After Chris Morris was bought by the Rajasthan Royals for 16.25 Crore (the equivalent of around £1.5m) in this season’s IPL auction, eyebrows were raised. With a starting price of 75 Lakh (£75,000), the bidding war for the South-African all-rounder was as frenetic as it was unexpected.
But this latest bizarre story to come out of the IPL is what makes it so exciting, and subsequently so popular. Morris, a 33-year-old entering the twilight of his career, averaged 8.50 with the bat in last season’s competition, with a top score of 25*. He was helpful with the ball, averaging 19.01 with an economy of 6.63 for RCB.
It would be very easy to slam the decision to make the South African the tournament’s most expensive ever player. After all, he hasn’t featured in his country’s T20 set up since 2019 and his record over 23 games for the Proteas has hardly set the world on fire.
But the Royals needed an all-rounder and had the money to spend. So rather than criticising the strange decisions of this year’s auction, why not sit back and relish the most erratic of cricketing carnivals? Some wonderful stories were told, Morris’s perhaps the most perplexing.
Cheteshwar Pujara pushed him close though, being sold to the Chennai Super Kings to play his first IPL since 2015. This is a man who has been much touted as the last of a dying breed in Test cricket, absorbing deliveries and boring bowling attacks to death.
He has been openly selected on his merits in the longest format, in which he strikes at a rate of 45.01, to join the most explosive batsmen in the game’s most electric competition. Baffling, yes – but wonderfully unpredictable.
In signing Pujara, CSK turned their backs on unsold players at the top of the international T20 game. Aaron Finch, the Australian white-ball captain, was left out in the cold. Chennai favoured a man whose nicknames include “Dravid 2.0”, in reference to India’s “Wall”, famous for his obduracy in the Test arena.
Jason Roy, amongst the most destructive short-format batsmen in the world, was also snubbed. The likes of RCB favoured Glenn Maxwell for instance, who, as big a name as he may be, failed to hit a six in the tournament last year. Just the 14.25 Crore (£1.4m) for him.
Krishnappa Gowtham fetched 9.25 Crore from CSK, becoming the most expensive uncapped player in the tournament’s history. Although not comparable in their roles, for 7 Crore less the Delhi Capitals pocketed Steve Smith, arguably the most complete batsman in the world.
Adil Rashid, one of the game’s premier white-ball spinners, was also left unsold. Jhye Richardson, the young Australian paceman with just 9 T20Is under his belt, was instead signed for 14 Crore, and the New Zealander Kyle Jamieson, who made his T20 debut for his country in November, went to RCB for 15 Crore.
I could go on. How to rationalise all of this? Impossible. The ludicrous nature of some purchases has infuriated cricketing conservatives and befuddled enthusiasts, this author included. What can be unpicked from this year’s event, however, is its centrality in making the IPL what it is today.
Ordinary players are made into multi-millionaires. Young, uncapped Indian cricketers are given their big break, thrust into the life-changing limelight. It is the tournament’s rampant unpredictability that has made it the dominant force of cricket today, and the sport’s most lucrative celebration.
Nothing encapsulates this adrenaline-charged month of madness better than its auction. Frantic bidding wars give formerly forgotten players such as Morris a new lease of life, perhaps allegorising the IPL’s impact on the sport as a whole.
Money is thrown around in a way that would have made the BCCI shudder fifteen years ago. Indeed, it is thanks to the frenzied competition the auction creates that the IPL is thriving as it is, and Indian Cricket has a lot to thank it for.
Image: Vipin Pawar via Flickr