A strong South African contingent are bracing themselves for another money-spinning IPL season, writes TOM SIZELAND.
It’s that time of the year again when cricketers get to live like footballers. They see their names in flashing lights, see their faces on life-size banners, see their pockets bulge with their millions as they soak up the rock-star lifestyle for two months. It’s the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League, and it all gets under way on 9 April.
For many, the most exciting part of the season happens before a ball is even bowled. Like a repossessed car or an old piece of furniture waiting to have its value assessed, hundreds of players put themselves up for auction, as young, local hopefuls look to use the platform to gain invaluable experience, prestigious world-beaters hope to raise their stock and prove their worth on the biggest stage, while retired internationals seek a lucrative swansong.
Lives can be changed in a matter of minutes at the auction, and one way or another, there’s usually a South African who makes the headlines.
That honour went to David Wiese last year, who picked up a cool R5.4-million after being snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore. This year another South African all-rounder found himself among the top earners. Chris Morris went for the equivalent of over R16-million – an immense sum of money for even the wealthiest of cricketers.
It’s been a fantastic year so far for Morris, who made his Test debut in the New Year’s clash against England in Cape Town, before playing a match- and ultimately series-winning knock in the fourth ODI against the same opposition in February.
‘I am very excited to be going to Delhi,’ said Morris when he heard the news. ‘I like Delhi as a city and I’m happy to be going there with some of my South African teammates.’
His father Willy, a first-class cricketer back in the day, issued a few words of caution to the 28-year-old. ‘I wouldn’t say life has changed much. We are still the same people, the same family. I have always tried to instil in Christopher the fact that he must keep his feet on the ground and be humble because it’s a blessing to be paid so much money.’
The 2016 edition sees two new franchises enter the fray. Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions will be making their debuts in the tournament, following the two-year suspension of two-time champions Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals due to illegal betting by their owners. That has prompted a bit of a player merry-go-round, as former Super Kings stalwart Faf du Plessis has moved to the Supergiants, while Dale Steyn has teamed up with the Lions.
Playing for your international team means everything when you’re trying to earn a contract. A handful of international T20s put Wiese on the radar last year, while Morris will also attest to that. So, too, will Kyle Abbott, who joined Kings XI Punjab for a hefty $310,800, and Farhaan Behardien will join him there, sneaking in a contract during the third round of the auction.
Perhaps surprisingly, several big names failed to catch the eye of the bidders, as the likes of Rilee Rossouw, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander will be forced to watch from the comfort of their own home. What might have put the bidders off was their base price – Rossouw and Amla both set a starting price of $148,000.
Money isn’t everything to some, however. Just ask Englishman Sam Billings, who clearly sees his future lying in this format of the game. He will hope to get some game time with Delhi Daredevils after going for a relatively paltry $44,400, in a bid to extend his international career beyond the World T20.
‘Yeah, I got the gig. I somehow got a gig,’ an excited Billings told Cricinfo.com. ‘I wasn’t holding my breath in terms of getting a deal or anything. I put it at the lowest price possible to get some opportunities. It’s not about the financial gain. I’ve got no interest in the money as such at the moment. It is about getting the exposure to play with the best players in the world.’
Countryman Jos Buttler, who boasts England’s three fastest ODI centuries, has lost his place in the Test team, which presented an opportunity to play in the Indian showpiece. Buttler, as expected, went for an attractive $562,400 to Mumbai Indians.
‘You’re a piece of meat in an auction, aren’t you? There are no guarantees of getting a franchise, but it’s a competition I would love to be a part of,’ Buttler said before the bidding began. ‘This was a great window for me to try it out and with the players around you, you’d think you can learn not just about T20 cricket, but all cricket.’
This season marks a huge opportunity for David Miller, who has carved out a cricketing career based on his performances in this tournament. He’s struggled for form on the international scene, especially in the 50-over format, but he remains a hero in Punjab, and he’s been rewarded for his scintillating form in the IPL with the captaincy. Only Australia’s Shaun Marsh has scored more runs than him for Kings XI, and only six batsmen have scored more runs than him in all T20s since 2012.
Head coach Sanjay Bangar is looking forward to seeing him in the new role. ‘I have watched David grow as a player. He has displayed outstanding batting abilities and a cool temperament in many high-pressure situations. I am confident in his potential to lead the boys this season.’
Somebody else taking on a new leadership role is Jacques Kallis, who has been promoted from batting coach to head coach at Kolkata Knight Riders. Down in Bengaluru, meanwhile, it’s no secret that Proteas skipper AB de Villiers’ workload has been an area of concern, and this might come under the microscope again as he is likely to play in most, if not all, of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s matches before he heads to Barbados to play in the Caribbean Premier League. His fans back home will hope he remains fresh for what will be a busy end of year for the Proteas.
His side are perennial underachievers in the IPL, but they will be touted as one of the favourites once again, with the likes of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, Shane Watson and Mitchell Starc hoping to share the workload with De Villiers as they target their first ever title.
– This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of SportsClub magazine