Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The show begins . . .

Cricket has finally entered the market officially. Seventy-nine cricketers (including five pre-selected icons) were sold at the hectic auction of the Indian Professional League (IPL) today in Mumbai. No, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean “sold” in a cattle sense; I’m just using it in its basic meaning of exchange of goods or services for legal tender. A collective sum of more than forty-two million US dollars has exchanged hands. Funny isn’t it, for a game that barely crosses the Atlantic, that the legal tender should be US dollars?

Will the IPL succeed? Is it good if it succeeds? Is this the end of cricket as we know it? Questions that are being asked, and questions that are being answered with an admixture of romance, hope, nostalgia, doomsday-prophetism, unbridled optimism, never-say-live pessimism and many such. For the moment, I’ll leave the future for a later date and focus (assuming that all the players will play the tournament in all seriousness) on some of the interesting pictures that emerge from today’s purchases.

The Hyderabad team sounds like the IPL equivalent of Australia, packed as it is with explosive batsmen like Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Hershelle Gibbs and Shahid Afridi. Add to that the silken grace of VVS Laxman (though I still can’t imagine him doing well in this cramped form of the game), the under-estimated utility value of Scott Styris and the exciting new talent of Rohit Sharma and you have a potentially unbeatable team. The bowling line-up of Chaminda Vaas, RP Singh and Nuwan Zoysa may be one-dimensional, but they may just get away with that. Thanks to Laxman declining the icon status, Hyderabad is not even the most expensive team in the circuit. That honour goes to Kolkata (at $5.95 million), who are an interesting lot in their own right.

Ricky Ponting must be a relieved man, now that Ishant Sharma and he are on the same team. The moot question is whether Ishant is more than twice as valuable ($950,000 versus $400,000) as the Aussie skipper, but let’s not let money get in the way of the game, shall we? There’s more that’s interesting about the Kolkata team: old mates Ponting and Sourav Ganguly are in it together. So who will be the captain? And with Shoaib Akhtar in the side as well, I don’t know if either would want to put their hands up for the role. Another international captain, Chris Gayle, is also in the team, so will they pass the responsibility to him? And oh yes, did I mention that the coach of this potentially well-knit team is a certain John Buchanan?

The list of players who found it hard to sell themselves tells its own story. Metronomy (don’t waste your time scurrying to the dictionary; I just made up that word) obviously doesn’t sell in the IPL; hence Glenn McGrath really struggled before Delhi picked him. If any more proof is required that the West Indies are on the wane, here it is: two captains, a former one in Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the when-in-fit-current one in Ramnaresh Sarwan had to wait until the end to head towards Bangalore and Mohali, respectively. Just because your country selects you only for Twenty20 games does not mean much at the IPL sweepstakes; Loots Bosman had to wait forever before Mumbai finally ook pity on him. Considering his country didn’t even consider him for the more stately 50-over variety of the game, Justin Langer should be grateful that Jaipur took him without bargaining for a half-price sale. Finally, one small indication that the IPL isn’t quite cricket: Mike Hussey was among the last to find a taker. What do they call him down under, Mr. Cricket?

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