The world’s leading cricket players go under the hammer on Saturday for the Indian Premier League auction as the scandal-plagued tournament looks to bounce back with its fourth season.
Former West Indies captain Brian Lara and a host of England’s Ashes heroes will be among 350 players up for grabs at the auction in Bangalore on Saturday and Sunday.
Lara and England bowler James Anderson are among 21 cricketers with the highest reserve price of $400,000 for a three-year contract, with the cash-rich Delhi and Mumbai teams likely to engage in a fierce bidding war.
Other foreigners on offer include Australians Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee, England’s Kevin Pietersen, South Africans Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, and New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori.
Proceedings at a luxury hotel in the IT hub of Bangalore, presided over by a professional auctioneer from Britain, will begin both days at 11:00 local time (0530 GMT) and be broadcast live on an Indian television channel.
The annual IPL tournament revolutionised the sport when it burst onto the scene in 2008 with a high-octane blend of international star players, Twenty20 matches and Bollywood glamour.
But its fortunes dipped dramatically last year after allegations of massive corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion, as well as secret deals to hide teams’ real owners, and even links to India’s criminal underworld.
IPL founder Lalit Modi — whose brash style personified the event — was thrown out by the BCCI, the sport’s governing body in India, over accusations about his conduct and organisers hope this year will be fresh start.
The tournament, to be held from April 8 to May 22, is expected to feature 10 teams after Indian courts overturned the expulsion of the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab.
The BCCI, as part of its attempt to improve transparency in the IPL, threw out both teams in October for not declaring changes in their ownership structures.
The ensuing legal battle led to their probable return — though no official announcement has yet been made.
Two new teams have joined the league: Kochi, who have also been involved in a nasty ownership squabble, and the Pune Warriors.
The players’ auction was due to be held in November but was delayed amid confusion about the size and format of this year’s tournament, which will start just six days after the end of the World Cup co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Twelve players have been retained by their original franchises, with Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni staying with the Chennai Super Kings and Shane Warne and Shane Watson sticking with the Rajasthan Royals.
Some top cricketers have opted out of the IPL’s fourth season, including the Australian trio of Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson, and former India captain Anil Kumble.
Other notable absentees include former Australian stars Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath. Former England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who signed for $1.55 million with the Chennai Super Kings in 2009, has retired.
Pakistan’s cricketers will continue to miss out on the IPL bonanza after none of them was included for the auction.
Their players participated in the inaugural IPL, but were forced out of the 2009 season due to security concerns in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, and were then ignored for the 2010 tournament.
Modi, meanwhile, faces a government probe over financial irregularities and has also had a criminal case registered against him by the BCCI for the misappropriation of 4.68 billion rupees ($106 million).
He denies all charges and now lives in self-imposed exile in London, surrounded by bodyguards, as he claims his life is in danger from Mumbai-based gangsters linked to illegal gambling.