IPL 2019: An Exclusive Interview with Veteran Auctioneer Hugh Edmeades

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IPL 2019: An Exclusive Interview with Veteran Auctioneer Hugh Edmeades 

IPL 2019: An Exclusive Interview with Veteran Auctioneer Hugh Edmeades
Hugh Edmeades successfully conducted his first-ever IPL auction at Jaipur on December 18, 2018: Photo Credit: Sportzpics/BCCI.

Auctioneering is beyond those theatrical performances and warm-up exercises. It’s more about the excitement, enthusiasm, energy, speed, and those animated names and staggering numbers throughout the day. Recently, in the most-watched auction of the Indian Premier League (IPL 2019), the newly-appointed auctioneer Mr Hugh Edmeades grabbed the eyeballs during his first-ever IPL (auction) stint.

Indeed, it has been something huge for him after he rued for over a decade on missing the grand opportunity–to kick off the inaugural IPL auction’s proceedings in 2008.

However, excited Edmeades replaced the famous hammerman Richard Madley—to land in Jaipur as an auctioneer.

Hugh Edmeades
Hugh Edmeades – the man with the golden gavel. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

In hindsight, the cat was already out of the bag when Madley on December 5, 2018, took to the micro-blogging site Twitter, to announce that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has sidelined him as an auctioneer.

Metaphorically, it was more of a hat-trick being denied to a bowler who bowled his heart out since 2008. But, all in all, Madley had given enough to relish the IPL memories.

Well, there have been many changes taking place, and in the IPL setup, it was nothing new. And neither an unprecedented cynicism, but the profound change has to weather all the criticism to take off.

Furthermore, the experienced international auctioneer Edmeades had an opportunity to tread an unconventional path. So, he eventually added some flavour to the professional domestic league by successfully conducting its mega-auction.

Although, Edemeades openly admitted that he could’ve done far better. Well, as they say: ‘there’s always a room for improvement’.

Much contended with his efforts, Edmeades termed the moment surreal which eventually involved IPL’s eight bidding teams.

Over the years, Edmeades presided over 2300 auctions worldwide which speak volumes about his wealth of experience as Christie’s auctioneer.

Making a debut as an auctioneer in August 1984, Edmeades, whose favourite cricketer is: Alastair Cook

Since there on, Edmeades thoroughly learned the niceties of an auction and numerical dexterity, clarity, humanity and confidence. It equally stands as his USP.

From England to India, gavel master Edmeades is laced with nuggets of wisdom. Eventually, he justified his maiden presence at the IPL podium with such a bang.

Hugh Edmeades
Hugh Edmeades maintained that being impartial is justice delivered. Photo Credit: BCCI.

While looking down on the keen bidders in the saleroom, Edmeades exclaim: ‘Let’s kick it off’. Edmeades knew it well how to generate interest among underbidders.

In an exclusive interview with Sportzwiki.com, Edmeades sheds light on preparations and how responsible he felt for the cricketing carnival. His insights revealed that he has thoroughly enjoyed himself during the auction of such a magnitude in the cricket frenzy nation like India. 

Also, hear about his journey to success while being a real-life hero, back home.

Here are the excerpts of an interview with Hugh Edmeades:

TIM: Tell us about your family background. And from charity to cricket (IPL auctions) what it meant personally to you?

HUGH: My father was a career soldier. Interestingly, he served in India for several years in the early 1930s. He would often tell us what a wonderful country it [India] was. My parents always taught me to appreciate beautiful things. So, I felt fortunate when I was employed by Christie’s in 1978, where I worked for the next forty years.

I took my first auction in 1984. Since then, I have been lucky enough to take over 2,300 auctions for them. Well, not only in London, where I live. But also in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Dubai, Geneva, and Amsterdam.

Overall, my gavel has fallen on a variety of over 310,000 works of art for a total of US$3.4 billion. At the same time, I have been invited by numerous charities to help them raise funds by being their auctioneer.

During the course of my career, I have taken over 800 charity auctions around the world. I raised a total of US$120 million. When you add these to the Christie’s auctions, there cannot be many more experienced international auctioneers in the world.

One of the few things I had never auctioned before last week, was “human beings”. So, having now taken the IPL auction, I can happily add that to my repertoire.

TIM: From Britain to India, describe your journey of landing in the Pink City for being an experienced International auctioneer to impress the bidders?

HUGH: I had already taken ten auctions in India before, four commercial and six charity ones, predominantly in Mumbai and Delhi, with one in Chandigarh.

