The dynamics of an Indian Premier League auction can be hard to fathom even for experts. "It is super complex," says a senior member of team management who has been at auctions from the start. Figure out? Quality fast bowlers were in huge demand in Thursday's mini-auction, but the best Indian pace bowler available—Umesh Yadav—went for his base price of R1 crore. But despite his mediocre record season after season, Australia's Glenn Maxwell (base price R2 crore) was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for R14.25 crore.
Former Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir, an expert with the official broadcaster, was at a loss. "Umesh can blow hot and cold, but when he is hot, he is very, very hot. I can't understand why teams didn't go for him," he said in the post-auction show.
Delhi Capitals couldn't believe their luck with Yadav. They had also got Steve Smith relatively cheap for R2.2 crore early in the auction. The former Australia skipper is yet to set IPL on fire, but is a massive brand. Released by Rajasthan Royals, he got a lukewarm response and was quickly sold.
Off-spinner K Gowtham though became the highest uncapped domestic player ever, going to Chennai Super Kings for R9.25 crore. It was like in 2016 when Delhi Daredevils bought spinner Pawan Negi for R8.5 crore.
It was a mini-auction but the overall record was also broken with Rajasthan Royals buying South Africa's Chris Morris for R16.25 crore. The 6ft 4in all-rounder created a splash like Yuvraj Singh, Ben Stokes and Pat Cummins had in past auctions. Morris, 33, is a classic example of someone gaining from a smaller auction. He is no match to Yuvraj, Stokes, or Cummins in brand value, but the auction strategy had to be based on the limited pool of players available.
The Umesh Yadav versus Chris Morris debate has also raised questions about the fascination of IPL teams for overseas players.
A core group member of a high-profile franchise, who didn't wish to be named, said: "Even I am short of answers. This is some kind of a mystery (the price tag of Maxwell and Morris)."
Punjab Kings CEO Satish Menon explained that the price tag was determined by the demand for fast bowlers. "This is a small auction and the dynamics change as you move to a bigger one. It's not about overseas players but is a demand and supply game. See, everyone is looking for a fast bowler; obviously, there is a shortage of fast bowlers so these guys always attract a higher price.
"You (also) don't know who comes first. For example, Moeen Ali is someone CSK went after, and we also did. But we also had to get two more fast bowlers considering that we had let go of Sheldon Cottrell. For us, it was important to have money for the three bowlers who were coming up, Kyle Jamieson, Jhye Richardson or Riley Meredith. These are very complicated aspects—you have to take a punt on some players."
Richardson and Meredith went to Punjab Kings and Jamieson to RCB.
It's about changing strategies midway. All-rounders were in great demand with Maxwell and Moeen among the best on offer. When CSK didn't get first target Maxwell, they went big for Moeen (R7cr). It made Punjab change tactics.
"For example, if CSK had got Maxwell, they wouldn't have taken Moeen. So he would have been free for us to go after, within our range. Within our range, because we were not sure for how much Jamieson, Richardson or Riley would go for. We were very sure they would all go for a very good price.
"We always have options; in an auction, you can't go without options; if you don't get one, who is your next, who is your third. It is not always the case that you get who you want. Our strike rate was close to 85 per cent," said Menon.
HEAT OF BATTLE
Teams do solid homework to form auction strategies. They draw up the players they want and the price. When many teams enter the bidding, that strategy goes. It happened with Morris with frenzied bidding from Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings and RCB (who had released him).
"Morris would be in the vicinity of R14-15 crore is what we thought; we went up to 14-14.5," said Menon.
In an earlier interview to The Hindu, Kolkata Knight Riders CEO, Venky Mysore, had said: "There are times when more than two franchises start chasing one player. A lot of money chasing goes on for one player and that increases the price. You may call it the law of demand."
Punjab bagged Aussie pacers Richardson (R14 crore) and uncapped Meredith (R8 crore) for big sums. But no one could explain how Yadav, a current India player, didn't find many takers. Usually, performance or selection on the eve of auction helps big time. Yadav's selection for the third and fourth Tests against England, pending a fitness test, was expected to bolster his case.
"I would also think the Indian bowlers should have been getting a lot more but again it depends on when you come up because most people would have exhausted that kind of money, which is the whole thing in all auctions."
Punjab Kings released Maxwell after a poor show in IPL 2020. Then, how did he get R14.25, his highest ever?
Kumar Sangakkara, RR's director of cricket, said: "If you take Maxwell as an example, his performances have not exactly been there in IPL. But it fits a specific role for the franchise that bought him. It's the same for Jamieson (R15 crore-RCB), for so many others. The process does seem to escalate the price. Of course, you would not see this in the mega auction that basically rearranges your entire squad, but in the smaller auctions you see this trend quite often."
How does Punjab look at Maxwell's price tag?
"What can I say? Good for him that somebody is taking a punt on him again."