On Friday, Glenn Maxwell smashed an unbeaten 35-ball 51 in an ODI against the West Indies. Two days later, at the IPL player auction, Mumbai Indians fought off aggressive counter-bidding from the Hyderabad Sunrisers to land Maxwell for $1 million.
As the auction happened, Maxwell was playing another ODI against the West Indies, in which he was bowled for a first-ball duck. He took four wickets with his off breaks, but Sunil Narine smashed him for four successive sixes. Imagine if the dates of the two matches had been exchanged, and played in a different time zone. Would anyone have wanted to punt a million dollars on him?
A bid for someone like Maxwell, who is promising but hasn’t played enough international cricket to have built up a meaningful collection of statistics, is largely founded on faith, hearsay and first impressions. Doubly so in the case of Kane Richardson (Pune, $700,000), Chris Morris (Chennai, $ 625,000) or Sachithra Senanayake (Kolkata, $625,000), who between them have played eight ODIs and three T20Is.
The sums spent on these players seem even more exorbitant when you consider that Vernon Philander (like Morris, a South African seam-bowling all-rounder) and Rangana Herath (like Senanayake, a Sri Lankan spinner) are like-for-like alternatives with immense pedigree and no international commitments during the IPL period, and were both available at a base price of $100,000. Maybe the franchises have far-reaching scouting networks that know something the selectors don’t, which lets them ignore bowlers ranked number two and four on the ICC Test rankings.
Herath isn’t a regular in Sri Lanka’s T20 side. But he fights for the second spinner’s slot with mystery bowler Akila Dananjaya. When he plays, he generally performs — he took 3/25 in his last T20I, to win his team a World T20 semifinal against Pakistan. Philander has an ordinary record in T20Is. But the last of his seven matches came in 2007, when he was still regarded as a trundler, even a bits-and-pieces player — well before he had reinvented himself into one of the world’s most feared swing bowlers.
Every auction begets a list of surprisingly unsold players (classy international wicketkeepers is this year’s theme). Try as we might to unearth a rational, Moneyball explanation for the phenomenon, the truth is simpler — there probably isn’t one.
Karthik is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi