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The IPL mid-season trade has turned out to be an epic fail - but here’s why a mid-season auction could work

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It's time for the IPL to start considering a mid-season auction

@ IPL T20

The IPL mid-season trade has turned out to be an epic fail - but here’s why a mid-season auction could work

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Anirudh Suresh

05/14/2021

Ahead of the 2020 edition of the IPL, the tournament introduced a ‘mid-season trade’, wherein franchises were allowed to trade and swap players at the mid-way stage of the competition to readjust their squad composition. A year on, the change, which still exists, has turned out to be an epic fail.

That is right. While teams have continued to trade players prior to the season, a total of zero cricketers have been traded by franchises in the mid-season transfer window. In a moment we’ll delve deep into the rule and understand ‘why’ mid-season trades have never happened, but two after two seasons of inactivity, perhaps the time has come for the organizers to do away with the rule. Not just that, perhaps the time has come for the organizers to look at a better, more efficient alternative - a mid-season auction. 

What was the mid-season trade?

The mid-season transfer was launched prior to IPL 2020, and it gave teams the opportunity to trade players who had not played more than two matches in the first half, at the midpoint of the season (After each franchise had played 7 matches each). This meant that if a particular franchise felt that a sparsely used player was dispensable and was not of much use to the side, they had the power to trade the player to another franchise, granted the player consented to the same.

To quote an example from this season, if a team like Punjab Kings feel that Ishan Porel is merely hogging up a place in the squad and adds no value to the side, they will have the option to trade him to some other franchise that would be willing to take his services. Porel becomes eligible for trading as he played no games for the side in the first half of the season. 

That sounds like a great idea, right? Well, not really.

Why the mid-season trade failed

Simple: the rule did not take into account the fact that, in an eight-team competition, no franchise would be willing to strengthen their opponents by lending a player of theirs. The IPL, over the years, has been decided by the finest of margins and it is a two-month-long tournament in which every point or even run could matter. Though Player ‘X’ could be a dispensable asset for Franchise ‘A’, the same player could turn out to be the missing piece in the puzzle for Franchise ‘B’. Should this Player ‘X’ shine for Franchise ‘B’, then Franchise ‘A’, the parent franchise of Player ‘X’, could potentially find themselves in a position where they could miss out on a Top 2 or a Playoff Spot due to the impeccable form of Franchise ‘B’. Fearing such a scenario, teams have restrained from trading players mid-season, even if they have a handful of dispensable assets. 

Take the above-mentioned Ishan Porel example. Since last season, Porel has not played a single game for Punjab and he is someone surplus to the franchise’s requirements. But what if they decide to trade him to, say, a KKR, and he ends up shining there? What if KKR rediscover their groove and end up costing Punjab a spot in the playoffs? That would be a nightmare scenario for Punjab and hence to prevent the same, they would simply take the easier route of retaining Porel, even if he is not going to make a single appearance. 

However, the aforementioned issue can be solved by instead having a mid-season auction, where franchisees can evaluate their squad mid-season and make pertinent changes without the fear of potentially strengthening their opponents. 

The need for a mid-season auction

Is a mid-season auction ‘necessary’? No. But it would, however, help languishing teams resurrect their campaigns by giving them the opportunity to bolster areas that need reinforcement. More importantly, it would also liberate players rotting on the bench and give them the opportunity to potentially move to a different franchise where they could get more game time.

What is a mid-season auction, and how will it work?

A mid-season auction is nothing but a mini-auction that will be held in the mid-way stage of the IPL. Registered players will be auctioned and, just like in the mini-auction, franchises will indulge in a bidding process to acquire the services of the cricketers. Mentioned below are the rules of the mid-season auction process which, of course, is a brainchild of SportsCafe. 

Mid-season auction rules

When will it be held?

The auction will be held at the mid-way point of the season, i.e. when each franchise has played seven matches. The auction will be slotted between the first and the second half of the tournament, and there will be no matches held on the day of the auction. (In other words, a one-day gap between the first and the second half of the season).

Who are the players that can enter the auction? 

