No season of IPL is complete without controversy, and among the many that afflicted IPL 2012 was the television-channel sting alleging unauthorised payments to domestic Indian cricketers. It was a sting taken seriously enough by the Board of Control for Cricket in India to suspend five players and later, for Rajiv Shukla, the IPL chairman, to announce that every player would be part of future auction pools.
Putting all the players in one common pool seems a straightforward way to resolve the dilemma of unaccounted payments and artificially jacked-up prices for the few Indians who have played international cricket. However, it is worth stepping back to remember why uncapped Indian players weren't included in the auction in the first place. It was to prevent young players from being exposed to obscene amounts of money early on, and to ensure that playing for India retained its primacy in the aspirations of upcoming cricketers.
A Manish Pandey and an Ambati Rayudu might still have the desire to play for India, but if the future Pandeys and Rayudus are able to earn a lavish living from the game without the need to represent the country, will they still harbour the same desire? The rewards are likely to flow to many cricketers when they're still young and impressionable - a recipe for losing promising ones.
The solution could well be to hold two separate auctions - one for internationally capped players and one for those who haven't yet played for India. Both auctions would, of course, have different purses, with the one comprising international players getting a higher sum. To start with, there needs to be some criteria in place for players to qualify as 'internationals'. One of the prime arguments for getting all players into the auction is to bring a level playing field to players of similar skill so that one may not benefit out of proportion to another by virtue of a solitary international appearance.
For instance, take Manpreet Gony. He played for India in two One-Day Internationals in 2008, against Hong Kong and Bangladesh. By virtue of that, he was eligible to be in the auction and was picked up for $US290,000 by Deccan Chargers - over Rs 1.5 crore at the current exchange rate. His team-mate Veer Pratap Singh would have been lucky to get a tenth of that amount. They bowled at nearly identical economy rates in IPL 2012, but Veer Pratap had an average of 29.6 to Gony's 69. Why would he, for example, not feel hard done by? The same team shelled out $US900,000 for Daniel Christian when he had barely faced a ball in international cricket for Australia.
There needs to be a minimum threshold to qualify as an international. For argument's sake, let's say it's ten Tests. In the BCCI's recent disbursement of monies to former cricketers, three one-dayers counted as one Test. Take this further, and say two Twenty20 Internationals count as one ODI. Whoever has played the equivalent of ten Tests then gets into the primary auction, whether he's Indian or foreign. Whoever doesn't, gets into the second auction.
For those worried about IPL's cannibalisation of international cricket, there is an incentive for every young cricketer starting out to make a successful international career for himself.
The two-auction model will not solve every problem, and there might still be the odd case of a sought-after player who hasn't quite made it at the international level being offered under-the-table inducements - but it will at least make player prices transparent.
It's also important to remember that it is the established stars who make the IPL the success it is. If it wasn't, the ICL, the KPL and every other league would have been just as big as the IPL. Currently, the rewards they get vis-a-vis the domestic players seem too much out of sync. That needs correction, but they still should have the assurance of greater rewards than non-established players for the crowds they can pull and the quality they bring. If every player was part of a single auction, that assurance is slightly diminished, but with two auctions, it is slightly enhanced.
There will still be modalities to be decided on who can be a part of the second auction, what the policy on Under-19 cricketers will be and how the franchises' local flavour can be retained, among other things. But none of these are insurmountable problems. Importantly, all of these questions will have to be resolved in any case if all the players are thrown into a common auction pool.
A common pool is a good idea in principle, but perhaps a completely free-market solution is not the best one every time.