Bizarre auction with a touch of Bollywood

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The Independent Online

As if to confirm the profound suspicion that the Indian Premier League is only showbiz it took a Bollywood film star to maintain decorum yesterday at the bizarre bazaar of the players’ auction.

With millions of dollars being routinely offered for routine players excitement ran high throughout the proceedings at the Hilton Oberoi, Mumbai. Players were auctioned individually in 12 sets and at one point when the new Twenty20 league’s commissioner appeared to give an update he was accompanied by Preity Zinta.

Preity, pretty as a picture and twice as charming, has also bought for $67 million the Mohali team, one of the eight city-based franchises that make up the ICL. Her appearance prompted a frenzy of activity among the 200 photographers present which ultimately caused Modi to lose his cool and threaten not to deliver information.

Ms Zinta, however, the star of smash hits such as Ka Ha Naa Ho and no doubt helped by her degree in criminal psychology, restored order by purring: “We have more rounds of bidding going on so could you please co-operate?” And added for good measure: “Please.” Silence descended.

The bidding itself was as frenetic as the photographers. Indian and Australian cricketers proved the most popular for pretty obvious reasons, the ones from the former because they are at home and the ones from the latter because they are extremely good.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India’s one-day captain, attracted the day’s highest bid of $1.5m from Chennai, which will effectively be his wages for each of the three years of his contract. Not far behind was Andrew Symonds for whose multi-purpose talents (hard-hitting batsmen, versatile bowler, lethal fielder) Hyderabad parted with $1.35m.

Symonds’ price might also have been driven up because he made himself unavailable for Australia’s tour of Pakistan which clashes with the IPL. Although this was because of security concerns the last thing the game needs is players pulling out of matches played by their country for the big money available in what is a club Twenty20 competition.

In all 77 of the 79 players available were bought, many for well above their base (reserve) price. Andrew Flintoff, England’s star all-rounder who is recovering from a chronic ankle injury playing for England Lions in India and might have been thought tempted by the IPL lucre’s lure, said: “Lancashire and the ECB have looked after me very well and my concern is to get on the field for them.”

The IPL begins on 18 April with the final on 1 June and will be televised worldwide.