Franchisees of teams Pune and Kochi â the two new entrants to domestic T20 club cricket this year â could hold the key to the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) player auction, which kicks off on Saturday in Bangalore.
Under the rules, each team can retain four players and buy new ones, but has a purse of $9 million to do so. Five of the eight previous teams have already forked out $15 million to retain 12 of their key players. That means the ten franchisees have a war chest of $75 million to choose from over 350 players from around the world.
But because existing teams have already spent large sums to retain the best talent, most team managers do not expect players to cost over $1 million each at the auction. Only 19 players have a bid base price of $400,000. These include Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee and Shaun Marsh (from Australia); Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor (New Zealand); Michael Yardy and Kevin Pietersen (England ); Graeme Smith and A B De Villiers (South Africa); and Kris Gayle and Brian Lara (West Indies).
Four Indian players are also on this coveted list: Former captains Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman (all of whom sought to increase their minimum bid price), as well as Yuvraj Singh.
Laxman could be a star attraction after his stellar showing in South Africa. In 2008, he was picked up for $375,000 by the Hyderabad team, but made no impact on its performance. Gautam Gambhir, who earlier captained the Delhi team and was paid $725,000 in the first auction, is on the block at a base price of $200,000 â another dark horse, say team managers.
S Sreesanth, who again hit the spotlight for his amazing bowling performance in the current tour of South Africa, has a base price of $200,000, one third of what he commanded in the first auction in 2008: $625,000 paid by Punjab. Hard-hitter Yusuf Pathan and ace bowler Zaheer Khan are also on the block at a base price of $300,000. Pathan was snapped up by Rajasthan Royals for $475,000, while Zaheer went to Bangalore initially for $450,000.
The limit on the money that can be spent will impact teams like Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, who have already spend half their budgets to retain four players each.
Rajasthan Royals forked out $3.1 million to retain two players, while Royal Challengers and Delhi Daredevils paid $1.8 million to retain one player each. This leaves them will little room to pay mega bucks for new players in the bid.
That is why experts say pricetags in the auction will depend on Kochi and Pune, who need to build their teams from scratch. Said Devraj Sanyal, CEO of Percept Sports & Entertainment: "Which way the price of players will go will be clearly determined by what the two new teams are planning and how aggressive they want to be. They have already paid a huge premium for getting the franchises, unlike other teams, which have had three years to amortise their costs."
Sanyal says this year, given that most Indian iconic players have been retained, the focus will be on foreign players, many of whom are available for the tournament.
Indranil Blah, vice-president at Kwan Entertainment and a keen IPL watcher, said, "Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Sourav Ganguly are hot favourites in the auction this year. I do not expect record amounts to be doled out to purchase players this year." The highest amount paid at an IPL auction is for Pietersen, who was snared for a staggering $1.55 million.
Team owners are keeping their strategies under wraps for the moment. Said a senior executive with one of the new teams that will bid: "We will certainly look at Gambhir, Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan. But there are also many hard-hitters among the international pack, who are reasonably priced. It will be a mix of both."
Experts say they expect the price for Singh and Pathan to appreciate by over $200,000 in the course of the auction. Pathan is the T20 leagueâs fastest century maker.
Sahara India Pariwar bought the Pune franchise for Rs 1,702 crore and a consortium led by Rendezvous Sports World the Kochi franchise for Rs 1,533 crore last March, taking the number of teams to ten. The fourth edition of the IPL is scheduled to commence on April 8.