The IPL has signalled that it might move away from the auction system after criticism of the system as “undignified and cruel” and “humiliating” to players.
New Zealand has become the first country where administrators have dared to voice disapproval of the auction. Heath Mills, chief executive of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association, told the New Zealand Herald: “I think the whole system is archaic and deeply humiliating for the players, who are paraded like cattle for all the world to see.”
Mills was endorsing a tweet from Peter Clinton, a former chief executive of Wellington Cricket, who said: “The IPL Auction is such an undignified, cruel and unnecessary employment practice. Ridiculous that it exists today, belongs in the medieval ages.”
The IPL is firmly established as the most lucrative career option for Twenty20 cricketers of note – the place where virtually every player wants to be – but Mills suggested that the acquiescence of the players should not be interpreted as contentment about the system.
“There’s a lot of good things about the Indian Premier League and it’s been great for cricket but I’d like to see it mirror the rest of professional sport in the way they engage athletes,” Mills said.
“Some players do exceptionally well out of if but the vast majority would like to see the system changed. They would like to negotiate with coaches and owners behind closed doors.”
Mills’ criticism centred upon the players’ lack of control over their own destiny. Under the auction system, they are commodities, available to the highest bidder, and have no input as to where they play.
“The players enter the auction not knowing where they are going, who their team-mates are going be, who’s managing them, who the owners are — no other sports league in the world engages players on that basis,” he said.
“We’ve seen some players play for five or six teams over the 10 years the league has been going. Coaches cannot build an affinity with players, they can’t build a long-term culture. Players’ associations around the world would like to see it change.”
Supporters seeking to identify with a club have also traditionally valued a mix of continuity and new signings, although the IPL’s heavy turnover does not seem to have hampered its popularity as it has become an irresistible part of the world cricketing calendar.
Nevertheless, the IPL is aware of the scepticism form the rest of the cricketing world towards its “mega auctions”. Hemang Amin, the IPL’s chief operating officer, said that auctions might give way to a draft system, which is well established across a wide range of sports.
“Going forward, the thinking is that we will reduce, maybe not have mega auctions, but consider having a draft system for new players to come in, which acts as feeder system to teams,” Amin said at the end of the two-day IPL auction last weekend. “Hence, IPL Governing Council is thinking on the lines of how to cut down on the big auction and have the continuity with teams.”
This year the IPL made it mandatory that teams had to spend a minimum 75% of their purse before and during the auction. That would include both retentions and buying new players. The total purse available for all eight franchises was US $100 million, out of which Amin said $96.875 million was spent by the end of the auction.
Amin said the IPL had decided to reduce the number of players that remained unsold compared to the previous big auction, in 2014, so reducing the number of players actively rejected during the auction process.
“If you look at the 2014 auction, we had presented around 320 players then before going into the accelerated bidding process. This time, we have taken learnings from previous years. We presented 170 players of which around 120 were sold. So if you compare to 2014 when 200 players went unsold, this time it was 50 or 60 who went unsold. Also on day one, 70 out of 110 were sold. So we’re trying to reduce the number of unsold players.”
In all, however, 581 players were named in the final auction list. New Zealand managed to find seven sales from 24 names; England a similar outcome.
Mills was not confident about change. He told the Herald, “It’s almost got to the point where there’s more interest in the auction than the games and I think they’ll keep doing it even though the general player view it is that there’s better ways to do it.”