Big Money, Big Hitters: How Will The IPL and Its New Stars Fare This Year?
The 2009 auction is over and Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff have each gone for a record $1.55 million, but will their performances on the field live up to this top billing?
Beforehand it was all about the English contingent - not only the million-dollar men, but also a raft of other players, many on the fringes of the financial slogfest, as rumours circulated of a last hurrah for such veteran campaigners as Darren Gough, Dominic Cork, and even Shaun Udal.
However, with the bidding over, and the franchises eagerly toting their new purchases, it is time to ask how far the class of 2009 will live up to their bills and billings come April.
Pietersen has been all over the news since the fallout from his New Year's resolution—that he could no longer put up with Peter Moores—but as the world's most expensive player he at last has something to smile about.
The valuations may well have been inflated this time around by the scarcity of available reinforcements, but to surpass the charismatic Indian captain Mahendra Dhoni's fee in the Indian league is still testament to his status as the hottest property in the game.
His closest rivals, Flintoff, Dhoni and Andrew Symonds, are all all-rounders who offer bowling or wicketkeeping to complement their explosive hitting, whereas Pietersen's offspin has not been deployed in 14 Twenty20 internationals.
Bangalore must be expecting real fireworks with the bat. However, the statistics suggest that the former England captain (how strange a title that sounds!) has not yet set the T20 world alight.
Pietersen likes a spell of reconnaissance that can last 10 or more overs even in a 50-over game, and this shows. His international T20 strike rate is an imposing 148.77 per 100 balls, but he averages only 27.92.
Symonds weighs in at a ferocious 170.20, mid-order not-outs lifting his average to 56.16, figures he matches in the IPL; the dreadlocked Australian's compatriot Cameron White batters IPL attacks for 154.01 per 100 at 35.37.
Both leave Ricky Ponting, the player of the decade, trailing.
Statistical evidence from the Australian captain, retired opener Matthew Hayden, Dhoni, and Graeme Smith suggests that the class acts of the Test and even the one-day game are not necessarily the most effective Twenty20 performers.
Not yet at least. It may well be that the cream will rise to the top over a few years.
But who would bet against Pietersen the innovator finding a way to harness his astonishing hand-eye coordination and bat speed? If any player can feel at home amid such an extraordinary exhibition of cricket and hyperbole, you would bet on him.
As for Flintoff, he looks well placed to emulate the thunderous blows of Symonds. On top of that he is the finest and most fearsome one-day bowler in the world. His frailties against spin, especially in the subcontinental dustbowls, may hamper his batting—but equally the attacking imperative should save him from the embarrassing dead-batted vacillations and hard hands that plague him in defense .
However, as a bowler I would back him above anyone in world cricket to rein in the rampant batsmen of a format in which few pacemen thrive. Even without his hitting, which is bound to fire occasionally, he is as well worth the money as anyone in the IPL.
Interestingly, in Jean-Paul Duminy and Tyron Henderson we saw an exciting new Test batsman and a big-hitting all-rounder go for half the more celebrated pair's fees.
Duminy has shown against Australia that he can thrive in the short game, while Henderson's bludgeoning batting won the English Twenty20 final for Middlesex last year.
What odds on these two upstaging their better-paid fellows from the class of 2009?
However, averages and statistics cannot satisfactorily account for the bidding tactics of this or last year's auctions. We only need to note the disparity between Ravi Bopara's $450 000 price tag and Paul Collingwood's relative meagre $275 000 to see that crowd appeal and marketing potential are at least as important as the actual cricket.
How else to explain why an Essex-bred Punjabi still on the unaccomplished side of 'promising' went for almost double the price of the man until recently his captain and a sensational fielder into the bargain?
Owais Shah too went for $375 000, despite being a non-bowler whose lack of athleticism in the field has held back his England prospects. Brett Lee, star of an Indian chart-topping duet, went for far more than the great Ponting.
Admittedly Samit Patel missed out alongside Luke Wright, but the pattern is clear.
So, an advertiser's dream? A glamour-fest where the starstruck super-rich buy their heroes for sums of which cricketers could only dream — until now?
In England certainly, the auctions have received far more publicity than the cricket. The welter of games, the color and noise, and the profusion of Bollywood idols and industry magnates makes the IPL a very Indian affair.
Overshadowing the whole affair outside the subcontinent is the question: When will the cricket begin to outshine the diamonds and neon glow sticks of the auctions?
And a more frightening one for those at Lords and the ICC's Dubai headquarters: Does it even need to?
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