Through the years in the IPL auction we have seen some staggering price tags for players, and this year was no different. Ben Stokes was sold to Rising Pune SuperGiant for $2.16 million, making him the highest-ever paid Englishman at the IPL, and he was closely followed by Tymal Mills who went for $1.9 million. Both have had interesting starts to their IPL careers. Ben Stokes hit a match-winning century against Gujarat Lions but before that he rarely influenced a game in a way that would match his hefty price tag. Tymal Mills has only played five games and has picked up just five wickets at an economy rate of 8.57.
This raises the question: does price put pressure on a player to perform?
In any form of sport, price can tend to add extra weight on to a player’s shoulders. The fact that they have gone for such a hefty price tag means that they have to perform. They have to prove why the owners paid so much for them. On the other hand, players who go for cheaper feel less pressure and sometimes excel, as they play without any fear as expectations are not as high. Rarely will you read an article or hear commentators not mention Ben Stokes’ fee whenever RPS are playing, the same goes for Tymal Mills.
The debate after a few weeks of whether they were worth the money starts, the media will start calculating the price of each run the player has scored or how many wickets they have taken. Tymal Mills recently said that if he kept thinking about his price tag it would lead to failure. “I am not putting pressure on myself because of the money. Because if you do that, then you are setting yourself up for failure,” he told reporters.
Stats back up the assertion that price adds pressure. Before his big money move to RCB, Saurabh Tiwary was a very consistent player for Mumbai Indians. Pawan Negi has been a top performer for CSK until he was bought by DD for $1.25 million. That season Negi ended up only playing eight games and failing to make an impact on the DD team. Next season he was snapped up by RCB for a much lower fee and is now having a much better season. In 2016 the spotlight was on Negi to deliver simply because of the price tag, had he been sold for same price as Yuzvendra Chahal had to RCB in 2014 it may have been a different story.
The other side is that some of the cheaper/bargain players have performed very well. Shane Watson was sold to RR for $125,000 in the Inaugural IPL Season and he went on to be the Player of the Tournament. Rahane had a standout debut season when he was sold to RR for only $44,000, and he is now a regular in the Indian team. This relates back to the fact that neither of these players were under as much pressure as Stokes, Mills or Negi. If they failed not much would have been said, however every time the more expensive players failed, comments about failing to match the price tag occurred more frequently.
Why is there a correlation between price and pressure?
Psychology dictates that players are under pressure because they have to perform. The team they play for have spent a lot on them and they need to prove why they had spent so much. Ben Stokes will probably hear the price RPS paid for him in the media every day before a game. It’s something that can be extremely hard to avoid especially in the IPL. Mahendra Singh Dhoni once said “pressure makes you do things you don’t want to do” after India got knocked out of the WC Semi Final in 2015.
When under the pressure of a high price, which inevitably leads to high expectations, some stars tend to go for glory. They play the big shots as they need to prove themselves, many times they get themselves out and find themselves in the dugout. Or sometimes they are too cautious and risk averse and tend to play catch up with their strike rate after. When Ben Stokes scored a century against Gujarat Lions the general reaction from current and former players, fans, and commentators were related to his price tag. Rather than praise the innings, we heard the commentators say: ‘That’s why they paid that much money for him’ or ‘Worth every penny’. Compare that reaction when Warner hit a century against DD or Vohra’s 94 against SRH, albeit a losing cause. Price matters, and therefore adds pressure.
The flip side
There have been players that have performed under the pressure of a hefty price tag. Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja are three players that have been sold for $2 million or more. Two of those players have captained their team to the IPL trophy. Not to mention, their personal form with the bat and ball has been very impressive. However, we cannot always judge a player’s performance through the stats. Pawan Negi didn’t play well last season, but he didn’t really get much help from his DD teammates either, considering they finished sixth. Same can be said for Tymal Mills, he is RCB’s main fast bowler and if he isn’t getting the support from others it can be tricky. Look at Malinga and Bumrah for example, both support each other very well. No matter the price, you can’t always expect a player to single-handedly win a match for their team.
Looking at performances, as well as stats it does seem that some of the most expensive IPL Players don’t tend to live up to their price tag. There are exceptions as mentioned earlier, but generally it seems that the only thing stopping them from playing their natural game is the price they were sold for. Steve Smith spoke about Ben Stokes and the pressure of price :”He’s always said from the start that he judges himself on how he plays. He’s not going to put any extra pressure on himself just because he has a big price tag next to his name”. When players tend to forget about their price tag and focus only on themselves, they will excel.