A year is a long time in the world of a T20 freelance cricketer. Twelve months ago, Tymal Mills was gearing up for his first crack at sporting superstardom, after being snapped up by Bangalore Royal Challengers for a whopping GBP1.4 million at the 2017 IPL auction – a true rags to riches tale for a player who had feared, due to a degenerative back condition, that he might be forced to retire before he’d even reached his prime.
But now, Mills is back to being on the outside looking in where the IPL’s concerned – he was snubbed at this year’s auction after an underwhelming run of form for Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash, and overlooked too in the draft for the Caribbean Premier League (although, as he later clarified on Twitter, a partial clash with his county commitments at Sussex meant he had never fully expected a gig).
But Mills insists he has no complaints about the way in which his life has reverted to the norm, or indeed about the process of the IPL auction itself – which has attracted criticism in some quarters, most notably from the chief executive of New Zealand’s players’ association, Heath Mills, that it is “undignified” and “cruel” to parade players like “cattle”.
“It’s a little bit tough, but don’t put yourself in it if you’re scared of being humiliated or embarrassed,” Mills told ESPNcricinfo. “If you don’t get picked. It’s just the way it is. I’ve felt the good and the bad of the auction, I was obviously the belle of the ball last year and this year I wasn’t involved. That’s okay. We’re all big boys and we have got take the rough with the smooth.
“It’s not like that in any other league because there’s not the money elsewhere that there is in the IPL,” he added. “The only way to spread out that type of money is through the auction system, I think. Obviously with other leagues, it’s capped and there’s less money involved so you can split it – you can do it in a draft and it’s a bit more regimented – but with the money that the IPL generates and the passion and everything that India brings to cricket, it’s just the way it is.”
And Mills certainly has no reason to bite the hand that chose not to feed him this year. After all, it’s not as if the vast sum of money that RCB coughed up for his services last year has gone up in smoke, KLF-style.
“I was very, very fortunate last year,” said Mills. “I invested it well, bought myself a property and all those nice things. I’ve definitely experienced both sides of the coin – obviously things couldn’t have been better last year with the contract I was able to get, and obviously this year I didn’t get one, so it works both ways, but I wasn’t expecting to get one.
“Going into the auction I was in pretty bad form playing in the Big Bash, and how you perform leading up to the auction really determines how well you go or don’t go – last year I had a really good series with England in India; this year bowled pretty poorly. I’m not upset about it or anything, it’s just the way it goes. I’m still very happy with how my life is, still very fortunate, and I’ll be ready to go if guys get injured or get international call-ups.”
In the meantime, Mills’ IPL mantle has been passed to his Sussex team-mate, Jofra Archer, who was picked up by Rajasthan Royals for GBP 800,000. And seeing as they were both playing for Hobart when the news from the auction landed, Mills has been on hand to pass on some of the lessons he learned about such a life-changing windfall.
“It’s great for Jofra,” Mills said. “We come from quite similar backgrounds, not overly well off, then you get given all this money and you don’t quite know what to do with it. I saw at first-hand how good he was in the Big Bash, and as I was in the exact same situation 12 months ago, I’ve put him in touch with some people who helped me get stuff in order. I’m sure he’ll be fine as well.”
Mills was speaking at Hove during Sussex’s pre-season media day, having just returned from Lahore where he was one of a contingent of English players who committed to taking part in the knock-out stages of the Pakistan Super League. And despite being eliminated by Peshawar Zalmi in the semi-finals, his haul of 2 for 23 in three overs capped a personally satisfactory campaign, and perhaps more importantly given his medical history, proved his ability to remain fit across back-to-back tournaments.
“I’ve had an up-and-down winter in terms of form and selection, but I have to be very grateful I’m still playing,” he said. “Last year I struggled, I tore my hamstring three times and it was a real problem for me. So to get through back-to-back tournaments, even though I didn’t bowl as well as I would have liked in the first half ,that’s a big plus for me, to stand here right now, in good shape and really looking forward to the English season.”
And despite so much talk in the English off-season about the increasing divide between red-ball and white-ball cricket, Mills reiterated he was fully committed to playing for Sussex in this season’s Blast, in spite of putting himself forward for the CPL which clashes with the latter stages of the competition.
“I’m fully committed to Sussex,” he said, “They’ve treated me really well since I moved down here, but it’s just about being smart and having all bases covered.
“The way the CPL draft works, to be a replacement player you have to be in the draft in the first place. So if Sussex weren’t to qualify for the knock-outs, I could then be available for over half of the CPL if there was an injury.”
Overall, Mills believes that the specialist route that he was forced to take through injury, and that the likes of Alex Hales and Adil Rashid have since chosen, will be the exception rather than the rule for county cricket.
“Halesy and Rash have their England white-ball contracts, and they’ve still got contracts with their counties,” he said. “If the worst comes to the worst and they don’t get picked in a single league around the world, they are financially able to live. Whereas a guy here at Sussex who says he won’t play red-ball anymore would be running a big risk.
“So I don’t think it’ll be that big a deal at domestic level, it’s just whether the guys at the international level maybe decide to go down that route.”