Minutes after the clock strikes 11 on Wednesday morning in Mumbai, world cricket will rub its eyes, roll up its sleeves, pull out the calculators, and take its first step into an arena it has never been before - an auction room.
Soon, the first name will be announced, along with the base price. Then, the first paddle will go up with a figure marked on it. The next paddle will follow soon, from another table.
And so the bidding or the first cricketer to play in the Indian Premier League, from a pool of about 78 of them, will begin.
On offer, for a price, are some of the world's finest cricketers, from Ricky Ponting to Shaun Pollock, Chris Gayle to Shoaib Akhtar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni to Muttiah Muralitharan. Eager to buy them are some of India's biggest corporate names, from United Spirits to Reliance Industries, and a couple of the country's brightest faces - Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and leading lady Preity Zinta.
Steered by veteran auctioneer Richard Madley, the "open bidding" will take place behind closed doors inside the Regal Room at the Hilton Towers. About six representatives from each of the eight teams will be seated around separate tables with computer screens to track the action.
Cellphones will be off, and as the tension rises with every paddle, watching the various gameplans unfold could well be former Indian captains Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, icon players for Bangalore and Kolkata, this time taking guard as team advisors. The IPL's organisers expect Ganguly and Dravid to be present at the auction, while three other icon stars - Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai), Yuvraj Singh (Mohali) and new member Virender Sehwag (Delhi) - will track the action from Australia.
All eyes, though, will be on the money, with bids for top stars set to go into seven figures. "You can expect at least one player, say Adam Gilchrist or Dhoni, to breach the US$1 million mark, which is nearly triple their base price of around $400,000," the CEO of a franchise who will be present at the auction, told Cricinfo. "That is the top bracket. But with eight teams coming to the table with $5 million each, there will be quite some money floating around in that room tomorrow."
At the other end, the two or three players who fail to attract a single bid will be clubbed together and offered to the organisers after the last bid - at a discount, as it were. Owners can then bid below the designated base price for them.
"This is a debut of a different kind for many of us. Most of us have never been in such a situation before," said a former India cricketer who is to assist one of the teams.
No wonder, then, that on Tuesday, the franchise representatives were rushing from one meeting to another, finalising their purchase strategies, and poring over the rule book in the evening with the organisers.
No wonder that at least one of them has decided to "to hit the bed early to be fit and alert" for the open auction that's expected to stretch for over 12 hours, albeit with breaks in between.
No wonder, again, that with the kind of confusion that the first cricket exercise of this kind is expected to generate, there will be one final briefing on Wednesday morning for the team owners.
This is the primer they will follow:
The rules of the auction
An open auction, with each franchise allowed to bid any number of times for a player. Each franchise should spend a minimum of $3.3 million, but not more than $5 million.
The bid starts with the annual "base player fee" that has already been fixed by the IPL. This base player fee assumes that the player is available for the entire tournament. This fee will be adjusted on a pro-rata basis, depending on the players' availability.
The players will be divided into "sets" of approximately 12 each, according to their base player fee, cricketing speciality and expected availability for the opening season. But the bids will start with a set of marquee players like Gilchrist, Dhoni, Ricky Ponting and Chris Gayle. A random draw will decide the order in which players go up on the block.
One designated bidder from each franchise will raise a paddle to indicate a bid, with the bid representing the fee per season to be paid by the franchise to the player.
No bid can be withdrawn.
Bid increments have been fixed at $5000 for bids up to $100,000, $10,000 for bids between $100,000 and $250,000, and $25,000 for bids between $250,000 and $500,000. Increments over the $500,000 mark will be at the auctioneer's discretion.
The fine print
The minimum "percentage availability" for any player included in the auction will be 25 per cent. Thus, even if a player is expected to be either completely unavailable or only available for less than four of the DLF IPL matches in 2008, 25 per cent of the player fee bid for that player in the auction will count against the $5 million purse. For example, the purchase for $400,000 of a player who is expected to be completely unavailable in 2008 will cause a deduction of $100,000 from the franchise's overall $5 million purse.
If more than one franchise is interested in signing a particular foreign player from outside the current pool, the IPL's organisers will hold another auction. But Indian players who are not in the pool can be signed at any time.
Each franchise can only have up to a maximum of two centrally-contracted Australian players in its squad and/or up to a maximum of two Australian players from each state association.