my opinion. The fact is that given the format and the availability of the players in question, a price has been decided in an open market. Its a big step forward.

As far as the doubters go – and there are many – the most basic root problem is the format of the game itself. Twenty20 skeptics view it as a major corruption of the game. Call it cricket snobbery if you will or simply a case of a classical musician scorning at a rap artist. Where’s the room for strategy and perseverence, say the Test lovers. Why corrupt chess into a game of snakes and ladders, they scream. But why should you not have entertainment every delivery, claim the T20 believers. Why should the ability to score off every delivery and bowl six different deliveries be prized any less, they ask. Any side of the fence you choose, the fact remains that there is a growing new audience for the game. It includes, but is not limited to, people who like reality shows and are willing to go for a three hour game complete with entertainment and sport. Thats the untapped market that the BCCI targets. If they don’t (fat chance), somebody else will.

As far as corruption of the game goes, thats open to debate. The same doubters probably existed when the ODI was born as well. Of course, it does not naturally follow that one can constantly keep abridging the game using that excuse. But its also true that a number of skills which were considered sacrilege produce of the ODI format are now virtually indispensable in Test sides. With that evolution has come a more result-prone Test arena. The number of high quality Tests, the rate of scoring , the crowds at venues are all higher than they were a couple of decades ago.

The other argument that has been put forward has been about the lack of class in yesterday’s proceedings and the contrast against india’s poverty. Greg Baum even goes far as to call the feeling “bilious”. Really ? As opposed to what though? Kerry Packer’s question to the Australian Cricket Board? And this poverty argument is, to use his words, the “usual, tired” one. Why does everyone turn socialist when India displays wealth ? Can we not pay Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and Barrichello a few million because of the poverty in Brazil. Should we just scrap the NBA and the World Series Baseball since the US of A is running the kind of deficits which are crippling world economies ?

The BCCI are taking the cricketer’s pay packet to the next level. And they are taking local talent and youngsters along. And they have promised the ICC that they will not interfere with the (ill conceived) FTP but will request that the IPL be fitted in. In April and May when it interferes with as little as possible. If possible. In any case, national duty takes precedence and cannot be compromised since no cricketer can participate (till 2 years after retirement) without a clearance from their respective Boards.

Of course, a lot remains to be seen and these are early days as far as the success of the tournament and the format goes. But its a beginning. And deserves support.

Time will tell if its just revolutionary, or evolutionary as well.


4 thoughts on “The colour of money …

  1. Couple of observations

    1- People have been talking about the anomaly in the prices fetched at the auction. An auction with a cap of USD 5 MM per team is more a game of chess and calls for ‘game thoery’ practitioners rather than cricketers or film stars. The other factor is the ‘marketability’ of cricketers. Its not a matter of cricketing skills but more of how many franchise shirts will sell. So Indians would surely fetch a higher price relative to other nationalities. Beckham was bought by Real Madrid purely for his commercial value rather than football skills. So Ricky Ponting being ‘disappointed’ with his ‘LOW PRICE’ is natural but not surprising. The market is evolving and as you rightly pointed out, the prices will correct in a couple of years. Only an auction could have thrown up a ‘DREAM TEAM ‘ of WJ/Chanderpaul as openers, RD at No 3, Kallis at No 4.. I am a converted Bengaluru supporter (the accompanying kingfisher makes it easier)

    2. About the ‘poverty’ angle. When will the first world dwellers give up their hypocrisy (never, I suspect). The average annual salary of a Briton compared to what Ronaldo gets every week is comapring Yusuf Pathan to Mcgrath. When a MNC comes to India do they target the poor as their market? They target the rich and the middle class. So even they should be panned for being capitalist. Humne kiya to lafda tumne kiya wo pyaar?

  2. Rahul, Ottayan …

    The more one thinks about it , the more one is curious about the rules and how they evolve partic with ref to the transfer window and new players.

    I’m not even clear yet about what happens befoe the transfer window opens (2 years ? at the end of the second tournament ?). If, for instance a new star shines on the cricket horizon this year , how do they get him on board ? Its somewhat easier if its an Indian from a franchise city – but what happens if its, say an Aussie ?

    Maybe that the transfer / players leaks in terms of rules will get plugged as we go this year itself … I’m assuming (or is that hoping?) ..


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