<
>

IPL auction only way for England players

Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, expected to be the prize catches for the next IPL season, will have to be purchased through a fresh auction in February, according to new recruitment rules unveiled today. Other than uncapped players and those who were signed up for one-year "replacement contracts" last year, who can be signed directly by the IPL franchises, all new players will be signed at the auction, officials confirmed.

The availability of Pietersen and Flintoff, however, depends on whether the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) clears them to play for a significant part of the IPL season from April 10-May 24. The franchises will be crunching the numbers before the trading window opens on December 22 so that they don't overshoot their personal spending budgets before February 6, the auction date, after IPL officials confirmed a fresh US$ 2 million salary cap on all new signings, either through the fresh auction or recruited directly. This cap is not applicable to the trading of existing players, a one-month exercise, though the rules specify that "each franchise is restricted to purchasing a maximum aggregate of a total of four overseas and Team India players during the trading window - subject always to the IPL squad composition rules".

The basic rules governing new signings have also been confirmed: a maximum of 10 international players in each squad but only upto four in the playing XI; all overseas players have to get No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) from their respective national boards; no short-term replacement contracts from the new season, except when a player is unavailable for the entire season; and, no carry-over from the $5 million salary cap from last season.

Besides, there is also no limit to the signing of uncapped players, who have been classified as those who have not played Tests, ODIs or Twenty20 internationals and who have not been centrally-contracted to any national cricket board. And, franchises who had signed one-year contracts with players who were deployed as temporary replacements last season will have the first right to sign these players for long-term contracts this time. For instance, Mumbai Indians will get the first opportunity to sign up Dwayne Bravo, who they had signed late into the last season.

Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, said the new rules will help "franchises redress the integral balance of their playing squads to make them more competitive".

However, the first step for the franchises in the new season is the trading window for players who are already contracted to the IPL, which starts Monday noon. By Sunday midnight, the franchisees will have to submit a list of players who they are willing to trade, along with signed consent forms from the players. A compiled list of such will then be distributed by the IPL to all the franchises, who will revert back to the IPL on the players they wish to buy. This information is passed on to the respective selling franchise after which the IPL steps back and lets the franchises do the dealing. There is no limit to the number of players who can be put up for trading, officials said, though players listed as 'icons' - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh - will not be available.

If a player is sold for a more than his original three-year contract fee of last year, the profit is shared between the selling franchise and the player, with the player entitled to a maximum of 50 % of the extra money. However, if a player is "offloaded" for less than the original amount, the selling franchise is bound to pay him the difference so that he retains his original salary. "The idea is to ensure that a players' three-year contract fee, which was decided in the first season, remains sacrosanct," a franchise official, who was briefed about meetings on Monday and Tuesday between franchises and IPL officials, told Cricinfo.

The selling franchise has complete control of the entire process with the rules stating that "if more than one franchise is interested in buying the player, the selling franchise shall negotiate with all interested franchises. The selling franchise shall have the discretion as to which offer to accept."

Asked to elaborate on the IPL's role in the trading process, the franchise official said it was a "satisfactory situation" from their point of view. "The IPL will act as the arbitrator to ensure that there is a certain order to the process, but at the same time not get involved in the actual trading," the official said. "The idea is to ensure that there is no chaos, determine that only players listed for trading are actually traded. In the current situation, there is a balance between the amount of regulation and leeway for backroom talks between franchises."

The scrapping of the $5 million salary cap of the previous year, another franchise official said, will enable a fresh start this season. Rajasthan Royals, the IPL winners, will be one of the teams affected by the 'no carry-over' rule, as they had nearly $2 million left over from last season. "There were complaints last time some teams were not aware of a second auction, and had spend most of their money in the first," the official said. "A fresh start with a new $2 million cap will ensure a level playing field all over again."

Both the franchise officials agreed that though there is no cap on buying players through the trading process, they did not see "huge amounts being spent" during the next month. "The first year has been a lesson for many, and there will be a careful watch on the budgets this time. Rather than big names, the obvious targets will be performers from last time. There could also be serious bids for players like Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa from their home franchises if they are put up for trading, of course." Mumbai's Rohit was signed up by Hyderabad's Deccan Chargers while Bangalore-based Uthappa was bought by Mumbai Indians.