Ben Stokes, the IPL and why England's best are set for bumper pay days in this year's auction

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Ben Stokes, the IPL and why England's best are set for bumper pay days in this year's auction
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Manoj Badale’s response is swift and unequivocal.

“Yes”, he says when Independent Sport asks the Rajasthan Royals' chairman whether Ben Stokes was still a popular figure in India, despite his recent charge for affray following a night out in Bristol back in September.

Indeed, that enduring popularity could see him enjoy a bumper payday when the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) auction takes place in Bangalore this weekend. Badale believes he will even draw a higher bid than the £1.5m that took him to Pune 12 months ago.

“There is absolutely no question that IPL teams will be very interested in signing Ben Stokes,” he says. “There is no question that he will be valued more highly, partly because team player budgets are higher (supported by the new TV deal), partly because he had an outstanding tournament last year, and partly because he will be so well rested having missed a gruelling Australia tour.”

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That imposed period of inactivity didn’t do much for England’s Ashes hopes Down Under but as the dust settles on that disastrous campaign – the pain partially eased by the one-day spanking handed down to Steve Smith’s side in the one-day series that has followed – Stokes will, as Badale suggests, be far fresher than might otherwise have been the case.

In days gone-by, availability issues coupled with a general feeling that English players weren’t in the very top drawer of T20 specialists, meant that their involvement in the world’s richest short format competition was limited.

That, though, is no longer the case.

Stokes will be joined in the auction by his Test captain Joe Root and the likes of Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Sussex’s Jofra Archer – the Barbadian-born all-rounder who could well force his way into England contention after serving his qualification period in county cricket.

Archer has come from nowhere to earn something approaching cult status in this winter’s Big Bash and could, like Stokes, become one of the highest priced players at a marathon auction that will see 578 players go under the hammer.

The fact that none of the current franchises have retained more than three players means that squads are being built virtually from scratch. An increased salary cap of 20 per cent will also ensure that some bank balances are likely to be considerably healthier by the time the competition concludes in May.

Last season, Archers’ team-mate, Tymal Mills, was plucked from relative obscurity to hit the jackpot – joining the Royal Challenges Bangalore for £1.4m. His performances in the tournament itself were limited by injury but it still enabled him to pay for his first house before the summer was out.

“Some of the IPL money is pro-rated so I lost a decent chunk of it but I still got paid an amazing amount of money for the games I did play and it has helped me massively,” he said.

“I’ve bought my place now and that has set me up nicely moving forward. It’s crazy to think about the amounts you get paid for just playing six weeks of cricket but I’m certainly not complaining.”

Nor were the owners of the now defunct Pune franchise who spent big on Stokes last year and were rewarded handsomely, with the Durham man being named the player of the tournament.

Even with his court case hanging over him, Stokes is still likely to be one of the first names on the wish-lists of the eight bidding franchises.

The fact that England’s players are going to be available for the majority of the competition – which wasn’t the case in previous years – should also ensure that the auction gets similarly lively when Buttler’s name comes out of the hat.

The man at the centre of it all will be Richard Madley, a Chippenham-based auctioneer, who has overseen ever IPL auction since the first in 2008.

The double-signing of Freddie Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, both for well north of £1m, in 2009 remains one of the IPL’s seminal moments – and Madeley believes that this weekend’s auction can match those seen in the early years of the competition.

“The excitement of IPL1 was extraordinary because no-one knew what to expect – not me, not the franchise owners, not even Lalit Modi (the IPL’s first chairman),” he says. “After that nothing surprised me – not even the kind of prices attracted by players like Stokes.

“I had 1280 players on my list (at the start of January). Over the two days, though, there will be nearer to 600 and I’m only going to have around 88 slots. I’m going to have 512 disappointed players – I’m always going to disappoint more players than I make please.”

Those who do hear the sound of his hammer will be very happy indeed. And a great many of them are likely to be English.

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