Dubai: In the wake of the record-breaking Indian Premier League auction on Thursday, Brian Charles Lara, the former West Indies captain, has hailed the progress we have seen in T20 franchise leagues across the globe.
The IPL is set for its 14th season back home in India after a successful campaign overseas in the UAE due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Sunday’s auction saw Chris Morris sold to Rajasthan Royals for a record $2.25 million.
The auction, which was expected to be a regulation affair, threw up the most expensive player in history in South African all-rounder Morris as Rajasthan Royals broke the bank for him.
“The most expensive player in IPL history is now a Royal,” Rajasthan said on the social media as Morris will join a team including three top England stars: Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes. “It was quite a high price, but at the same time, the role in the team and the demand for the role plays a large part,” Royals’ director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara said.
Lara himself is no stranger to cricketing records and has a special place in the sport’s lore, thanks to his famous landmark knocks during his heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Trinidadian is regarded as one of the greatest all-time batsmen and his famous records include the highest individual score in first-class cricket, with 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994. He also holds the landmark for the highest individual score in a Test innings after scoring 400 not out against England at Antigua in 2004. Another record knock was his astonishing 375 against England in 1994. The list of his achievements goes on and, while he never got the chance to play in leagues such as the IPL himself, he is impressed at the opportunities today’s players now get thanks to franchise, merchandising and broadcasting money that has been pumped into the T20 format.
Speaking in Dubai as he donated three of his famous bats — the ones with which he struck 375, 501 not out and 400 not out — to TJ’s sports cafe and restaurant at the Taj hotel in Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai, Lara insisted the progress made by franchise competitions such as the IPL can only improve the sport, both for the players and as a business.
“People talk about these large sums taking over from the purity of the sport, but I disagree,” Lara told Gulf News in an exclusive interview. “Players these days have the responsibility to live up to these numbers. You do not see any player get $2m or $3m and then sit back on their laurels. They are all professionals now and if a franchise owner or camp thinks that is what you are worth, you as a player have to strive to prove you are worth even more to the team and do your best to outshine the rest and live up to your tag.
“You see it in football with the likes of (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo, who have been paid millions and millions and get better and better. So I don’t believe the money is getting in the way of cricket at all. If a players takes the money then rests on his laurels, that is the worst thing you can do. As a sportsman you only have a short span in which to make a living. I am all for it as I see a lot of private money coming into the game and allowing these guys to make a better life for themselves.”
Lara also sees the benefits beyond the leagues themselves. “This can only improve international cricket as a whole, too, as these guys are gaining vital experience they otherwise would never have had the opportunity to get, and we see the vastly improved skills across all the nations whose players participate,” he added. “The IPL is obviously predominantly Indian players — where cricket is like a religion — but it is spreading to all parts of the globe.” He added with a smile: “Maybe in the future you will see football owners like Roman Abramovich seeing the potential and getting involved. It can only be a good thing.”
Lara, whose bats will be on display for the general public to see at the Taj for the next month after he brought them over from Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia, also believes new competitions such as the proposed UAE Premer League, which is scheduled to launch in December, can be utilised to tap into younger talent and help the stars of the future get a step up in the game.
“What I would like to see as we see many players jumping from league to league to league, is more exposure to more players,” he said. “It is good to see top stars playing in four or five leagues around the world, but I would like to see more players involved, and allow these younger guys to get even better to compete with the big guns that hog the auctions.”