IPL financially favours has-been stars

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Average return: Last season Yuvraj Singh was bought for Dh9.4m and scored 376 runs.

Life is not always fair. But if you happen to be an Indian cricketer, or more specifically a has-been star, it can be a long-running dream.

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And if you happen to fall in that category, thank the Indian Premier League for that. While the general theory is that you get rewarded only for the effort that you put in, there are a few special ones amongst us who appear to dodge this rule.

Take the example of Yuvraj Singh. He was the star of the 2011 World Cup, adjudged the player of the tournament for one of the most outstanding all-round performances seen in ODIs. He was also the star of the show at the 2007 World T20, thus establishing himself as probably the best limited overs cricketer produced by India.

But right after the highs of the 2011 World Cup came the news that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment and after a long recovery period, gave the heartening news that he had beaten the ailment. His fitness levels were nowhere near what they should have been, and that is to be expected. He was still given a chance at international level, but suffered one of the worst cases of stage fright at the 2014 World T20 final, where his 21-ball 11 dashed India’s hopes.

What did all that do to his star value? Well, it somehow got catapulted into stratospheric levels. He was snapped up by Delhi Daredevils for an eye-watering Rs 160 million (Dh9.4m) during the last auction. That is by far the biggest cheque issued in the name of any player in the league.

In 2013, Yuvraj scored 238 runs from 13 matches. Last season, he scored 376 from 14 innings. There is nothing spectacular about those stats as every season, bar one in 2009 in South Africa, the top run-getters have amassed more than 600 and even 700 runs. But, that doesn’t seem to matter to the franchises. Yuvraj is not the only has-been who continues to rake in the big bucks.

Left-arm quick Zaheer Khan was bought by the Daredevils for Rs 40 million (Dh2.3m) and he didn’t find a place in the playing eleven in the first two games. He has lost his pace and zip and for the 36-year-old, the IPL is the only stage where he can remind the fans he still plays the game competitively. Dinesh Karthik is not even third on the list of wicketkeepers waiting in the wings to play for India once Mahendra Singh Dhoni puts down his gloves. But he attracted a bid of Rs 105m (Dh6m) from Bangalore.

Irfan Pathan stopped being an international level limited overs cricketer five years back following a startling dip in form and fitness, but he still was valued at $1.9 million (Dh6.9m) in 2011. He now commands Rs15m (Dh800,000) but that’s still five times more than what a proven performer like Albie Morkel got.

So why are the franchises desperate to pay so much for these ‘big’ names? The first justification that is given is that they have ‘star value’ and enhance the brand of the franchise. No wonder Yuvraj was asked to miss a practice game for Delhi in order to fulfil a sponsor’s commitment.

​But the point is, who says these players have star value? Virat Kohli, definitely. MS Dhoni, sure. Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina… yes. But definitely not the ones mentioned earlier. If they are taken away from the limelight, hardly anyone is going to miss them. The only reason one can come up with for this apparent madness is that franchise officials are mixing cricket with the dynamics of Bollywood, where ageing actors still command huge premiums simply because they are who they are. 

That mentality has seeped into the league since many Bollywood bigwigs directly control the teams. It is understandable that the need to satisfy partners and sponsors makes team management take some decisions which are not in tune with realities on the cricket pitch. But it’s become all too prevalent. If a Kumar Sangakkara doesn’t attract even one bid in the IPL, there has to be something fundamentally wrong with the league’s machinations.

The one aspect that is the most difficult to swallow is that irrespective of how poorly these Indian ‘stars’ perform or how far they slide down the fitness chart, they continue to be rewarded for something they did ages ago. No one complains if a Chris Gayle or a David Warner or an AB de Villiers gets money by the bagsful as they thoroughly deserve it. It might be a grotesque amount of money, but the IPL has a lot of it. However, when undeserving cricketers like Yuvraj, Zaheer or Pathan get cash thrown at them to simply strut around for a little more than a month a year, an unwanted class system is created which can only divide, rather than unite, the cricket world.

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