The Indian Premier League dislodged the Cricket World Cup from the headlines, even if only for a day, as the auctions held on Monday threw up some startling buys and rejects.
One may say that unpredictability has been the flavour of IPL auctions ever since the first bid was made before the first season in early 2008. Bids tend to go haywire and calculations topsy-turvy. Even so, a record Rs16 crore paid by Delhi Daredevils for Yuvraj Singh, rejected by the national selectors for the ongoing World Cup, was sensational stuff.
"A team of the unsold players could give a run for their money to an all-inclusive IPL XI."
For good measure another India reject Dinesh Karthik got Rs10.5 crore. Though of different skill sets, he replaces Yuvraj in the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad, though whether such a high price was justified for him (and Yuvraj) is the staple of a raging debate and discussion.
There were more surprises. Kevin Pietersen, dumped by England but highly favoured by IPL franchises in the past, would have got a rude jolt at how his worth has been reassessed. True, he got his base price of Rs2 crore, but not a paisa more from Sunrisers Hyderabad, who kind of saved him from going unsold after Delhi had off-loaded him.
The plight of some other major players was worse. Hashim Amla, offering himself for the tournament for the first time, found no buyers. Neither did Ross Taylor, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Kevin O'Brien (among several overseas and Indian players) who on that day was playing a major role in Ireland beating the West Indies in the World Cup.
Incidentally, Amla is currently ranked no.2 by the ICC in ODIs and Sangakkara no.4 currently. Both have been in outstanding form in the past 12-15 months, and it seemed that there would be a clamour for their services. Astonishingly, they were ignored. In fact, a team of the unsold players could give a run for their money to an all-inclusive IPL XI.
What explains this? One school of thought says it has to do with the base price. Most players keep a base price which is so high (Rs2 crore for Amla) that it stymies any interest. The trick is to get bidders engaged, then reap the rewards.
Deals for players like Praveen Kumar (base price Rs50 lakh, sold for Rs2.2 crore and Zaheer Khan with a base price of Rs1 crore, sold for Rs4 crore), gives some idea of buyer psychology. In this respect, overseas players suffered the most.
The best overseas buy was Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who went for Rs7.5 crore to Delhi. The next best was young New Zealand left-arm fast bowler Trent Boult, who fetched Rs3.8 crore from Hyderabad. Aaron Finch was won over by Mumbai for Rs3.2 crore, but none of the others except Pietersen touched Rs 2 crore.
Indeed, there were several 'steal' purchases. Hyderabad got Kane Williamson, rated along with Virat Kohli as the best young batsman in the world, for just Rs 60 lakh. Even Eoin Morgan, current England captain and rated as among the best T20 players in the world could not command more than Rs1.5 crore.
Compare that to Rs2.56 crore paid for rookie Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer or Rs2.40 for K C Cariappa, a young leg-spinner from Bangalore whom not many from outside his city had even heard about, and it highlights the difficulty in understanding the logic behind several purchases.
But there is some logic, not all of it vested in cricketing ability. Being an Indian player is obviously an advantage because there is no extraneous threat. It is not that the player may not be available for the full season, or may fall foul with his Board or, as happened with Pakistan players in the past, a political issue.
The cricketing aspects of a player matters, make no mistake. It's not all madness and no method. All buyers are looking at getting the right combination keeping in mind home pitches, apart from of course, finding solo match-winners.
As V.V.S. Laxman, consultant and mentor with the Hyderabad franchise explained, the high price commanded by Yuvraj Singh was because he can win matches with bat and ball. There are very few like him around. If this still does not adequately explain why Yuvraj should be paid Rs 16 crore, let's not forget the marketability of a player which draws in sponsors and can help put a franchise in the black. The IPL, all told, is a commercial venture and the balance sheet is of utmost importance.
The challenge is in getting the calculations - cricketing and financial - right. For instance, Bangalore played a bluff by releasing Yuvraj who they had purchased for Rs14 crore, hoping to buy him back cheaper. It boomeranged, because Delhi calculated he was worth Rs16 crore!
To dwell a bit on Yuvraj, what this auction showed is how highly he is rated at least in the T20 format. Even if he has lost his place in the national team in other formats, this bid is a strong signal to everybody that his prowess is not being rebuffed.
It was surprising therefore that Yuvraj's father Yograj should have shot his mouth off about his non-selection for the World Cup with churlish aspersions cast on Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
If only the fact that Yuvraj got Rs 16 crore should ensure a place in the Indian team, then Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, Iyer and Cariappa - all of whom are being paid more than several players currently in Australia - should demand to be in the World Cup!
Obviously Yograj said what he did in a fit of emotion and it was good to see Yuvraj take to Twitter swiftly and put things in perspective by saying that he has always enjoyed playing with Dhoni and looks forward to being with him in the future too.
The T20 World Cup is not far away and if Yuvraj can justify the handsome purse he has received in the IPL auction and come up with sterling performances this season, the joy will not be restricted to only Delhi Daredevils.