Before the IPL auction, some media observers pointed out that England’s dressing room might have an awkward morning-after. Flintoff and Pietersen were both expected to raise $950,000, but what would happen if no one bid for them, and what about their teammates — Collingwood and Shah — who were valued nearly 10 times lower?
I don’t think I completely buy that, though. Boys may be boys, and $1.1 million is certainly more than what Shah or Collingwood eventually received. On the other hand, none of these bids actually reflects cricketing sense. It reminds me of that a card game popular in India in the mid-1990s, when the market suddenly realized how lucrative the game could be. Essentially, you had cards with statistics of a player, and your opponent had his own. You then would pick one statistic — average, or number of innings, whatever — and if yours was higher, you could take your opponent’s card.
It didn’t really make sense then, but, what the hell, we were 10 years old. Statistics, however, tell you very little of what makes a good player good: averages hide recent form or age; experience hides old bones and slow running, and so on. Even here, with the IPL auction, there are a range of factors that affected how much was bid for a player. For one thing, all the teams had a limit of $2 million, which pushed the prices up for some players, and down for others (like Shah, who actually received less than his starting bid). Different teams needed different players — the Bangalore Royal Challengers, for instance, needed a non-Test player.
So, here we are: only a month ago, none of us had heard of J.P. Duminy, but he finds himself with hundreds of thousands of dollars today (and all because of an injury to Ashwell Prince!). We still haven’t heard of that Middlesex T20 player that Shane Warne’s team picked up, but no matter. Understand that the dollar figures reveal only so much, and that even here, the market can be wrong. Auctions aren’t made of bids; they’re made of bets, and sometimes, your strategies don’t always end up getting you the most valued players.
To the England dressing room, then, feel no malice: everyone knows Flintoff and Pietersen are better than Shah and Collingwood, but this is a team sport.