The IPL's one-month trading window for existing players has opened to a cautious response from the eight franchises. While Chennai Super Kings, last season's runners-up, have not put up any player for trading yet, Bangalore Royal Challengers, who finished seventh, said they had already identified three "foreign players" for the window.
The franchises have two more opportunities to submit lists of players they wish to put up for trading - on January 5 and 12 - and that, franchise officials say, could explain the tentative start.
A source in the Chennai franchise, however, suggested they are happy with the current combination, headed by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and would "think hard" before putting up any player for trading even later. "As far as I know, Chennai won't be putting anybody up for trading," the source said.
Apart from buying or selling contracted players through the trading window, franchises can sign up international players not already part of the IPL through a fresh auction on February 6; uncapped players, who are not centrally contracted to their national boards, can be signed separately.
Yet, as the trading window opened, franchise officials pointed to some interesting trends that have begun to emerge: some are keen to offload their Pakistani players, given the tenuous nature of current bilateral ties between the two countries and the uncertainty of their being able to play in India; Delhi are "looking specifically" for an Indian fast bowler, preferably Munaf Patel from Rajasthan Royals, the IPL champion; cash-rich Mumbai want local boys Rohit Sharma (from Hyderabad) and Zaheer Khan (Bangalore); and Bangalore want Robin Uthappa (Mumbai); Rajasthan has also received strong feelers for Australia allrounder Shane Watson.
"We have identified three foreign players who will be willing to swap with other IPL teams, if possible, to achieve better team balance," Vijay Mallya, the owner of the Bangalore franchise, said. "If this does not happen, we will strengthen the team by signing up more Indian youngsters and participating aggressively in the next players' auction."
However, all the franchises Cricinfo spoke to admitted that most of the big deals would be finalised directly between franchises, making the purchase process that is facilitated by the IPL a mere formality. "If anything, I see an exchange of interest happening," one franchise official said. "Two franchises will discuss one-on-one whether there is any chance of a swap through the trading process because that would help both team's balance and combination."
One significant strand that has emerged amid the speculation is that there is some anxiety over the availability of Pakistani players for the next season, especially if the current political climate would lead to extended visa restrictions. "Anyone who is carrying Pakistan players will be wary," an official from Kolkata Knight Riders said.
Apart from Shoaib Akhtar, the Kolkata franchise, owned by Shah Rukh Khan, has Umar Gul, Salman Butt and Mohammad Hafeez in the squad. "Our team has four Pakistanis and in the prevailing conditions, it is not sure if they will make it," the Kolkata official said. "So, logically, it makes sense to reduce my risk. To begin with, the possibility of re-signing Mohammad Hafeez, who has a one-year contract, is very thin."
Hyderabad's Deccan Chargers, who finished last in the first IPL, are reportedly putting up Shahid Afridi for trading, and Delhi officials admitted that there is some concern over Pakistani players. But Delhi insisted they would prefer to hold on to Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, for now and "play by ear" the issue of whether he would actually be available. Delhi is also unsure about their other Pakistani player, Mohammed Asif, who is awaiting a hearing on doping charges from the previous IPL tournament.
Kolkata may put up Shoaib for trading at a later stage, though officials insist that any such decision would have more to do with the side's balance. The injury-prone Shoaib was signed up by the franchise for US$ 425,000 for a three-year deal. "Importantly, we need to see if we can afford to have a certain player if he is not likely to play," the Kolkata official said. "So in a case like Shoaib, we can free up that space and have someone else. We intend to juggle with the existing players without any major shake-up. We already have come to terms with the Moises Henriques, the New South Wales batsman, and Brendon McCullum, who played only four games last year, is available this time for the full season. Chris Gayle, who was injured last time, will be here till May 5 (the second IPL runs from April 10 to May 24). In addition, we will have the services of David Hussey and Ricky Ponting. So it's a question of balance."
Amrit Thomas, a senior official with Bangalore's Royal Challengers, said the trading window would be an opportunity to "redress team-combination issues". Last season Mallya criticised the team management, including captain Rahul Dravid, for picking a 'Test team' instead of a Twenty20 squad. "It's an opportunity for the franchisee to create an additional source of revenue through player transfer fees while at the same time seeking to address team balance/combination issues," Thomas said. "Hence, at this early stage everyone is in the mix. Which transfers finally happen depends on many factors."