I had toured Rajasthan with my wife in 2012 and so already knew of the beauty of Jaipur. But the IPL auction was the first time I had actually sold there.

TIM: What prompted you to land in India – to replace the famous hammerman, Richard Madley? How talks went ahead with the BCCI, even having less time to prepare for the much-awaited auction?

HUGH: Several months ago, I was approached by the International Management Group (IMG), who organise and manage the IPL auctions on behalf of the BCCI, asking if I would like to be considered to be the auctioneer for the 2019 IPL auction, taking place in December.

Naturally, I said, “yes I would”. IMG explained that the final choice of auctioneer was not their’s, but that of the BCCI. You cannot begin to appreciate my pleasure and joy when IMG told me in late November stating that the BCCI had confirmed my appointment.

TIM: You have been involved in over 2,300 auctions and at the same time in billion-dollar deals, but how different was the IPL in itself? Since you’ve been conducting a variety of sales where you rate the cash-rich IPL on the ladder? And how different is it to other auctions?

HUGH: It certainly is right up there. It is entirely different to any other auction I have been involved with.

Firstly, the IPL is an auction of human beings, not inanimate works of art or commodities. Throughout the auction, I was fully aware that I was facilitating life-changing transactions for the players. I was imagining the joy of players I sold, which will greatly reward them financially. And at the same time, catapult them onto the global cricket stage. At the same time, I could imagine the huge disappointment of those players who failed to be bid for, thereby dashing, for the moment anyway, their hopes and dreams.

TIM: Now, you have successfully conducted the IPL auction, take us through the niceties of it. How you braced yourself to get ready for the major challenge (of names and numbers)?

HUGH: The numbers were really not a problem. At the team briefing the night before, I had explained by what increments I would be increasing the bidding, up to 100 lakhs by five lakhs, between 100-200 lakhs, by ten lakhs, between 200-1,000 by 20 lakhs and over 1,000 by 50 lakhs – sadly this year we did not reach those dizzy latter heights.

I knew, if I kept to these increments, there would be no nasty surprises for the franchises who needed to be confident with the next number I was going to call when they raised their bidding paddle to me.

I always knew that the main challenge for me would be the correct pronunciation of the players’ names.

Obviously, I was familiar with the capped players names, but not so confident with the uncapped ones. I had several sessions with an Indian colleague, going through the entire list of all 351 players.

At the auction, I will be the first to admit, I didn’t get them all spot on, but I hope I managed the majority of them. To those players whose names I mispronounced may I take this opportunity to offer you my sincere apologies.

One other concern, at the back of my mind, was to remember to call the correct currency – lakhs. Over the previous five weekends, I have conducted auctions in Pounds Sterling, US Dollars, Japanese Yen, Emirati Dirham and Swiss Francs.

Luckily, on the Saturday before the auction, I had some practice calling “lakhs”, when I took a charity auction at the Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai for The Taj Public Service Welfare Trust. At the IPL auction, I think I mentioned “Pounds” a couple of times – but hey, I’m only human!

TIM: Describe the feeling when you entered one of the biggest halls to be the most important person in one of the successful domestic professional leagues across the globe?

HUGH: First of all, I was not the most important person in the hall. The most important people were the eight who were going to be bidding on behalf of their teams.

My job was simply to facilitate the transaction between the franchises and the players. I must say, the adrenaline was certainly pumping, but actually no more than it does at the start of all my important auctions.

Although admittedly I don’t usually have a TV audience of 85 million watching me, I have sold in much bigger halls in front of many more potential bidders.

The easiest bit of the IPL auction was that I knew I only had eight bidders to worry about and I knew exactly where they were sitting – bang in front of me!

TIM: How you see the landscape of cricket in India and hailing from the UK where it was invented way back in 1800?

HUGH: One doesn’t need to live in India to realise that cricket is almost a religion there. In my mind, I don’t just believe, but I know that the IPL T20 format is the best thing that has happened to cricket in a long time (gasps of horror from the purists!).

Just look at the number of other leagues around the world that have sprung up in the wake of the huge success of the IPL. When I was in Mumbai in 2017 during the IPL, I was desperate to get to the Wankhede Stadium, not just to watch a game, but to be able to soak up the amazing atmosphere generated by thousands of flag-waving, cheering fans.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money (even when I was particularly nice to the great Jonty Rhodes who was staying in the same hotel as me)! My wife, who up to then couldn’t have been less interested in cricket, was really annoyed that I couldn’t get us tickets. She is now a devoted IPL fan!

