WOULD it be glib to state that, as the hammer kept crashing down on players and the bids received at the Hilton in Mumbai last week, what was actually being sold was not a player but the integrity of international cricket?
Or would it be more correct to applaud cricket for actually breaking free from the financial shackles imposed on players by each country's governing body, allowing a marketplace to decide the worth of the willow-wielders and leather-flingers?
What is known is that the advent of the Indian Premier League has changed cricket irrevocably. Already the governing body in charge, the all-powerful, financially dominant Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is demanding the International Cricket Council (ICC) create a window for its Twenty20 tournament in the international calendar and the much-vaunted and sacrosanct Future Tours Program looks under threat.
Not that the players are moaning. Andrew Symonds has gone for a cool US$1.3m a year for six weeks' work and lesser lights like fellow Aussies David Hussey and Cameron White for $675,000 and $500,000 respectively. These are life-changing sums considering that is yearly pay and they have three-year contracts.
Cricket has long been different in remuneration because the proper money was paid by national boards and not the clubs. The IPL and its franchise system has broken that link. Symonds, one of the main beneficiaries of the frenzied bidding process last week, is on a Cricket Australia contract and because he is a valuable player in all forms of the game, he would be high up its payment list. His package would be approaching the million dollar mark but, in return, CA has an almost feudal ownership over him. If he wants to play any other cricket in the world it has to give permission, every endorsement is scrutinised and many are refused, and every newspaper column, a lucrative sideline, is rigorously examined and occasionally refused permission to be published. This actually happened two weeks ago to Symonds.
But for more money, with the $1.3m the Hyderabad Twenty20 franchise is prepared to pay him each year, Symonds can regain much control over his off-field activities and tap in to a much more lucrative endorsement market: India. And the real clincher is he would get all that for only six weeks' work.
Put that together and it is easy to see that international cricket is in a bit of a hole. Why work harder for less for a national cricket board? Why indeed.
And county cricket will suffer. Overseas players generally pick up around 80,000 for a five-month slog playing about five days a week. That is not a lot for an awful lot compared to the IPL.
And a hugely successful international career is no longer the route to riches. David Hussey is a talented batsman with a solitary international Twenty20 cap to his name. But it is the magnificent hitting that he has performed in the Australian domestic Twenty20 that made Kolkata bid $625,000 for him.
Whether he plays is unknown at present as he is on a two-year contract with Nottinghamshire, whose announcements hint that they are pretty keen on Hussey turning up at the start of the season and not appearing in India. But will they honestly stop him setting himself up for life? Probably not as the money is just too good and counties, administrators, coaches and players know that such a bonanza cannot be ignored.
So cricket will become dominated by the shortest version of the game, Twenty20, because that is where the money, fame and glamour is. There have been some notable absentees, though. Michael Clarke, the Australian captain elect and pivotal member of the Australian team, would have fetched around $1m if he had signed. Instead, he wrote a letter to Lali Modi, one of the powerbrokers behind the IPL, citing family reasons and "workload management" for his withdrawal. Interestingly, he intimated he could join the IPL later and help as an asset.
All of which must frustrate the top English players, whose seasonal demands are out of step with the southern hemisphere and therefore preclude them from the orgy of loot. Until they retire that is. For men like Freddie Flintoff and his continually injured ankles, a couple of years raking in easy money might be preferable to another couple of years slogging round the world at the behest of the ECB.
Instead the top men like Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen have to stumble along on around 250,000 and probably something similar in endorsements each year – not bad earnings but not in the same category as what both would get in the IPL.
The people with the hardest choices to make though are not players or clubs but the ICC. It has endorsed IPL ahead of the so-called breakaway ICL at the behest of its dominant member, BCCI. Now BCCI is demanding changes to benefit itself. It has been clear for some time that the ICC has been a servant of BCCI, now it has been confirmed.
Its lucrative tournaments, the ICC Champions Trophy and the World Cup, are threatened, as is the very existence of Test cricket. What small kid is going to practise his forward defensive stroke and groove an exemplary technique when a few smashes and crashes can lead to a fortune?
The fundamental basics of the game have been reduced in importance and in their place has risen the mighty dollar. The truth is such a change was only a matter of time. The shame is that the history of a dignified sport could become irrelevant. "Now come on little Jimmy, try and hit the ball harder."