Life-changing fortunes jiggle in for Stokes and Mills

Alison Mitchell looks at the frenetic business of last week’s IPL auction which turned some fortunate players into instant millionaires

I’ve never worked directly on the Indian Premier League so my interest in the auction has never needed to go much beyond a cursory look at the headlines to see if there were any record buys or surprising omissions. Usually Kevin Pietersen was the only England player likely to attract much in the way of a bidding war, and that’s where the fascination lies; to see who goes for the sort of money most of us will only ever dream of – and all for playing a string of three-hour long matches over the course of a seven-week period.

Ben Stokes was always expected to fetch a big sum, but even he was rubbing his eyes to think that he was bought for Rs 14.5 crore (£1.7 million) by Rising Pune Supergiants – especially since he was up from 3 o’clock that morning following the auction on twitter before having to get up with his kids. The bidding that ensued made him the most expensive overseas player in the auction’s ten-year history.

Even more extraordinary, though, was the purchase of England and Sussex fast bowler Tymal Mills for Rs 12 crore (£1.4 million) by Bangalore Royal Challengers. The 24-year-old has only played four Twenty20 internationals, has a congenital back condition, yet became a millionaire with one stroke of the auctioneer’s gavel.

The speedster’s story is a poignant one, having thought at the age of 22 that his entire cricket career could be over when doctors scanned his spine for tumours, carried out lumbar punctures and tested him for multiple sclerosis. While there was no diagnosis of MS, it was eventually determined that his spinal cord and vertebrae are unusually close together. Bowling in excess of 90mph on a regular basis causes the spine to malfunction. Hence he no longer plays red ball cricket and had to abandon any dreams of becoming a Test cricketer, the form of the game that leads to a hefty central contract and a place in the heritage of the game.

Bowling in four over spells, however, is manageable. Fortunately. And oh, how fortunate that has now proved to be. On the day of the IPL auction Mills retweeted a quote that said, “Every setback has a major comeback.” If he manages his money carefully, he should now be financially set up for life.

He would do well, though, to remember a quote of his own, which he uttered in November 2015 when he was yet to be named in England’s squad for the World T20 2016 in India – the tournament which put Mills in the IPL shop window. In an interview with the Telegraph referring to the fears over his back and his future he said, “it’s opened my eyes to the fact the game can go away as quickly as it came”. Mills needs to enjoy the moment without losing sight of the need to stay fit, so that he can continue to play cricket for the long term. Man cannot be happy on money alone.

How do these crazy high bids come about though? Because that’s what they are – crazy. Mills said so himself in the aftermath of the auction.

In 2008 MS Dhoni (US$1.5m) and Andrew Symonds (US$1.35m) were the first players to sell for over a million US dollars at auction. In 2009 it was Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen (US$1.55m each). 2010 was a comparatively conservative year, while in 2011, eleven players attracted prices in excess of a million, with four Indian players going for more than two million dollars. Gautam Gambhir topped the money list at US$2.4m. Since then, Yuvraj Singh has set an auction record of US$2.33 million in 2014, which he broke a year later when he sold for US$2.67 million. Ravi Jadeja and Dinesh Kartik have also had their time in the two million dollar club.

In an auction, the biggest driver to a big fat price is attracting the attention of multiple teams. The bidding for Stokes started with Bangalore and Mumbai, before Delhi entered the fray. Bangalore duly dropped out, but then came Hyderabad, so Mumbai pulled back. Pune entered even later, swooping in with a bid of Rs 13 crore, to which Hyderabad countered, only for the gavel to come crashing down at Pune’s second bid of Rs 14.5 crore (£1.7m).

Stokes’ popularity is easy to understand; a big character to go with some spectacular batting and wholehearted bowling, who has built a big name for himself internationally. Stokes was made famous in India for being on the wrong end of that Carlos Brathwaite over at the climax of the World T20 Final in 2016. His elevation to the England vice-captaincy and the ensuing publicity just before the auction came at a pretty handy time as well.

So timing is important when it comes to attracting bidders, and circumstances play their part too. Mills is a left armer, available for the whole IPL season at a time when Mitchell Starc had pulled out. Starc was a Bangalore player last season, and it was duly Bangalore who made the decisive bid after Mumbai Indians, Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knightriders had all driven up the price. Mills would also have benefitted from touring India with England recently. He bowled to Virat Kohli, who will now captain him at RCB and likely had an influence over the team’s wish-list.

Others to benefit from timely performances include Sri Lanka all- rounder Asela Gunarathna. A week ago the 31-year-old was hardly known outside his home country and could have gone unnoticed at the auction. However, he had just hit a pair of sensational half centuries to beat Australia in two T20 internationals and is now off to Mumbai Indians for US$45,000.

Other trends this year saw some of the more experienced Indian players go unsold, such as Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Pragyan Ojha, RP Singh and Chetashwar Pujara. Conversely several uncapped players were picked up for high prices.

Perhaps one of the most notable auctions for this happening was 2013 when Glenn Maxwell, who had flopped at the previous year’s World T20 and was only eight ODIs and nine T20s into his international career, was bought by Mumbai Indians for a cool US$1 million after competition from Sunrisers Hyderabad. Australia captain Michael Clarke and former skipper Ricky Ponting attracted just one bid each that year and sold for a mere US$400,00. In 2016, little-known Indian left arm spinner Pawan Negi sold for over a million, along with South African all-rounder Chris Morris, who had to put his winning bid into Google to check he had converted the currency correctly!

Mills has also admitted he wasn’t exactly sure how much he had sold for when he was finally bought on Monday. He knows now, and it will change his life.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, February 24 2017

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