Weekly Sports Newsletter: IPL auction day Money Heist and other stories

Dear Readers,

Few years back, late one night a colleague got a call from a slightly distressed cricketer, a neo-rich young IPL star who was miles away from playing for India. A few months prior to that, he had been picked for an obscene amount at the IPL auction. Following the unexpected windfall, the young batsman had bought a house, a swanky car and had been on a vacation abroad. None of these expenses dented his bank balance.

The boy from a very modest family shared his unique problem with his reporter friend. Not sure about the cost of luxury, unaware about the avenues of high-spending and over-estimating the awareness of a cricket writer, he had posed an innocent question: “Bhaiyya, yeh private jet kitne ka aata hai. (Brother, how much does a private jet cost).” The reporter would scuttle his flight of fancy and advise him to concentrate on his game. The career didn’t go as planned. The effort put on the field didn’t match the ambition. He remains a second-stringer, a team-hopping journeyman.

Now, he’s grown up, happily married and a father. Wiser after being on the circuit for years, he now laughs about his adolescent naivete.

The private jet inquiry is an inside joke between the player and reporter. The big-hitter, with a decade-long IPL career, these days warns youngsters that the high of being among the top-earners, is dreamy. He says it makes you feel that the world is at your feet, life was easy and cricket’s lofty heights were just one jump away.

At most auctions there are some buys that are difficult to explain. On days like today, many walk away with cash way beyond their credentials. Sometimes it is a stroke of luck that decides if a player from cricket’s backwaters can dream of private jets or keep gazing at the air-planes flying over his village.

Kolkata Knight Riders coach Brendon McCullum is easily IPL’s first-ever superstar. From blazing a hundred in the opening game of the inaugural season to being a most-sought-after coach on the T20 circuit, he has seen it all.

Just the other day at a radio breakfast show at his home in Christchurch, he was explaining this weekend’s auction day graveyard shift. He is an important member of KKR’s brain trust. His inputs will be vital for Kolkata as every team will be looking to stockpile players who will stay with them for a decade. McCullum calls this the ‘reset auction’. With more than 500 players in the pool, a scramble is expected.

With a dodgy wifi connection at home, he has decided to land up at the studio at 7.30 pm, that’s noon in India. And by the time he leaves, it will be 3 am Sunday in New Zealand.

McCullum while explaining the IPL auction to his co-host says it is like “the Karaka Sales” – the market place for New Zealand Bloodstock’s yearlings. He goes on to give a clarification: “It’s not like the horses, the players aren’t parading around in the ring. But their photos and statistics do come up on the giant screen.”

The seasoned IPL auction oracle hints that skill isn’t the only factor that decides a player’s price tag. The sequence of players going under the hammer – first to have the spotlight on them are the marquee players, followed by wicket-keepers and batsmen – is a big factor in the price of players. In case two teams with similar strategy are eyeing the same player, bidding wars get triggered. Our man with ‘private jet’ ambitions was one such lucky guy who was in the crosshairs of three teams.

Suresh Raina, another IPL stalwart, says that undeserving players can get lucky only once. The IPL, according to him, has become smart. After one season, the chalk falls aside and cheese gets refrigerated, wrapped in a silver foil to keep it fresh.

The price tags of big boys aren’t public knowledge; the official contract amount is nothing more than a conservative estimate of their real worth. Dhoni and Kohli are way too big to be haggled over. It may need riot police to control the owners if they are up for grabs.

Not a surprise to those who diligently follow the IPL but Ravindra Jadeja was retained for Rs 1 crore more than Dhoni. He signed up for Rs 16 crore, and he happens to be the highest IPL 2022 earner, along with Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant.

Back in the day, Jadeja was a rookie. He was part of Shane Warne’s IPL winning Rajasthan Royals team. Warne referred to the young tyro as ‘Rockstar’.

Every IPL season would add several zeroes to his bank balance. After one dream international season, the all-format all-rounder had agreed for a farm-house interview on the outskirts of his birthplace Jamnagar in Gujarat.

He entered the farm in his A4 Audi that cost more than half-a-crore. The car had a monogram with a retro-look from the days of kings and maharajas. Written on it was a stylized Ravi. The curvy tail of the “R” was lovingly cradling “AVI”.

Jadeja entered in style. He whistled and his dog Rocky came running. His two horses Ganga and Kesar seemed to know that their master would come to them. He also had pet birds and cats. As he played with Ganga and caressed her forehead, he was asked if his household had pets as a child. With a broad smile he said, “Apne khane ka thikana nahi tha, inn logon ko kahan paalta? (We didn’t know where our meals were coming from, how would I have kept pets?)”

Jadeja was extravagant but he wasn’t delusional. Initially, it seemed that his skills and his salary were poles apart but with time he bridged the gap.

Once during a slump, I had again approached for an interview. Jadeja didn’t agree, he was down. “Even if you write good things about me, I wouldn’t get into the India squad. For that I had to score runs and take wickets,” was his pithy comment.

Jadeja knew that to dream of private jets, you needed to be aware of ground realities.

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Sandeep Dwivedi
National Sports Editor

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