There was a double reason for the majority of South Africa’s cricketers to rue the start of the week, which saw them lose a nail-biting one-day international (ODI) to New Zealand in Christchurch on Tuesday after being spurned at the potentially life-changing Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Bangalore on Monday.
Eight members of the 14-man Proteas squad, which plays the third ODI in Wellington on Saturday, are already contracted to IPL teams and the remaining six were all entered into the auction with at least realistic, if not understandably optimistic, hopes of a lucrative windfall.
But only Kagiso Rabada was bid for, and secured, by the Delhi Daredevils for a shade under R10-million. The three all-rounders, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Wayne Parnell, went unsold, as did batsman Farhaan Behardien and, most surprisingly, leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
A regular match-winner for the Proteas, Tahir was ranked number one in the world in both T20 and ODI cricket at the time of the auction and was widely expected to attract something of a bidding war. Instead, franchise representatives looked at their feet when his name was presented.
It has long been the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s policy not to allow Pakistani players in the IPL so conspiracy theorists immediately concluded that Tahir’s birthplace had counted against him.
Not so, according to an IPL veteran who has worked in an administrative capacity for two different teams and has attended the past seven auctions.
“There are always so many factors behind the scenes which can mean a player is selected or not selected, things which most people — even the players — do not know about,” he said this week.
“But look at the spinners in all the franchises, they are well stocked. And Tahir gives you nothing with the bat and is not so good in the field. It was just one of those things.”
One leg spinner who did see his dreams come true, or wildly surpassed, was 18-year-old Afghani Rashid Khan, who was bought by the defending champions, Sunrisers Hyderabad, for a staggering $590 000. And he wasn’t alone among his countrymen, with four other Afghani players finding places among the eight franchise teams. There was even a place in the Gujarat Lions squad for Delhi-born United Arab Emirates batsman Chirag Suri.
“This maybe is one of the times when there was a sweetener involved,” the IPL veteran said. “Afghanistan cricket is cash rich after qualifying for ICC [International Cricket Council] events and is trying to raise the profile of the game, so franchises were encouraged to buy.
“But they are all good cricket players, too, they will not embarrass. The captain, [Asghar] Stanikzai, and [all-rounder Mohammed] Nabi, they are experienced and have no fear.”
Franchises prepare their bidding plans months in advance and refine it in the weeks leading up to the event but last-minute changes and whims just don’t happen anymore, as they did in the early years. So, as exhilarating as Phehlukwayo’s match-winning innings was in the first ODI against New Zealand, it was never going to affect his chances at the auction.
Pretorius simply hasn’t played enough international cricket to attract an offer, and Parnell has had his chances and, like his international career, has been blighted with inconsistency and disappointment. Behardien’s best chance to participate will be as an injury replacement.
But there is another factor that dissuaded potential bidders from investing in South Africans this year. For the past eight years, Cricket South Africa (CSA) has made a concerted effort to schedule its international fixtures outside of the IPL window to allow its marquee players to benefit financially by playing a full tournament. South Africans have been in demand as a result and many have been preferred in a close choice.
But, this year, CSA have planned a 10-day camp before the squad leaves for the tour of the United Kingdom. The Champions Trophy in June is already preceded by a three-match ODI series against England, which was planned as preparation for the tournament for both teams. It means, in effect, that the squad will have been together for 22 days before their first Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka at the Oval on June 3.
It also means that they will miss the final four IPL league games as well as the play-offs and the final. The Daredevils, coached by another South African, Paddy Upton, will be the hardest hit, with Rabada likely to be recalled early, along with compatriots Chris Morris, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock.
“It’s not ideal, especially with the franchise having invested in South African players, partly because CSA have a history of supporting the tournament and allowing them to be available,” Upton said this week. “And, if a player is at the tournament for more than 50% of the games then he cannot be replaced,” he said.
The unavailability of the players at the business end of the tournament did not help the cause of those seeking a contract but even for those with contracts the financial ramifications are huge because they are paid pro rata for the games they are available for. In the most extreme case, that of AB de Villiers, that means more than $200 000 in lost earnings, more than his annual CSA contract.
If the Proteas win the Champions Trophy then there can be, and will be, no complaints.
But the nature of the tournament is such that one bad game, or just a stroke of bad luck, can mean it ends badly, again. At which point the resentment about a camp that is felt to be “overkill” by the players may just manifest itself in ways difficult to contain.