x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

IPL: Supply unable to meet demand

After three seasons, the franchises have realised that it is the Indian core - only four foreigners can play in any given game - that wins you matches.

Before English football stopped treating players like slaves half a century ago, thanks largely to the efforts of men like Jimmy Hill, excellence did not matter. Regardless of whether you were Duncan Edwards, the greatest of the Busby Babes, or John Charles, the strapping Welshman who went on to play with great success in Italy, you could make a maximum of £15 (Dh87) a week.

Cricketers of that era were no better off, working winter jobs to pay for summers spent on the field. India's finest made Rs250 (Dh20) a Test match, and sought jobs with airlines, banks and other institutions so that their families did not starve.

Last weekend, the Pathan brothers - Yusuf and Irfan - sold for a combined US$4 million (Dh14.6m) at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Bangalore.

Yusuf's $2.1m package from the Kolkata Knight Riders works out to $350,000 a week, not bad for an extremely limited cricketer whose one innings of note on the big stage came against a woeful New Zealand side.

Few of the world's top footballers take home that kind of money. Xavi Hernandez, the passing machine at the heart of the Barcelona midfield, the most brilliant team in the world, certainly does not.

As for Irfan, the Delhi Daredevils' investment seems a reckless gamble on someone who has not represented India in any form of the game for two years.

Before Dame Fortune spurned him, Irfan was one of the most exciting players in the game, capable of swinging the ball at 135kph and an accomplished batsman with both power and technique.

If he rediscovers that which made him special, he could be the signing of the season. If not, he will go down as the IPL's Juan Sebastian Veron, a failed £28m (Dh163m) investment by Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.

Why these inflated salaries? Simply put, supply cannot meet demand. After three seasons, the franchises have realised that it is the Indian core - only four foreigners can play in any given game - that wins you matches. Have too many weak links, like the Knight Riders in each of the first three seasons, and you have no chance.

It is no coincidence that they splashed out half their budget, $4.5m, on two players, Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf, that they hope will lend solidity and flair to their challenge.

The same scenario has contributed to the fat pay cheques handed out to all-rounders. Is Dan Christian, on the fringes of Australia's limited-overs plans, really worth $950,000? And what of Jacques Kallis, who made a total of $2.7m for two modest seasons with the Royal Challengers before he came good last year? For a 35 year old, the Knight Riders' offer of $1.1m a year seems excessively generous.

With so many players on the move - the core of the old Daredevils team appears to have shifted to Bangalore - it remains to be seen how the fans react.

It will not matter to those whose primary interest in watching a game is a sighting of Bollywood actors and franchise owners Shah Rukh Khan or Preity Zinta. But what of those that are serious about their sport?

How does a Royal Challengers fan feel about the lack of a local heart? Anil Kumble did not want to play, while Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa and Vinay Kumar have all moved elsewhere.

In that regard, the Chennai Super Kings, the defending champions, have been clever, retaining their big-name players like MS Dhoni as well as the local stars like R Ashwin and S Badrinath. There certainly will be no erosion in their support.

Most of all though, those behind the IPL need to pray for a successful Indian World Cup campaign. An early exit as in 2007 and the backlash could see the average fan cry off cricket for a month or two. For a league that has stumbled from one fiasco to another since April, that could be the last straw.