Among players who already have an existing IPL contract, only those who played 1 or fewer matches in the first half of the season will be eligible to go into the auction. Apart from them, players who went unsold in the mini-auction and new faces can also enrol themselves. Franchises will be required to shortlist names of those they want to be auctioned in advance, and only those players will be auctioned. This is to ensure that the auction remains a very, very short one. 

Who decides who goes into the auction - the player or the franchise?

Well, both. Unlike the mid-season trade, where players had no power to ‘demand’ their release, the mid-season auction will provide players with the option to request a release. Similarly, the franchise, even without the consent of the individual, can also send the player into the auction, granted the person has played 1 or fewer matches in the season. 

So any and every player who has played 1 or fewer matches can request for their release? 

No. Only overseas players who have played 1 or fewer matches in the first half of the season, or experienced Indian players (minimum 25 matches in their IPL careers) who have played 1 or fewer matches in the first half of the season can forcefully exit the squad and enrol themselves in the auction. This is to ensure that there won’t be a mass exodus of players at the midway stage of the season. Understandably, plenty of uncapped players in the squad would have played 1 or fewer games in the first half, and so all those players exiting the squad would create chaos. 

Instead, when it comes to uncapped/inexperienced Indian cricketers, the franchise will have the final say. Upon mutual agreement, the franchise can send the player into the auction, but ultimately the player won’t have a say on his immediate future. 

What if a player who had a contract in the first half goes unsold in the auction? Can he still return to the side in the second half?

No. As soon as a player goes into the auction, his contract with the previous franchise becomes invalid. He essentially becomes a free-agent and will have no IPL contract if he goes unsold in the mid-season auction. 

What will happen to the players’ salary?

A player with a contract who enrols himself into the mid-season auction will be paid exactly half of what he was bought for. For instance, if Dawid Malan (bought for 1.50 crore in the auction) chooses to leave Punjab and enter the auction, then the franchise will only have to pay him half of what he was bought for (75 lakh).  

Will the player enter with the same base price he did, in the original mini-auction?

No. The player will be required to enter with half the base price. For instance, Malan had set himself as a base price of 1.50 crore in the mini-auction. While he is entering the mid-season auction, though, because he’ll essentially be signing up for only half a season, he will need to reduce his base price to 75 lakh, half of what he’d set in the mini-auction. 

And what about the ones freshly enrolling or re-enrolling themselves?

Players freshly enrolling themselves in the auction, or players who went unsold in the mini-auction re-enrolling themselves will have the option to set desired base prices. Unlike the mini-auction, though, the maximum base price here will be 1 crore (not 2). 

With respect to franchises, what about the purse and overseas slots?

Purse and overseas slots for franchises will be the same as what it was after the mini-auction, but they can free up money/slots by releasing players. For instance, if Punjab had 20 crore and 0 overseas slots remaining after the mini-auction, they can increase this tally to 20.75 crores and 1 overseas slot by releasing Dawid Malan. 75 lakh is added to their purse because they freed up significant money by paying Malan for only half the season. 

If a player who had a contract in the first half of the season with Franchise ‘A’ is purchased in the auction by Franchise ‘B’, does he become a permanent member of Franchise ‘B’?

Yes. Taking the same Malan example, if he is purchased by Rajasthan Royals in the auction, he will officially be a full-time Rajasthan player. This means that, just like a replacement player, the franchise will have the option of retaining a player they bought in the mid-season auction. 

Verdict

Will a mid-season auction work? There are no guarantees. Given the power it gives to players, it could end up making a lot of franchises insecure, while there could also be an argument made that teams who have a bigger purse will have an unfair advantage in the auction. However, it undoubtedly would benefit teams and players more than the inherently flawed mid-season trade which, to date, stands unopposed as the most useless rule to have been integrated into the tournament.

A mid-season auction would also not be practically possible in the current state of affairs where players are needed to quarantine for at least a week, but it could, however, be quite a decent long-term proposal as the system could go a long way in reinvigorating bottom-placed teams, thereby giving a whole new dynamic to the second part of the season. 

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