Selections of Sandeep Lamichhane and Rashid Khan show IPL keen to broaden its appeal

Selections of Sandeep Lamichhane and Rashid Khan show IPL keen to broaden its appeal
Rashid Khan was signed by Sunrisers Hyderabad for 90 million rupees. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2018

Selections of Sandeep Lamichhane and Rashid Khan show IPL keen to broaden its appeal

Selections of Sandeep Lamichhane and Rashid Khan show IPL keen to broaden its appeal

The numbers said it all. Yuzvendra Chahal, the leg-spinner who has since played such an integral part in the 5-1 rout of South Africa in an ODI series, was retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore for 60 million rupees ($930,000) at the Indian Premier League auction held at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Bangalore toward the end of January. The franchise captained by Virat Kohli also tried to get hold of his spin twin, Kuldeep Yadav, but Kolkata Knight Riders used their right-to-match card to hold on to him for 58 million rupees.
R. Ashwin, India’s premier Test spinner and once a fulcrum of the Chennai Super Kings sides that MS Dhoni led to glory, was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for 76 million rupees. Given how highly valued India internationals are at the auction, those price tags surprised no one.
But Ashwin was not the most expensive spinner at the auction. That label belonged to Rashid Khan, the Afghan leg-spinner who has taken the Twenty20 leagues by storm over the past 12 months.
Rashid, whose wicket-taking exploits (17 of them at an outstanding economy rate of 6.62) were central to the Sunrisers Hyderabad campaign last year, finished this season’s Big Bash League (BBL) as the leading wicket-taker alongside Dwayne Bravo (18). His franchise, the Adelaide Strikers, went on to lift the trophy.
The bids and counterbids for the 19-year-old Rashid, who has 135 wickets in 91 T20 matches while giving away just 5.8 runs an over, went as far as 90 million rupees before Hyderabad exercised their right-to-match card. It was a stunning example of how Afghanistan cricket, once an object of curiosity as much as anything else, no longer inhabits the fringes of the game.
Rashid was not the only one either. Mohammad Nabi is now 33, and Hyderabad spent 10 million rupees on retaining his services. If anything, his story is an even more romantic one. Twelve years ago this March, this correspondent watched an Afghanistan side play the Marylebone Cricket Club at the Police Gymkhana in Mumbai. Nabi topscored with 116 in a crushing victory that made the cricket world sit up and take notice. Several of his big hits landed on the Western Railway tracks.
And to mark Afghan cricket’s changing of the guard, the 16-year-old Mujeeb Zadran, another leg-spinner, fetched 40 million rupees from Punjab, while the 19-year-old Zahir Khan, a left-arm googly bowler, was bought by Rajasthan Royals for 6 million rupees.
And it was not just the Afghans celebrating at the end of the two days. Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane, who has just inspired his country into the World Cup qualifiers to be held in Zimbabwe, went to Delhi Daredevils for 2 million rupees. With games in the Everest Premier League watched by thousands, Nepal is another cricket revolution waiting to happen.
Afghanistan’s steady progress — after the recent series win against Zimbabwe, they go into the World Cup qualifiers as one of the favorites — and Nepal’s emergence put into perspective some of the complaints about the IPL selection process.
“The IPL Auction is such an undignified, cruel and unnecessary employment practice. Ridiculous that it exists today, belongs in the medieval ages.” That was a tweet from Peter Clinton, once a chief executive of Wellington Cricket in New Zealand. His views were echoed by Heath Mills, chief executive of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association, who told the New Zealand Herald: “I think the whole system is archaic and deeply humiliating for the players, who are paraded like cattle for all the world to see.”
The trigger for those outbursts was possibly the non-selection of Martin Guptill, who has since gone on to slam a 49-ball T20I century, and Ish Sodhi, one of the highest-ranked bowlers in the format. But as a franchise official told this writer, selections are about far more than playing ability alone.
New Zealand has a population of fewer than 5 million, and the IPL games are shown at insomniacs’ hours. Afghanistan, with nearly 35 million people, and Nepal with 29 million, represent two new frontiers and captive prime-time audiences. Selecting talented young players from those countries makes perfect commercial sense for those looking to expand their business footprint.
The GMR Group which owns the Delhi franchise is also responsible for hydro-electric projects in Nepal. There have been frequent protests at its offices there, and Lamichhane’s signing in a country in thrall to the game represents far more than a monetary investment. This last auction has shown that a decade in, IPL franchises really are looking at the big picture.