Cricinfo’s Nagraj Gollapudi provides us some insight into what the select cavalcade of rich Indian businessmen are thinking up and thinking of ahead of the next edition of cricket’s most lucrative league and tournament. Based on this article and other tidbits that have been revealed about IPL 7 so far, here are seven questions I hope the league and ownership groups are thinking about so as to ensure a competitive and exciting season of T-20 cricket.
1: Where is IPL 7 going to be held?
Short answer: Nobody knows.
Long answer: I don’t really understand why games held in established cricket grounds in metropolitan cities for three hours a day are so gravely affected by the prospect of general elections around the same time. Cricket matches happen in conjunction with extreme weather, local festivals and in the immediate aftermath of war and conflict. It is unclear to me why the very rich owners of IPL teams don’t partner with the local governments of the cities they represent and ensure game day logistics and travel arrangements are well set for eight evenings in the year.
The truth though is that the powerful and rich owners themselves seem resigned to moving IPL 7 outside of India if it coincides (like it mostly will) with the 2014 general elections. If so, I hope the tourney is moved to cities and grounds which will provide good crowds and semblances of bias towards certain teams and players. I hope Sri Lankan and Bangladesh cities are not chosen by default. Ideally, even an abridged tournament with games at the 8 cities that make up the IPL will be a better watch for viewers and a better product for fans everywhere than a tournament that is moved out of India. I hope the owners think long and hard about this.
2: When will the venues for IPL 7 be decided?
Short answer: Nobody knows.
Long Answer: Teams are about to invest Rs 600 million into resources hoping to win IPL 7. I for one hope that they are able to put their rosters together after the venue for the season is decided. For example, the Royal Challengers Bangalore surely care if games are going to be held in their home ground that has proven to be the most batsman-friendly of all the venues before choosing to invest in either AB De Villiers or even Chris Gayle. If their home games for season 7 were moved to Dambulla or Headingley, do they really pay Rs 125 million for Gayle?
The BCCI is notorious for making things up on the fly and I hope the owners insist on closing on the venue ahead of the auction.
3: Are the proposed new retention rules better than the rules set prior to IPL 4?
Short Answer: Depends.
Long Answer: If your definition of better is with respect to the ease of retaining essential members of the current squads, then the answer is YES. With up to eight spots open for retention and with five of those eight spots having cost certainty, retaining players is far easier than it was going in to IPL 4. If your favorite team declines to retain a player, they truly really don’t want him. Because the way the proposed system is setup, a team has enough flexibility if they really want someone.
However if your definition of better is with respect to parity, the answer is NO. If the teams with greater revenue and clout (Mumbai, Chennai) can now retain more of the players from their very successful rosters of the past three years, it means there is lesser talent available for the underdog franchises. So while owners of the Kings XI Punjab, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals might think the new rules give them the ability to retain and carry over solid chemistry, they are reducing their chances to poach the big guns. I will get to other reasons this proposed retention system kills parity, with a deeper dive while answering questions 4 and 5.
4: What are the loopholes in the rule that proposes that up to five players can be retained?
Short answer: Kills flexibility in roster building.
Long answer: The proposed rules have blanket hard-coded salaries for the five players a team can retain from its IPL 6 roster. For the first player that a team retains, the team is likely to lose Rs 125 million from the Rs 600 million salary cap for IPL 7. This is also the amount paid to the first retained player. Similarly the cost of retaining players 2-5 is likely to be baked in to the system, according to the Cricinfo article referenced earlier.
I can see the merits in this approach but I am not sure owners have thought this through well. This approach absolutely kills flexibility and any ‘Moneyball’ approach that an intrepid team might want to pursue. A team that may want to build off 3-5 middle class players (for lack of a better term) is unable to do so and has to devote 25% of its salary cap to one member who would be the franchise player. This falls right in the wheelhouse of the established superpowers and makes it harder for a Kolkata, Punjab or Rajasthan to break through using a different approach. The biggest gainers from this setup will likely be David Miller and Gautam Gambhir who may end up being franchise players worth way more than they would be in the open market.
My recommendation to owners would be to give franchises the option to retain 5 players at five different salary levels and blank unfilled intermediate slots. For example, the Sunrisers today if they chose to retain Shikhar Dhawan and Thisara Perera would pay Rs 125 million for Dhawan and Rs 95 million for Thisara. However they should be allowed to retain Shikhar Dhawan at Rs 125 million but Thisara Perera at the fourth retention slot of Rs 50 million rather at the more expensive second retention slot. They should be allowed to keep the second and third slots blank if they value players differently. Some protection for the players’ incomes can be inserted with the ‘right-to-match’ rule extended to all players. The rule is talked about in detail in the Cricinfo piece referred to above.
5: What are the loopholes in the ‘right to match’ rule?
Short answer: Depends.
Long answer: The proposed rule indicates that teams can raise a ‘right to match’ card for up to three players during the IPL 7 auction. It is unclear to me at what point in the auction the team raises these cards. Do they wait for the seven other teams to bid up the player before revealing their card or do they announce ahead of time to the council or auctioneer, who the players they choose to use these cards on are? Also, why leave this at 3 players? Why not extend this approach to every player playing in the league so as to make it the truest free market of them all?
This rule has a lot of promise if designed and implemented correctly. I wait eagerly on what the owners conjure up.
6: What new steps have been taken to prevent betting, match-fixing and corruption?
Short answer: Nothing.
Long answer: Nothing. The article and IPL announcements have been hazy about specifics that are being put in place to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing and disturbing scandals of years past. Here’s hoping there are steps that make a difference, soon.
7: Why is there no penalty to a team if it chooses to let go of players between IPL 7 and IPL 8 or between IPL 8 and IPL 9?
Short answer: Because the owners are smart and don’t want to be held accountable for mistakes.
Long answer: While wholesale auctions only take place every three years, teams can carte blanche their way out of bad decisions or player injuries by dropping a player and recouping all of the money owed to him as part of the available salary cap for the ensuing season. Smart owners who want to gain an edge should propose some sort of penalty (for e.g. only 50% of salary relief that is gained by the release of a player should be available for the team to use in the ensuing auction) rather than the status quo that does not reward those teams that do a good job of identifying sustainable talent over three years.
What other questions do you think need to be answered now about IPL 7?