Yuvraj Singh was the most expensive buy on the first day of the IPL 2014 auction, a relatively conservative exercise in which 70 players were bought for a total of Rs 212.35 crores (approx. $35 million). There were five million-dollar bids - for Yuvraj, Dinesh Karthik, Kevin Pietersen, Mitchell Johnson and Glenn Maxwell - but the value of some previous millionaires, including the Pathan brothers, Yusuf and Irfan, and Saurabh Tiwary, recorded a steep decline.
The overall mood was less dramatic than previous auctions, with the franchises looking at team-building over shirt-selling. The last big auction, in 2011, had yielded 15 millionaires on its first day and a total of $52.8 million spent - a marked change, even accounting for the fact that there were more teams then and different spending rules.
Yuvraj and Karthik were part of the 16-player marquee list that kicked off the auction and were fiercely contested by three franchises. Royal Challengers Bangalore made a successful bid for Yuvraj at Rs 14 crores ($2.33 million), while Delhi Daredevils bought Karthik for Rs 12.5 crores ($2.08 million).
Kings XI Punjab paid Rs 6.5 crores ($1.083 million) to snap up Johnson and Rs 6 crores ($1 million) for Maxwell. Pietersen, whose international career was recently brought to an abrupt end by the ECB, remained a favourite in the IPL as Delhi Daredevils, his previous employers, became the first franchise to exercise the right-to-match card to buy him for Rs 9 crores ($1.5 million).
In fact, Pietersen, who was once the most expensive player in the IPL along with former England team-mate Andrew Flintoff in 2009 (both were bought at $1.55m), was the costliest buy using the right-to-match card option.
Yuvraj was previously part of the Pune Warriors franchise, which had bought him for $1.8 million in 2011. Yuvraj has been out of form recently and was not a part of the Asia Cup squad, but franchise insiders had revealed, on the eve of the auction, that he was still a key player in the IPL.
As for Karthik, Daredevils raised the paddle as soon as the bidding began. Sunrisers Hyderabad competed for a bit before Knight Riders once again decided to make a late move, entering the bid after it had crossed the 10-crore mark. However, they withdrew immediately allowing Daredevils to bag Karthik.
Incidentally, it is understood that Karthik was one of the favourites likely to be retained by his previous IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians. Mumbai had bought out Karthik's contract from Kings XI for over $1 million in 2012. But Karthik eventually entered the auction and saw his value double to more than $2 million.
In contrast, both Irfan and Yusuf, who have been battling injury and patchy form in the domestic season, saw their worth plummet compared to the millions they were paid in the 2011 auction. Yusuf was the second player bought in the 2011 auction when Knight Riders paid $2.1 million. His base price in today's auction was Rs 2 crores and only Sunrisers and Kings XI made the opening bids, but withdrew easily before Knight Riders used the right-to-match card to buy him back at Rs 3.25 crores ($541,000). Irfan, who was bought by Daredevils in 2011 for $1.9 million, had listed his base price at Rs 1.5 crores. It climbed to Rs 2.4 crores ($400,000) before Sunrisers clinched him.
There were more surprises for the Indian capped contingent when franchises ignored S Badrinath, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar and Manpreet Gony. Saurabh Tiwary was perhaps the best example of how well the franchises had improvised on their buying strategy.
In 2011, Tiwary, who had just started his international career at the time, was paid a mind-boggling $1.6 million by Royal Challengers. During his stint at RCB, Tiwary managed just 487 runs from 30 innings at a strike rate of 104.8. Tiwary's base price in this auction was Rs 50 lakhs and he had few takers before Daredevils got him for Rs 70 lakhs ($116,000). Compared to 2011, Irfan, Yusuf and Tiwary had suffered a dip of approximately $1.5 million in their auction value.
But there were players who lived up to the hype. Maxwell, who was purchased by Mumbai last year for $1 million, managed to get the same price from new owners, Kings XI. The franchise also contested hard to buy Johnson, who, until last year, was with Mumbai.
New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson, who holds the record for the fastest ODI hundred, was bought by Mumbai, who have over the years perfected the trend of buying the player of the moment. They bought Maxwell last year, and before that had purchased South Africa batsman Richard Levi and Kieron Pollard.
Although it was too early to establish any trends, availability remained an important factor in franchise calculations. Players from Sri Lanka and England, who will play a series in May, did not attract any bids. The sole exception was Sri Lanka allrounder Thisara Perera, who was bought by Kings XI for Rs 1.6 crores ($267,000). Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan remained unsold.
So far franchises have utilised eight right-to-match cards: Pietersen (Daredevils), Jacques Kallis (Knight Riders), Yusuf (Knight Riders), Faf du Plessis (Chennai Super Kings), Amit Mishra (Sunrisers), Darren Sammy (Sunrisers), Pragyan Ojha (Mumbai) and Parvinder Awana (Kings XI) were bought back by their previous IPL teams. Four franchises - RCB, Kings XI, Daredevils, Royals - have five more right-to-match cards between them.
Franchises had pointed out on Tuesday that the use of the right-to-match cards would eventually come down to run-time and how the auction went along. Stephen Fleming, the Chennai Super Kings coach, said it was a tough choice for the franchise to decide whether to use the right-to-match card for Michael Hussey or du Plessis.
"It very much came down to who came out first (for bidding)," Fleming said. "We value them both a lot, but with the way the bidding is going and the way the room is working, it is a little bit risky to leave an opportunity."
But there was also some anxiety displayed by franchises like Knight Riders, who decided to enter the bidding for South African allrounder Jacques Kallis. Super Kings were also interested in Kallis but withdrew later.
"Part of the strategy was to try and conserve the card just in case we needed it later," Venky Mysore, Knight Riders' chief executive, said. "So we said let us see how far the bid goes: we paid a little bit of a price but luckily we got everyone we would have used the card for. So we came out okay."
When asked why the franchise had stuck with Yusuf Pathan, who had a terrible three-year stint at Knight Riders, Mysore, however, pointed out that the franchise still retained the confidence in the allrounder. In three seasons, Yusuf has managed 809 runs from 48 matches, with just one half-century and taken 18 wickets at an economy rate of around seven.
"He is a one of the match-winners," Mysore said. "It is a bit unfortunate that he probably hasn't fired as many times. He has won us several games, sometimes more with the ball than with the bat. But on his day he can take the game single-handedly, so we always had him in our plans and we are happy we got him at approximately one-third the price we got him for the last time."
Rahul Dravid, the Royals' coach, stressed that the franchise was not worried about buying too many big names. Among their foreign purchases on the opening day, Royals invested in Steven Smith, Kane Richardson, Tim Southee and Ben Cutting, and bought back Brad Hodge.
"Steven Smith was really important for us because our two key batsmen Shane Watson and Brad Hodge," Dravid said. "Hodge is 39, Watto has few injury issues. So we wanted to back it up with a class player who can play spin pretty well, who has proven leadership potential. He was definitely one of the back-ups for Watson and Hodge, looking at the the future."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo