When the Indian Premier League (IPL) kicked off 10 years ago, it was assumed that the tournament has the potential for some of the closest, most exciting matches ever seen. This was primarily due to the IPL being the most high-profile franchise-based cricket tournament ever, and this continues to be true even today.
The USP of franchise cricket is that teams are, in theory, evenly matched, since every franchise gets a fixed purse to build a team. Of course, each team eventually depends on its players to perform as a unit in order to win but, by and large, it was assumed that virtually any team can beat any team in the IPL.
In the first three seasons of the IPL, this seemed to hold fairly true. Royal Challengers Bangalore and Deccan Chargers, who were the bottom two teams in the first season, were the finalists in season two, with Deccan Chargers lifting the trophy after having finished last in the previous season.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK), despite winning only one title in the first three seasons, were considered to be the best team due to their high win percentage and the fact that they made it to the knockout stage in each season. This was attributed to the fact that they had one of the best limited-overs captain in the world to lead them and had made some good purchases in the first ever auction.
However, things changed in 2011 and the primary reason for this was the re-auction of all players. This wasn't really required, but the justification given was that a re-auction was the only way to be fair to the two new (and now defunct) franchises, Pune Warriors India and Kochi Tuskers Kerala.
The re-auction threatened to turn IPL into the circus many purists already claimed it was because it left little room for the franchises to retain their identity. A way for franchises to maintain a core was the player retention system. Those who claimed that the IPL was entirely about money were proven right by this extremely flawed system.
Franchises were allowed to retain up to four players in the 2011 auction. For each player they retained, a certain amount would be deducted from their purse, which would be that player's fee. However, this was a fixed amount and completely ignored the current market value of the players being retained. The same system was used in the 2014 auction but each franchise was then allowed to retain five players.
The ludicrous assumption was that no player would settle for a smaller pay cheque if they felt that their market value was higher. Therefore, when players like MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Dwayne Bravo were some of the most coveted players in the IPL, CSK were able to retain them for less than their market value.
Each of these players was good enough to be the marquee player in any team he played in and could've gotten record bids at the player auction. The IPL Governing Council's error was assuming that the only thing that motivates players to play in the IPL is the fee being paid to them by franchises. They ignored the fact that being part of a strong, winning team raises the value of a player.
This has been proven as the stars of cricketers like Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya have risen at various points of time due to the fact that they've played for the two most successful franchises in the IPL. Siddharth Kaul, who has always been a good performer in the IPL, has recently been selected in the national team because he's now doing well in winning causes for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Meanwhile, Rishabh Pant is still waiting in the wings because his brilliant performances came for the bottom-placed team.
And this isn't the only factor. Players also realise that earth-shattering bids come with huge expectations that very few players have actually been able to meet, which then reduces their value. Being in the same team as the Indian captain is also a huge perk for players like Raina, Jadeja, and Ashwin, which added to their motivation of staying with CSK for a somewhat smaller pay cheque in the years gone by.
This could simply be cleverness in exploiting a loophole in the system, but it seems more sinister when you remember that CSK's owner, N Srinivasan, was also the BCCI secretary and president for many years.
And so, due to the flawed, money-minded assumptions of the BCCI and the IPL Governing Council, Chennai Super Kings have always been able to retain players for prices lower than their market value. This also leaves enough in their purse to fill their team with more match-winners. Players like Faf du Plessis, who'd be marquee players in other franchises, are just one of their many heavyweights. Because of this, CSK became a team that dominates the IPL even today.