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Orin: How the IPL complements West Indies cricket rather than detracts from it

“[…] For two months’ work in India, Guyanese allrounder Romario Shepherd, in what will be his first IPL tournament, will take home a salary of just over US$1m before taxes and other deductions for local cricketing entities.

“Other players are making more—we’ll get to that in a while—but Shepherd had reportedly been in the IPL auction three times previously and had not attracted any bids. A few weeks in the international shop window playing T20 and ODI cricket for the West Indies changed his fortunes and will transform his life…”

The following guest column from Orin Gordon considers how the IPL dovetails with the ambitions of West Indies cricketers:

Photo: West Indies allrounder Romario Shepherd (right) in explosive action against England during the 2022 Betway T20I Series.
(Copyright Getty Images)

Centuries ago, our ancestors were the subject of auctions in market squares as buyer and seller sought to establish their value. The information entered into the record went into very personal detail.

In St Kitts about 10 years ago, I stood alongside a dedicated archivist in a dusty room filled with old ledgers, examining thick tomes that contained such personal information; astonished at how vividly it brought those enslaved souls to life.

The thick, crumbling ledgers, some of them bound in leather, were a testament to wretchedness but they were nonetheless valuable historical records. The archives were in a battle against time and nature to stop them from rotting away and being lost.

Over the weekend, our male cricketers and their counterparts from around the world were the subject of a far different kind of auction in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) in south central India. They could follow it by video link and did not need to be present while leaders of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket franchises made decisions on their value.

Photo: Kolkata Knight Riders allrounder Andre Russell acknowledges his teammates after reaching another milestone.

And, more to the point, the auction and the bids conferred on the players unprecedented wealth and freedom.

It was nothing like the old auction blocks.

For two months’ work in India, Guyanese allrounder Romario Shepherd, in what will be his first IPL tournament, will take home a salary of just over US$1m before taxes and other deductions for local cricketing entities.

Other players are making more—we’ll get to that in a while—but Shepherd had reportedly been in the IPL auction three times previously and had not attracted any bids. A few weeks in the international shop window playing T20 and ODI cricket for the West Indies changed his fortunes and will transform his life.

All the figures I’m about to give are also in US dollars. Newcomers Odean Smith and Rovman Powell will also be earning big, Smith a shade under $800,000 and Powell a neat $345,000. Smith will turn out for the Punjab Kings, Powell for the Delhi Capitals.

Photo: West Indies white ball captain Kieron Pollard (right) has a gesture of encouragement and a word for allrounder Odean Smith during the Betway T20I Series against England at Kensington Oval, Barbados on 30 January 2022.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Their fellow Jamaican Andre Russell sits at the top of the pile for all Caribbean cricketers, with a salary of about $1.5m. Russell was that rarity, a player retained by a franchise having the right to reserve and so keep out of the auction only a handful of the players on the previous season’s roster.

Everyone else had to go through the bidding process. Too bad if there was someone a franchise wanted to reserve but could not, and he got snapped up by another outfit in the auction.

Russell was one of four players whom Kolkata Knight Riders ring fenced. T&T’s Sunil Narine was another. He’ll earn about US$780,000, the same as West Indies skipper Kieron Pollard, who was one of the four retained by the Mumbai Indians.

Their fellow Trini, West Indies white ball vice-captain Nicholas Pooran, commanded the highest price for Caribbean players in the auction, more than US$1.3m. The boy from Couva was hot property and was the subject of some active bidding. Sunrisers Hyderabad won that contest.

Photo: West Indies stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran scored a career-best 64 in the third T20I against Pakistan at the Karachi National Stadium on 15 December 2021.
(Copyright AFP)

Not far behind Pooran in the moneyball were Barbadian Jason Holder, bought by Lucknow Super Giants for around US$1.2m, and Guyanese Shimron Hetmyer, who went to Rajasthan Royals for US$1.1m.

Greybeard Dwayne Bravo, returning to his beloved Chennai Super Kings, will earn just under half of what Pooran will be getting. Chris Gayle, one of the greatest players in the history of T20 and one of the IPL’s iconic presences, decided not to participate in this year’s tournament.

So while the IPL auction signals a changing of the guard in West Indies cricket, there were a few exceptions to the pattern. Russell seems not to be in the plans of the West Indies selectors but KKR have given him a massive vote of confidence.

Akeal Hosein, growing before our eyes as an all round cricketer, was not picked up by any team. He should not despair. The long list of unsold players includes Tim Weise of Namibia, Adam Zampa of Australia, Cheteshwar Pujara of India and Imran Tahir of South Africa, some good ones.

Photo: West Indies left-arm finger spinner Akeal Hosein (centre) celebrates the second of his two wickets against England in his T20 World Cup opener at the Dubai International Stadium on 23 October 2021.
(via CWI Media)

The highest earner will be India’s exciting young gun Ishan Kishan, who will earn close to US$2m from the Mumbai Indians. As the high price for Pooran and Shepherd shows, the teams seem to be putting a premium on multi-skilled younger players. Kishan, 23, is a gun batsman and can keep wicket. Pooran and Shepherd are 26 and 27 respectively.

A cricket WhatsApp group of which I am a part had two spirited debates about all of this. The first discussed whether these big sums of money will cause Caribbean players to walk away from representative cricket for their countries and for the West Indies.

I can’t see that happening. West Indies cricket is a shop window. Sherfane Rutherford, who had a fabulous season for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots last year, left money on the IPL table by not making a case to play West Indies cricket.

The second issue was whether Shepherd is worth his salary and whether the price tag will weigh heavily on him.

Photo: West Indies bowling coach Roddy Estwick (left) calls the attention of pacer Romario Shepherd to an important element on the scoreboard during a  training session.
(via CWI Media)

The beauty of the IPL is that agreement between player and franchise is for only one year; the next year, unless like Narine and Pollard and Russell your franchise retains you, everything gets thrown into the mix again.

If Shepherd does not perform up to the expectations that come with his price tag, he could find himself on a much reduced salary next year. The market determines your worth.

But beware, markets do move. Up and down.

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