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Ever since the Indian Premier League was launched in 2008, this great Twenty20 Cricket extravaganza has had it all, both on and off the field. It all started with the first IPL auctions in 2008, where we were introduced to the concept of players being sold like commodities and frenetic bidding by the franchisee owners (the corporate) to get the services of the desired players. Since then, we have seen some scintillating, exciting, thrilling and dramatic action on the field, with players and teams giving their all, in quest of becoming the IPL champions. Apart from that, IPL has had its share of controversies and drama off the field as well, from the ouster of IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, suspension of 2 franchisees (Punjab and Rajasthan) due to alleged irregularities and long drawn court battles before they were reinstated, and addition of 2 new franchisees in Pune and Kochi, the latter was only confirmed after a host of ownership issues were resolved. All of this happened and we were now ready for the IPL Auctions 2011.

The rules of the game were like this. All 10 franchisees were given a purse of $9 million to spend in the auction. The 8 existing franchisees were given the option to retain maximum of 4 players from their current teams, but at the high cost of reducing their available purse in the auction to half. This was done to ensure a level playing field at the auction. The stage was set: 2 day auction process, 350 players up for grabs, each player with a reserve price set between $20,000 and $400,000, the professional auctioneer from England Richard Madley ready with his hammer and the franchisee owners ready with their strategic teams in pursuit of utilizing the purse available to them in the best possible manner, building a team which would give them the best chance of going the distance.

With the auction being televised live for the first time, it was really a fascinating experience to watch the events unfold, the drama, the emotion, the shrewd strategies, the good old poker being played, the tension, the touch of nervousness, the stress, the joy, the disappointment, the agonizing wait in anticipation, when the hammer was about to go down to declare a player as sold, it was all a part of an unusual, yet an interesting and tiring, stress filled exercise for the big Indian corporate.

There were contrasting strategies employed by the franchisees, which made the auction even more exciting and unpredictable. While Chennai (the reigning IPL and Champions League Champions) went with the mantra: ‘Why fix it when it ain’t broke?’ and successfully bought back most of the players they had last season, apart from retaining the 4 players in Dhoni, Raina, Albie Morkel and Murali Vijay before the auction, Kolkata, the team which had failed to reach the semis in all three editions, went to other extreme and built an entirely new look team. Kolkata had some players in mind and they were willing to pay any price to get them, which reflected in their astronomical prices paid to Gautam Gambhir ($2.4 million) and Yusuf Pathan ($2.1 million). Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan eventually turned out to be most expensive players at the auction, followed by Robin Uthappa ($2.1 million to Pune), Rohit Sharma ($2 million to Mumbai), Irfan Pathan ($1.9 million to Delhi), Yuvraj Singh ($1.8 million to Pune) and Saurabh Tiwari ($1.6 million to Bangalore).

At the end of the auction, it looks like Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore have the best combination, while the others have some serious gaps to fill in still. Having said this, Twenty20 is the most unpredictable format. One can do all the analysis he wants, make all the predictions he desires, but ultimately, they may all bite the dust. Remember Rajasthan Royals (the weakest team on paper), who went on to become the inaugural IPL Champions.

It must be mentioned that the most notable and surprise omissions i.e the players who were overlooked at the auction and found no takers, were the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Chris Gayle, Mark Boucher, Graeme Swann, Brian Lara. Barring Swann, these omissions are a clear indication of the fact that the franchisees opted for youth over experience and it was a strategy looking into the future. The reputations meant little; it was all about sheer business. It was also an auction, where the young Indian players were sold at hefty premiums, the likes of Pathan brothers, Sourabh Tiwari, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir and many others, outshining the foreign players. Wondering how these most expensive players in the auction compare to the salaries earned by top footballers like Ronaldo, Rooney and co? Well, the figures are pretty similar if we calculate the per week salaries, and considering the fact that the Indians spend in Rs, and not Dollars, one can imagine the value we are talking about here.

So, the auctions are done, but the team building isn’t complete yet. Now, the action shifts to the hunt for talented, but uncapped players i.e players, who have either not represented India yet in International Cricket, or ones who have not player International Cricket for India in the past 3 years. The salaries for these players is fixed, and it will be the player’s choice, as to which franchisee he wishes to play for, if approached by more than one of them. These uncapped players, will plug the gaps left in the squad and would play a crucial role as well.

It is anyone’s guess which of the 10 franchisees would take the IPL crown this time. One thing is certain, though, that IPL 4 is going to be one blockbuster of an event…

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