IPL 2019: Varun Chakravarthy’s Rs 8.4 Crore valuation shows it’s time to ditch the auction

By: Ashish Magotra

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Imagine this scenario.

Your company decides to hire a rookie; a very talented rookie but a rookie nonetheless and then, they decide to pay him a salary that is almost equivalent to the most promising manager in the company. The rookie will no doubt be delighted with the turn of events but will then need to perform miracles to justify the valuation. At the other end of the spectrum, several other employees in the company might just feel undervalued. The thinking in their case would be simple: what has he done to deserve this and what have, I who has been with the company for longer, not done?

IPl

Now, forget imagining the scenario and turn your thoughts instead to the recent IPL Auction where rookie Tamil Nadu ‘mystery’ spinner Varun Chakravarthy was bought by the Kings XI Punjab for a mind-boggling Rs 8.4 crore – a 42-time increase over his base price for Rs 20 lakhs. The teams usually try and explain such illogical payouts (it has happened before too) by saying that it comes to down to the specific requirements of the team management.
If they are in the market for a good batsman, they might dole out a ‘little’ extra for him. If an Indian bowler is the need of the hour (as it seemed to be in this auction), he might get a healthy bonus. And if the rare ‘mystery’ bowler is in the pack, teams might just break the bank as Kings XI have done.

Out of whack

But the more you think about it, the more one realises that this is just bad commerce. A sportsman’s salary is often a fair reflection of his record, his potential and his value to the marketing side of things. So if the RCB decides to retain Virat Kohli for Rs 17 crore, then it makes sense. He will help them attract sponsors, score runs, lead the team and ensure that media coverage of the team will be good as well. His experience, his stature in the world game and the fact that he is India skipper too add to his value.

Similarly, one of the best T20 batsmen in the world AB de Villiers was retained by RCB for Rs. 11 crore. One again, it makes sense. The South African has match-winning potential and he makes people want to watch him.

Now, in this mix, you suddenly have Chakravarty getting Rs 8.4 crore. He has played one first-class match – averaging 105 with the ball. He impressed in the TNPL, a league restricted to just one state. He has also played nine List A matches for Tamil Nadu – where he averaged 16.68 for his 22 wickets. An unknown entity; a mystery and we are not just talking about his bowling here. Honour the self-made athlete but not this.

Nothing against a young cricketer making a career out of IPL, but the valuations for uncapped players are getting ridiculous now.

In sport all over the world, sportspersons start earning the big bucks only after they have established that they can perform at the highest level. Would a rookie Lionel Messi earn as much as he is earning now? Was LeBron James salary out of college be anything close to what it is now? Do India cricketers get a A+ contract immediately after they start playing cricket for the country?

Enough with the auction

So why does the auction completely smash that logic? In the long run, such player valuations will not only hurt the players but also the league. It is great to see young players make a career or get picked by a side but the IPL has evolved to a point where the auction is superfluous to its needs.

Most of the major players around the world are already employed in IPL teams. If they aren’t, the teams can approach players directly during the transfer market and that will prevent this demeaning cattle parade, as the New Zealand Cricket Players Association (NZCPA) had called it earlier this year.

“I think the whole system is archaic and deeply humiliating for the players, who are paraded like cattle for all the world to see,” NZCPA chief executive Heath Mills was quoted as saying by New Zealand Herald.

“There’s lot of good things about the Indian Premier League and it’s been great for cricket but I’d like to see it mirror the rest of professional sport in the way they engage athletes. The auction system is wrong – it’s not professional, far from it,” Mills had further added.

No auction, then what?

One simple way away from this mess is adopting a draft system that is similar to the NBA.

NBA rookies’ pay is determined by a salary scale that changes year-over-year based on the percentage by which the league raises teams’ salary caps. So in the last draft, it meant that the No.1 pick would get a base pay of about $6.8 million over the course of his first year in the NBA.
Then, of course, there are performance related bonuses. Teams are allowed to pay first round picks 20 percent more if the players fulfill certain incentives (like playing in offseason drills and workouts).

There is no set salary scale for the 30 players selected in the draft’s second round, but none of them will make less than the league minimum salary (over $560,000) if they sign with a team. The most important thing though is that rookie contracts are guaranteed for the first two years of a player’s career, with teams then having the option to extend the contracts in the third and fourth years as the player’s salary increases exponentially each year. (More in this link)

It gives them job security and time to find their feet in a league where the standard may be way higher than anything they may have experienced before. One player who comes to mind instantly is KC Cariappa (who was picked up for Rs 2.4 crore by KKR in the 2015 auction despite never having played first-class cricket). He never found his feet at the level, played a total of 10 matches and went unsold this year. He, too, was a mystery spinner.

This year, we have already witnessed teams which already have a full roster focussing on young, uncapped local talent and the draft would only be an extension of that idea. The good players can also look at the transfer window to get better value for their talent but the younger players, more than anything else, want the chance to get better and experience playing against the best in the business.

It will also ensure that scouting processes of the teams get better and get rid of anomalies where a player like Chakravarthy gets paid almost as much as de Villiers. In simple parlance, you’ve got to earn the right to get paid as much as the big stars. It is a rite of passage and no shortcut or ill-advised IPL owner should change that.

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