Players can now thank their stars...and star sponsors

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Mumbai, Feb 20 | Updated: Feb 21 2008, 05:11am hrs
Excitement was in the air outside the plush South Mumbai hotel in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The city was to witness an unprecedented event in international cricket history. A total of 78 players, for the eight cricket teams owned by corporate houses, were being auctioned within closed doors. For the first time, cricketers from across the world will play as market forces demand them to, starting with the April 18 tournament in Bangalore.

An official from the Indian Premier League (IPL) explained why it has been generating such a buzz, currently. He said, Though auctioning of sportsmen internationally is a known concept, auctioning of cricketers is new. This is modelled on the lines of club football in Europe, especially the English Premier League. IPL is a franchise-based Twenty20 competition organised by the BCCI.

To provide a minute by minute update of the auction to the masses, television cameras took their place even by the break of dawn at the venue. The bidding started by 11 a.m. As round one of the bidding process began, waiting journalists got into to a frenzy. Cameramen trained their cameras at reporters as they speculated who would win the highest bid in the first round. There were representatives from the eight franchisees who participated in the bid.

As the auction was being conducted in the adjoining hall, scribes began to discuss why Richard Madley, one of the leading auctioneers from UK, was selected to conduct the auction. Madley has an expertise in the auction process and has sold a graffiti painting named Pansky for $ 1.6 billion, said a scribe.

At 11 a.m, actor Preity Zinta walked in with friend and industrialist Ness Wadia. Zinta, Wadia and another industrialists had earlier bought the Mohali team for $75 million. Later came, much to the delight of the waiting shutterbugs, Shahrukh Khan walked in with wife Gauri. Khan had acquired the Kolkata franchise at $75 million. Liquor and airline baron Vijay Mallya has earlier won the Bangalore franchise for $111.6 million and was in high spirits as he entered the auction hall.

However, Reliance Industries chairman, who has already acquired the Mumbai franchise for $111.9 million, did not turn up and instead sent a representative. At 11.40 am, Lalit Modi, chairman, IPL entered the media center to announce the names of the franchisees who won the bids in the first round. Not surprisingly, ODI captain MS Dhoni was bought by the Chennai franchisee at $1.5 million, the highest bid amount in the first round.