TIM: Debut; be it any field, is always a fascinating thing that becomes a focal point. Interestingly, IPL auction was held for the first time in Jaipur. How do you rate such a mega IPL auction held in the Pink City?

HUGH: It can only be good for any city to host what, at the end of the day, is the start of the biggest cricket competition in the world. I am sure Jaipur felt honoured to have been selected for the venue of the 2019 auction.

TIM: If we take a look at the positions of different teams in the auction room that comes in 180 degrees, how essential it becomes for you to do justice while auctioneering (the players)? And this time, 60 players were picked among a lot of 351.

HUGH: One of the other major differences at this auction, was that I knew I was only going to be selling a maximum of 70 players (from the list of 351), as this was the number of places left to be filled by the franchises. In any other auction, if I was told beforehand that I was only allowed to sell 20% of the lots, I probably wouldn’t bother turning up! As an auctioneer, I hate not selling something, so I had to readjust my thinking and not show any unhappiness when a player failed to attract a bid.

Also, I realised that failing to sell was not a failure on my part, and it was just that particular player was not needed in the make-up of any of the teams.

TIM: Could you describe us that one incident which has taken you by surprise during the auction of the 12th edition of IPL? And what you find difficult during your maiden IPL auction?

HUGH: There was only one incident during the auction that took me by surprise. Chennai Super Kings were happily bidding away against another franchise, when suddenly the representatives from the BCCI and IMG sitting on a table next to my podium, shouted out “Bust”.

I wasn’t immediately clear as to what was happening. I thought that I had perhaps unwittingly made a mistake with the bidding increments or something.

It turned out that the bid that I had just taken from CSK had taken them over their team budget threshold (INR 82 crore) and so I was instructed to ignore their last bid and to sell that particular player to the other franchise (having checked to see that no other franchise wanted to join the bidding and go higher).

Other than that, the auction was very straightforward. It always helps when the bidders and the auctioneer are both experienced enough to know exactly what they are doing!

TIM: Way back in 2008, BCCI had offered you to conduct the inaugural auction of lucrative IPL, what forced you to turn down the offer and why? Did you regret for a second?

HUGH: To answer your last question first, I didn’t regret my decision for a second. I regretted it for twelve years!! To put the records straight, I wasn’t actually asked to be the auctioneer, I was asked if I would like to be considered for the position.

Sadly, my earlier commitments with Christie’s (I was going to be working in Moscow the week of the auction) meant that I was unable to throw my hat into the ring. But I was very pleased when I heard that Richard, being an ex-Christie’s colleague had got the job.

One of life’s lesson I have learnt over the years is that if you are given the opportunity to do something, do it, usually, that opportunity will not come your way again.

Fortunately, the IPL opportunity did come my way again.

TIM: Any favourite cricketer? Had you been following cricket on a regular basis in the recent past? If so, what’s your memorable moment? Among all eight IPL teams, if you are supposed to pick your team, which team would it be and why?

HUGH: Blimey, how long have you got? I follow most formats of the game, be it Test Matches, ODIs or T20s. And I have many favourite cricketers, but being an Englishman and if you are only allowing me to choose one. I have to go for Alastair Cook, who served the England team so well for so many years.

Cook will be sorely missed.

I was at The Oval this year to witness his fabulous century in his last innings. Quite an emotional moment. It’s not often you see two “not out” Englishmen with centuries against their names on the scoreboard at the same time. Test skipper Joe Root also scored a sublime ton that day.

As for my favourite IPL team, it would be wrong of me to have one. During the auction, apart from being the facilitator, I likened my role to that of a good impartial football referee who keeps a low profile whilst ensuring that the teams follow the rules and only to step in if there is any “foul play”.

Fortunately, the professionalism of the eight bidders meant I had a trouble-free six hours, with no need for yellow cards, let alone red ones. As far as I was concerned, and I imagine in the minds of the BCCI and IMG, there was no room for any ego on my behalf. This show wasn’t about me as the auctioneer; it was about the start of the 2019 VIVO IPL – one of the world’s greatest spectacles. I am just very happy to have been involved in a small, but important way, at the outset.

ONE FINAL POINT: Since the auction, many people have asked me if I will be back with my golden gavel for the 2020 IPL auction. The answer to that, is not in my hands. If the BCCI invite me, yes, of course, I will be there like a shot. If they don’t, I will still be able to tell my grandchildren that I achieved my twelve-year ambition and dream of having had the honour and pleasure of once being the IPL auctioneer.

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