Weekly Sports Newsletter: IPL Money Heist Auction Day and Other Stories

Dear readers,

A few years ago, late at night, a colleague received a call from a slightly distressed cricketer, a young neo-rich IPL star who was miles away from playing for India. A few months before, he had been chosen for an obscene amount at the IPL auction. Following the unexpected windfall, the young drummer had bought a house, a fancy car and had gone on vacation abroad. None of these expenses dented his bank balance.

The boy from a very modest family shared his unique problem with his journalist friend. Uncertain of the cost of luxury, unaware of the possibilities of high spending and overestimating the conscience of a cricket writer, he had asked an innocent question:Bhaiyya, yeh private jet kitne ka aata hai. (Brother, how much does a private jet cost). The journalist was scuttling his flight of fancy and advising him to concentrate on his game. The career did not go as planned. The effort made on the ground was not up to the ambition. There remains a second stringer, a companion who jumps from one team to another.

Now he’s grown up, married and a father. Wiser after being on the circuit for years, he now laughs at his teenage naivety.

The private jet investigation is a joke between the player and the reporter. The heavy hitter, with a decade-long IPL career, warns youngsters these days that being among the top earners is dreamy. He says it makes you feel like the world is at your feet, life was easy and the lofty heights of cricket were just a leap away.

In most auctions, some purchases are difficult to explain. On days like today, many walk away with money far beyond their benchmarks. Sometimes it’s a stroke of luck that decides whether a backwater cricketer can dream of private jets or keep gazing at the planes flying overhead.

Kolkata Knight Riders coach Brendon McCullum is easily IPL’s first ever superstar. From blazing one hundred in the opening game of the inaugural season to being the most wanted coach on the T20 Tour, he’s seen it all.

The other day, during a radio breakfast at his home in Christchurch, he was explaining the change of cemetery on the day of the auction this weekend. He is an important member of the KKR brain trust. His contributions will be vital for Kolkata as each team will look to stockpile players who will stick 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 decided to land at the studio at 7:30 p.m., which is noon in India. And by the time he leaves, it will be 3 a.m. on Sunday morning in New Zealand.

McCullum, while explaining the IPL auction to his co-host, says it’s like “Karaka sales” – the marketplace for New Zealand Bloodstock yearlings. He continues by providing clarification: “It’s not like horses, the players don’t parade around the ring. But their photos and their statistics are displayed on the giant screen.

The seasoned IPL auction oracle suggests that skill isn’t the only factor that determines a player’s price. The streak of players going under the hammer – marquee players first to have the spotlight on them, followed by wicket-keepers and batsmen – is a big factor in player pricing. In the event that two teams with a similar strategy are eyeing the same player, bidding wars are triggered. Our man with “private jet” ambitions was one of those lucky ones who was in the sights of three teams.

Another IPL stalwart, Suresh Raina, says undeserving players can only get lucky once. The IPL, he says, has gotten smart. After a season, the chalk falls off and the cheese is refrigerated, wrapped in silver foil to keep it fresh.

The big boys’ price tags aren’t publicly known; the official contract amount is no more than a conservative estimate of their true value. Dhoni and Kohli are way too big to be haggled over. The riot police may need to check on the owners if they are up for grabs.

No surprise for those who follow the IPL diligently 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 biggest earner of IPL 2022, along with Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant.

At the time, Jadeja was a rookie. He was part of Shane Warne’s winning IPL Rajasthan Royals team. Warne called the young tyro a “Rockstar”.

Each IPL season would add several zeros to his bank balance. After a dream international season, the all-rounder had accepted an interview at a farm on the outskirts of his hometown Jamnagar in Gujarat.

He drove into the farm in his Audi A4 which cost over half a crore. The car had a monogram with a retro look from the time of kings and maharajas. There was a stylized Ravi written on it. The curved tail of the “R” lovingly rocked “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 was playing with Ganga and stroking her forehead, he was asked if his house had pets when he was a child. With a broad smile, he said:Apne khane ka thikana nahi tha, hostel logon ko kahan paalta? (We didn’t know where our meals came from, how would I have kept pets?)”

Jadeja was extravagant but he was not delusional. Initially, it seemed like his skills and salary were poles apart, but over time, he closed the gap.

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

Jadeja knew that to dream of private jets, you had to be aware of the realities on the ground.

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Sandeep Dwivedi
National Sports Editor

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