Franchises fine-tune plans before auction
The IPL's third auction has been preceded by hectic activity on Monday with league officials fixing base prices for the 66 overseas players involved and franchises buying out player contracts to free up squad places. There were several surprises during the day, among them the news that Kolkata Knight Riders had bought out Ricky Ponting's contract and that Mohammad Kaif, the former India batsman, had been included in the auction list - the only Indian - after being released by Rajasthan Royals.
The star attractions are a mix of old hands and exciting new faces, with players from Pakistan - the current world Twenty20 champions - likely to be among the most sought after, providing they get their paperwork sorted out. The two biggest names are the hard-hitting allrounders Kieron Pollard, from West Indies, and Shahid Afridi, both of whom are currently representing South Australia in the Twenty20 Big Bash. Afridi, Pakistan's captain in the format, is one of three players priced at $250,000 - the others who fall in the same bracket are Australia's Brad Haddin and England's Graeme Swann (see full list alongside).
The biggest surprise as far as base prices go is the 40-year-old former England batsman Mark Ramprakash, who is priced at $200,000.
The auction itself - at noon on Tuesday - is likely to be a more low-key affair than the past two events; there are a dozen spots in all, a spending cap of US$750,000 and few established stars to spend it on, with most already with the IPL.
"Each team is very clear in what they want. I don't think there is going to be any fierce bidding," Amrit Mathur, Delhi Daredevils' chief operations officer, said. Mathur reckoned though there are some players who would be more in demand than others, it would ultimately boil down to what gaps each team has.
The auctions of the past two years have taught the teams some lessons. According to Mathur the most important one came from last year: "You will not spend money on buying a player who is going to sit on the bench."
While the list of players up for auction is more or less finalised, the number of free slots could change before the first bid goes under the hammer. Teams have till noon on Wednesday to buy out any more player contracts they wish and as such their squad lists can be fluid till just before the auction starts.
Sundar Raman, the IPL's chief operating officer, said it was difficult to confirm the exact number of slots that would be filled up at the auction but expected the number to be around 12. What could be confirmed through conversations with some franchises was that Delhi, Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata have a slot each open. Deccan Chargers have two vacant seats to fill.
In Chennai Super Kings' case, technically they have one slot to fill after Stephen Fleming moved on to become a full-time coach from being player-cum-coach last year. Andrew Flintoff's injury, which has ruled him out of IPL III, opened up another, but Chennai can either buy a player at the auction or use the US$1.5m purse they bought Flintoff for last year to buy a replacement player outside the auction. "They can use that slot at the auction within the available purse or take a replacement outside of the auction as replacement," Raman said.
Mumbai Indians, too, are in a similar position having bought out Mohammad Ashraful's contract, but the injury to Kyle Mills has created another vacancy which they will fill either via the auction or by picking a player outside it.
Officials from the remaining two teams - Rajasthan and Bangalore Royal Challengers - refused to reveal any details but it is understood that Rajasthan might have at least three vacancies and Bangalore one. Last year, Rajasthan had placed the contracts of Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanvir under suspension after the Pakistan players were asked by their government to not participate in the tournament. It was the same situation with Misbah-ul-Haq, who was contracted with Bangalore. It is unclear whether those two teams have signed contracts with the three replacement players or opened up those slots. In the case of Kaif, Raman said since he is a "capped" player he could be part of the auction.
Teams would also be wary of the player availability during IPL III, which starts on March 12 and ends on April 25. During this period Australia would be engaged the trans-Tasman battle in New Zealand between March 3-31 while England are touring Bangladesh for a two-Test series between March 12-24.
Meanwhile, Darren Lehmann, Deccan's head coach, has denied reports that his team are looking at Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin as deputy to Adam Gilchrist. "We won't be going for Brad Haddin," Lehmann said. "He is very good cricketer, but we got a great leader and great wicketkeeper in Adam Gilchrist. We've got a couple of young kids in the squad who are good keepers too."
Last year, players like Bangladesh's Mashrafe Mortaza and South African Tyron Henderson, were the most surprising buys in 2009 having been bought at record prices. Mortaza was snapped for a whopping US$600,000 by Kolkata, who pipped Punjab after some fierce bidding. The amount was 12 times Mortaza's base price. Henderson, who had just played one game for South Africa going into the auction, was bought by Rajasthan for US$650,0000 because he was then the world's highest wicket-taker in Twenty20s. In the end, Mortaza played a solitary match while Henderson featured in two of Rajasthan's contests.
"Teams would pay decent money for the player provided you are sure you are going to use him," Mathur said. Interestingly, Henderson's contract has been bought back by Rajasthan and he is back on the bidding block with a base price of $50,000.
Comparatively, the case of Ramprakash is not so absurd. An established batsman in the classical mould, Ramprakash became only the 25th batsman to score hundred first-class centuries two years ago and also boasts a healthy Twenty20 average of 31. He is also the fifth-highest English player on the all-time list of Twenty20 run-scorers.
Ponting agreed a buyout fee with Kolkata, ending his association with the team after only four matches over two seasons. "Ricky was only going to be available for a maximum of five of the Knight Riders 14 games due to the Australian tour of New Zealand coinciding with more than half of the IPL season," James Henderson, Ponting's agent, said. "The Knight Riders obviously want their international players to be available for all games and we agreed financial terms to buy out Ricky's contract."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo