The player retention and salary cap formula for IPL4 is highly flawed

We finally know the player retention formula that will be used for the 2011 IPL Season.

Each of the existing teams will be allowed to retain up to 4 players with a maximum limit of three Indian players and there will be fixed salary cap amount that will be deducted for each player retained, irrespective of the actual salary paid to that player. The new teams of Pune and Kochi will also be allowed to pick 4 players before the players are auctioned for the 2011 season. These players should not have been part of any of the eight teams for the first 3 seasons. The same salary cap amounts will be deducted for these players.

Part of the logic for the player retention formula seems to be – ostensibly – to create a level playing field; to ensure that the new franchisees are not at a disadvantage as compared to the existing sides. This seems to be the reason why, the earlier formula – of retaining 4 Indian and 3 foreign players – has been dumped. Not that it has pacified the supporters of the new sides, who feel that the current number is still too high and the retention formula has been tailored for the benefit of CSK and MI, so that they can retain MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar respectively.

Is the need for a level playing field justified?

No, and for the simple reason that well, new teams are ‘NEW’. They have the leeway to go through the learning curve and learn the ropes of building a successful franchisee and competitive cricket team. They are starting from scratch. They can afford to make mistakes. They are not expected to challenge for the title right away. But that is not the case with the older sides. They cannot go through another round of building their teams from scratch and undoing whatever good work they have done in the last three years. Their teams are under pressure to win now. They are not in the same boat as the newer sides. So why create a level playing field then?

Look back on the last Champions League. The IPL sides went from hopeless also-rans in the first edition to eventual champions in the second edition. That happened because an additional year of playing with each other improved team chemistry and moulded the players into a unit. We now have 8 teams who have all travelled a long way towards becoming well-knit competitive sides. The presence of such sides leads to fascinating cricket. We love to see individual performers but there is nothing more exciting than watching two sides play a competitive high quality cricket match. By trying to create a level playing field, we are undoing all the cricket knowledge that teams have acquired over the last three years.

We are also punishing the good sides and rewarding the poor ones. A team like CSK has fine tuned its strategy of playing all rounders and three spinners. They have the resources to execute this strategy to perfection. Others like MI and DC have been rewarded for taking a chance with domestic talent. On the other hand KXP is stuck with a sulking, over-weight Indian star and an Indian international paceman whose theatrics are self destructive. CSK has a clear advantage over KXP. This advantage was not built overnight. It was the result of careful planning and hard work done over three years. But in trying to create a level playing field, this advantage will be gone in a jiffy.

In the current formula, the cap figure allocations for retained players are completely illogical. How can the actual salary differ from the cap figure? There is no precedent in the world of professional sports for such an allocation. More than anything else, it is this allocation which gives an undue advantage to CSK and MI and any other side which has players on very high salaries and plans to retain them. It will penalize teams which retain players on lower salaries. MI could retain Pollard as their second player. Pollard’s salary will easily be more than the cap number allocated for the second player (1.3 million) and that gives the team from Mumbai an unfair advantage. They could easily end up over-utilizing their player retention cap.

Now that we agree that a level playing field is not required, what changes should have been made in the player retention formula; other than scrapping the fixed cap allocations?

To do that, let’s first look at how this works in the professional leagues in North America – the IPL is loosely based on them in terms of allowing new teams in the league and having a need to redistribute talent.

When new teams come in, there is an expansion draft. Each of the current teams is supposed to nominate players for the expansion draft. The number of players nominated is generally close to 30% of the roster – say 4 or 5 player when your squad strength is 14. All the nominated players go into the hat and the new teams, called expansion sides pick from it. The cap number depends on the salary given to them. The players who remain unselected in the expansion draft are free to go back to their original teams. Everything else stays the same. The regular draft happens for new players coming into the league, players get transferred and free agents pick and choose new teams for themselves. You don’t turn the league on its head to accommodate a new team. You give the new sides a bunch of players to get started with. The newer teams get high draft picks so that they can get the best of the new players joining the league.

If we were to borrow from American sports, then the current teams should have been allowed to retain up to ten of their current players (broken into 4 foreign players, 3 Indian internationals and 3 from the domestic players category) or nominate 4 foreign players and 4 Indian players for the expansion draft. This is just one set of numbers. The governing council could have come up with another set but care must have been taken to ensure that the current teams retain their core and don’t have to undergo a major transformation.

What else could have inspired the decision to retain 4 players only?

For one, it will lead to another cracker of an auction with almost all the players going back into the pool. The team owners love the auction and the BCCI will be giving them another chance to play their favourite game. While the owners are going to love it, the fans will hate it. The massive allegiance changing exercise could lead to temporary insanity. The apparel companies will be smiling. Diehard fans will need to get new replica jerseys. I will have to re-write the article I wrote about the players the Daredevils should retain under the 4 Indians and 3 foreigners policy.

The men who run the IPL keep saying it’s inspired by the NBA. I don’t see how. Well, unless they are referring to the cheerleaders.

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