Where will Chris Gayle go?
Four days before the first trading window of the IPL shuts, the biggest question surrounds the future of Chris Gayle, the West Indies opener. Gayle turned out for the Royal Challengers Bangalore last season, and topped the run-charts while taking them to the IPL final. However, Gayle joined the Royal Challengers as a replacement player midway through the season and was hence on a one-year contract. This year the Royal Challengers have first rights to his services, but it is up to Gayle whether to accept their offer or make himself available for the February 4 auction.
Either way, Gayle stands to cash in on the Twenty20 reputation he has built after hitting two centuries and five half-centuries for the Royal Challengers over last year's IPL and Champions League T20. Last season, he went unsold in the original auction and when he replaced an injured Dirk Nannes the maximum the Royal Challengers could pay him was $650,000, the price Nannes was bought for. This year, Gayle can be bought for up to $2 million, the purse each franchise is allowed.
The Royal Challengers are looking at breaking the bank to retain him before January 20, and if they cannot come to an agreement with him other franchises can bid for him in next month's auction.
"You will have to wait. We will make an announcement soon," Siddharth Mallya, the owner of the Bangalore franchise, told ESPNcricinfo, without revealing any further details. But the Royal Challengers are hot on the heels of Gayle, who is currently playing in the Big Bash League in Australia for the Sydney Thunder. Should the Royal Challengers manage to sign Gayle before the auction, they will have to disclose the fee they have agreed with him to the IPL authorities, and that amount will be deducted from the franchise's $2 million purse at the auction.
A BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo that the Royal Challengers wanted to sign Gayle but they would have to shell out a large portion of their purse to convince him. "Bangalore want Gayle because they see the cricketing merit in the decision as he helped them to the final last year," the official said. "But if they decide to sign a deal with him, they will have to pay big money and if they do that they will be left with nothing much at the auction."
As far as Gayle is concerned, he is spoilt for choice. Reportedly the Mumbai Indians, who have already signed Dinesh Karthik (for $2.35 million) and Pragyan Ojha during the transfer window, have expressed their interest in buying Gayle. "Every franchise would like to have Gayle. He turned one IPL on his own," one of the franchise officials said. According to him Gayle would easily get the maximum $2 million purse available to each franchise. If more than one franchise bids $2 million for Gayle, it will go to a secret tie-breaker in which the competing franchises will submit closed bids.
At the moment, it seems, Gayle holds all the aces.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo