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Lucknow makes KL Rahul joint-highest-paid player in IPL history

Ahmedabad, meanwhile, confirms that Hardik Pandya will captain its team

KL Rahul has been signed by the Lucknow IPL franchise for INR 17 crore (US$ 2.28 million approx.), making him the joint-highest-paid player in the IPL across seasons, along with Royal Challengers Bangalore's Virat Kohli. Kohli was signed for the same amount by Royal Challengers in 2018, ahead of the last mega IPL auction.
Lucknow, one of the two new teams added to the IPL last October, will enter next month's mega auction with INR 59 crore (US$ 7.93 million approx.) in their purse, after having also acquired the services of Australia allrounder Marcus Stoinis for INR 9.2 crore (US$ 1.24 million approx.) and uncapped Indian legspinner Ravi Bishnoi for INR 4 crore (US$ 0.54 million approx.). The difference in the amount paid for the players and the purse remaining is due to the IPL's rules on minimum amount deducted from the purse for a certain number of players drafted in, irrelevant of how much was spent on the players.
ESPNcricinfo had reported on Lucknow's pre-auction picks earlier this week, and on Friday night, Sanjiv Goenka, who heads the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group (RPSG) that owns the franchise, confirmed the line-up on a Star Sports programme.
Ahmedabad, the other new team, which was bought by global private equity giants CVC Capital, will enter the IPL auction with a purse of INR 52 crore (US$ 7 million approx.) after having signed Indian allrounder Hardik Pandya and Afghanistan legspinner Rashid Khan for INR 15 crore (US$ 2.02 million approx.) each and India batter Shubman Gill for INR 8 crore (US$ 1.07 million approx.). Ahmedabad also confirmed on Friday that Pandya would captain the team.
The IPL allowed both new teams to pick three players (who had not been retained by the eight existing franchises) each ahead of the auction, which is scheduled for February 12 and 13 in Bengaluru.
'What's better than someone who gives you three things?'
Talking to Star Sports, Goenka said that the three players his franchise had picked would not only "propel" the team but also "lay the foundation" for the future. "KL is not only an outstanding batsman but also a great wicketkeeper," Goenka said. "Marcus is a great finisher, a good bowler and a phenomenal fielder. Ravi brings a unique dimension to the spin department and is an exceptional fielder. We want players to be here for three-four-five-six-seven-eight years."
Goenka also confirmed that Rahul would be Lucknow's captain. "Yes, KL will be the captain. I have been very impressed with not only his batting and wicketkeeping, but also his leadership skills. He is evolving, growing, maturing as a leader. He is somebody I would have wanted to lead the team and I do believe that given the right atmosphere, environment, he will emerge as a remarkable leader."
The Lucknow team had earlier appointed former Zimbabwe captain and England coach Andy Flower as head coach, and former India captain Gautam Gambhir as mentor. Gambhir, who has won the IPL previously as captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, twice, said signing up Rahul was a "no-brainer". "He's a work in progress, he keeps, he opens the batting," Gambhir told Star Sports. "He consistently has been a phenomenal run-scorer. And what's better than someone who gives you three things?"
Gambhir said the franchise viewed Stoinis as their designated finisher, especially since the likes of Ben Stokes would not be available. "Stoinis, purely from a finisher's point of view, since we didn't know if Ben Stokes was going to be in the auction or not. And Stoinis can bat in the middle or finish the games too."
Bishnoi was the highest wicket-taker in the 2020 Under-19 World Cup and was then picked by Punjab Kings, where he has been impressive over two seasons. Gambhir described the 21-year-old legspinner as one of the "most exciting prospects" in the IPL. "He is a complete wicket-taking option."
RPSG had bid a record sum of INR 7090 crore (nearly US$ 940 million) to buy the Lucknow franchise. This was the second time the group has bought an IPL team, having owned the Rising Pune Supergiant(s) franchise for two seasons in 2016 and 2017. An ambitious owner, Goenka was not shy of replacing MS Dhoni as captain with Australia's Steven Smith in 2017, after the team's below-par showing in 2016.
'Motivated to show what he's capable of as a leader'
Former South Africa batter and India head coach Gary Kirsten, who will serve as mentor-cum-batting coach at Ahmedabad, explained the franchise's thinking behind making Pandya captain. "He's a young, new captain and he'll be motivated to come in, make a play and show what he's capable of at this level as a leader," Kirsten told Star Sports. "He's a great leader, a high performer, and he's really motivated. What I've heard is that he is keen to get in the mix. What I've heard, he's raring to go and get in the mix from a leadership perspective. That's very exciting for us to have a player with such a level of skill, motivated to do well."
Kirsten has also previously worked with Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) and Royal Challengers, and it was at Royal Challengers that Kirsten first teamed up with former India fast bowler Ashish Nehra, who will be Ahmedabad's head coach. The franchise has also appointed former England batter Vikram Solanki as team director - he had worked with Nehra and Kirsten for one season (2019) at Royal Challengers.
It will be the first time Kirsten works with Rashid, though. Rashid is headed over from Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Kirsten is looking forward to the experience. "Rashid has proven his value all around the world," Kirsten said. "I haven't yet worked with him, but I've met him a few times. Watching him on the field, he is a competitive young man and wants to do well for the franchises he plays in."
Kirsten called Gill, who was released by Knight Riders, a "match-winner". "Gill is a fantastic player who, at the end of the day, in my view, should be playing for India. He's on the verge of that and plays with great flair and instinct for the game. He can be a match-winner on his own."