The task for the eight franchises at Wednesday's auction didn't look that tedious: 77 players under the hammer, a minimum of $3.3 million to spend, a maximum of $5 million. A bit akin to selecting a Cricinfo Fantasy XI, perhaps, working out the required permutations and combinations of player availability, skill sets and other factors.
At the end of it all, the final paddles raised for each of the 75 that received bids - Mohammad Yousuf and Ashwell Prince missed out - amounted to US$36,780,000, an average of just under $500,000 per player. Add to it the premiums for the "icon players" - Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag, who earn 15% more than the next-highest paid player in their respective franchises - and you have a grand total of $41,926,500, pushing the average price per player up over $500,000.
The million-dollar men
The biggest winner was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who fetched $1.5m, followed by Andrew Symonds, who got $1.35m. The yearly salary for Dhoni puts him nearly on par with the top stars in the English Premier League (EPL). If he plays a probable eight weeks in 2008 (six in the IPL and possibly two in the Champions Twenty20 League later in the year), his weekly earnings of around $187,500 will put him in the same league as the likes of Frank Lampard. If Dhoni's team, Chennai Super Kings, fails to qualify for the Champions Twenty20, he stands to earn close to $250,000 per week, nearly matching John Terry, supposedly the highest earning player in the EPL.
Others in the IPL's elite $1 million-plus bracket were four icon players - Sehwag missed out as Gautam Gambhir, Delhi's most expensive player, cost "only" $725,000, which pushed Sehwag's fee to $833,750.
Base price ain't selling price
While Dhoni and Symonds were auctioned off at the not inconsiderable premium of $1,100,000 over their base prices (the minimum price that needed to be bid for them), there were more surprises in store when one looked at the final bid amount as a percentage jump over the base price.
The two who saw their value appreciate by more than 500% over their base prices were Manoj Tiwary and Ishant Sharma. To put that in perspective, the average mark-up for all the players was a still remarkable 140%.
The multi-skilled players
Cricinfo had reported that franchises were eyeing those who can bat and bowl, or bat and keep wicket. Dhoni and Symonds led the pack, but Sanath Jayasuriya, Irfan Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, and Adam Gilchrist were hot properties as well. Not to forget the surprises - Albie Morkel at $675,000, Yusuf Pathan at $475,000, and Cameron White at $500,000. Seventeen allrounders were listed by the IPL as going under the hammer, and their cumulative selling price was over three times the corresponding base price, which is a hike of over 200% in value above the base price.
Ten wicketkeeper-batsmen were included in the bids, including AB de Villiers, who has rarely kept wicket for South Africa during his international career, and after Dhoni, the trio of Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara and Brendon McCullum went for as much as $700,000 each. In all, the category pocketed a premium of one-and-half-times over their base prices.
India's young stars
Given the IPL is a domestic Twenty20 competition, it didn't need a genius to figure out who the hottest properties on sale were. But even among the Indian players, the stars of the World Twenty20 campaign outdid their senior counterparts. Harbhajan Singh went at $850,000, leaving Anil Kumble lagging behind at $500,000; Zaheer Khan was overshadowed completely by his juniors - RP Singh, Sreesanth, and most of all Ishant. The young batsmen cashed in as well: Rohit Sharma, Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Tiwary, Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina were all sold for prices upwards of $600,000. In all, India's players went at over three times their base prices.
Australia may be India's fiercest rival in recent years, but the No. 2 spot in the country-wise percentage rise over cumulative base prices was taken by South Africa. It is perhaps a reflection of the all-round skills of some South African players that they found more buyers, while the likely non-availability of a few Australians for the inaugural tournament diminished their prices. Pakistan's reputation for blowing hot and cold didn't help their players either.
Twenty20 is not a bowler's game?
The bidding established that the game is for the multi-skilled, but when it came to the batsmen v bowlers battle, it was the bowlers, surprisingly, who marginally pipped their rivals on the percentage increase over base prices. Also, 25 bowlers were sold during the auction, the most among all the categories.
Stats are not enough
Two thousand five hundred and ninety-eight Test victims between them, but the auction results amounted to something of a thrashing in the field for Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Glenn McGrath. The likes of Brett Lee, who has become the spearhead of Australia's attack since Warne and McGrath retired, and Harbhajan outdid them all. And 19-year-old Ishant, with 0.46% of all those wickets, laughed all the way to the bank with $950,000.
