It is ironic that a tournament so known for its affluence may have found legitimacy in frugality.
But last week at the seventh Indian Premier League player auction, the relative prudence of franchises and clear tactical approach began a new chapter for the league - a chapter of maturity and a chapter that could accelerate its reputation and standing.
For the first time the annual auction was defined and will be remembered not for opulence but instead for tactics and strategy. Many millions were still spent, but there was a humming undercurrent of cohesion and direction to proceedings.
Yuvraj Singh was the auction's big winner, going to the Royal Challengers Bangalore for $two million. While Dinesh Karthik and Kevin Pietersen also received hefty pay packets. But this was not an auction about huge cheques and grand deals, it was instead an auction of subtlety and guile, of caution and calculations; not commercial calculations, but cricketing calculations. Mistakes were still made, but it was the discernible effort to avoid them that was conspicuous.
This auction was always going to be different. The introduction of uncapped international players to the auction turned the entire process of building a squad upside down. For away from the glitz and glamour of the big-money buys it has often been the case that the franchises with the best strength in depth, especially of Indian players, have generally been the most successful on the field. Such players have until this year been acquired outside the auction on a franchise-to-player basis, a situation that has led to critiques of under-the-table deals that have benefitted the teams with richer owners.
Adding uncapped players to the auction not only levelled the playing field but also added an entirely new dimension to the process, taking emphasis away from the bitter fight for traditional stars and placing it instead on bargains and talent spotting. Squads have always been bottom heavy, but this time they've had to be built from the bottom up. And the big-ticket players being sold first only further complicated proceedings. Caution not extravagance was required. Strategy not money is what mattered.
Broadly speaking this was an auction that admirably sought to readjust any on-field imbalances that may have materialised over the league's short history. Former commissioner and architect of the IPL Lalit Modi has always been profound in his continued insistence that the league must remain financially equitable for the cricket itself to remain entertaining and competitive, and the spectre of his philosophy accompanied the pre-auction reforms.
The strategic complexities added by the reforms nicely coincided with a natural point in the league's evolution, when the importance of the cricket itself appears to be transcending the commercial objectives of the franchises, or at least, the two are beginning to overlap.
The almost blindingly naive and predictable signings of the early brand-building years were few and far between this year and it was evident teams are now approaching the auctions with obsessive intensity in their hunt for a winning combination.
Former Delhi Daredevils insider Amrit Mathur, writing on ESPNcricinfo last week, described the auction as a "war room", recalling "spreadsheets", "brainstorms" and rigorous analysis and preparation. While Kolkata Knight Riders CEO Venky Mysore is said to have based his team's strategy on Moneyball-style-research. Another official spoke of staging faux-auctions prior to the real thing, exploring multitudes of possibilities and opportunities to ensure his franchise was prepared for every eventuality.
As for the details, notably profligacy of bidding wars has finally been recognised. Only Yuvraj and Karthik were beneficiaries of relentless pursuits for their services. While the myth of reputation appears to also have been busted at last, with form, fitness and T20 records being given greater significance.
There are still many areas that appear untapped, and many mistakes that are still being made, but this progressive evolution can only be good for the IPL. After all T20 cricket generally has been limited by having its sincerity questioned, and the IPL- a conceptual blueprint for the future - is breaking down such barriers.
It would be an over-exaggeration to mark this auction as seminal, but what it is is the culmination of a number of factors over a number of years that are shaping the league as a bona fide cricket tournament, and in amongst a swirling bedlam of rumours, allegations, Bollywood wealth, scandal, gossip and innuendo that engulfs the league, that the IPL is staying true to its fundamental existence offers some hope to cling onto.