Do we know you, mate?
McGrath and Warne seemed perfect material for the IPL: world-class players with no international commitments to keep them away from the tournament. But in what was perhaps a warning sign for the IPL's organisers, the Australian duo's lack of national duty after their retirements did indeed take a toll on their valuations. And these were two players on top of the pecking order when the IPL had signed international stars last year.
Ace is base
Despite all the big bucks spent, quite a few players were sold off at their base prices. Warne and McGrath were on this list too, with 16 others, among them Stephen Fleming, Chaminda Vaas, Scott Styris, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Younis Khan.
World Twenty20 matters ... or perhaps it doesn't
Well, it did as far as some of India's stars were concerned, but franchises seemed to forget the other standout performers of the tournament. Among the players sold (or stolen) at their base price was Umar Gul, whose searing yorkers were the undoing of many a batsman at the World Twenty20. With 13 wickets, Gul was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, struck at nearly every two overs, and went at under six an over. Surely he was worth much more than $150,000.
Two players from Cricinfo's ideal starting XI chosen based on their exploits in the World Twenty20 are missing from the IPL's list. Here's a reckoner of what the Cricinfo Twenty20 XI got at the bidding.
Five out of eight city-based teams had an icon player in their ranks. It meant these players would only turn out for their respective cities and wouldn't be part of the auction. The catch: all these players needed to be paid 15% more than the next-highest paid player in their team.
Following the auction, four of these players' salaries went past the million mark. Sehwag, a late addition to the icon list, was the only one to miss out.
Perhaps the most astute move came from Hyderabad: they initially asked that VVS Laxman be named their icon, and then withdrew the request later. It was a brave move: they successfully bid $1,350,000 for Symonds and $700,000 for Gilchrist. Laxman was bought for $375,000, while the young Rohit Sharma was pouched for double that amount. The Hyderabad franchise representatives even indicated that not having Laxman as their icon worked; after all, if he had been one, then a $1.35m bid for Symonds would have made Laxman the highest-earner in the IPL at $1,552,500 million, blowing the team's budget to bits.
Another team that didn't have an icon was Chennai. But they bought the player who is probably the biggest brand of them all currently in India, Dhoni, and another big star in Muttiah Muralitharan. Apparently, the bidding over Dhoni ended as a battle between the Chennai and Mumbai franchises, and as suggested by the Chennai representatives, Mumbai were done in by the fact that they would have had to pay 115% of Dhoni's salary to their icon Tendulkar.
To conclude ... some team numbers
The fewest players bought at the auction by a team was seven, by Mumbai. The two teams without icons, Chennai and Hyderabad, got themselves XIs, while Delhi and Mohali picked up ten apiece. Another team without an icon, Jaipur, took only eight, and stand to be penalised for not spending the required total minimum amount of $3.3m at the auction.
Five franchises went above the cap of $5m, with one team even touching $6m. However, the non-availability of some players means the franchises need not pay them the entire amount of the winning bid, and thus the teams' expenditures fall below $5m.
Chennai and Mohali bought four Indian players each at the auction, but Mohali, with Yuvraj as their icon, have five out of a total of ten so far, while Chennai have four out of 11. South Africa's Test team regulars were a hit for Bangalore: Dale Steyn, Kallis and Mark Boucher were among the nine the franchise purchased. Three Sri Lankans each were signed on by both Mumbai and Hyderabad, though two high-profile ones, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, will join their former coach Tom Moody at Mohali.
Chennai and Delhi realised the value of multi-skilled players, each buying three allrounders and two wicketkeepers at the auction. Hyderabad have three allrounders and one keeper, while Kolkata settled for a two and two combination.
If you take into account the icon players as well, most teams spent more than half their maximum of $5m on the salaries of just three players. Hyderabad tops the charts with $2,975,000 on Symonds, RP Singh and Rohit, Mumbai follows with $2,946,250 on Tendulkar, Jayasuriya and Uthappa; the same figure for Mohali is $2,888,750, for Chennai 2,850,000, Kolkata $2,842,500, Bangalore $2,435,000, Delhi $2,233,750, and Jaipur $1,625,000.
All figures in US$. Icon players' price calculated at 115% of next-highest earning player in the same franchise.