As the player auction for the fourth season of the Indian Premier League kicked off on Saturday, Jan 8, the corporate honchos of the various franchises converged on the ITC hotel in Bangalore with mostly just a couple of magic words on their minds, tongues and in their fingertips - "local" and "youth".
The younger Indian cricketers were given precedence over their seniors and overseas counterparts, as the team bosses forked out exorbitant volumes of mega-bucks to bring them into the fold of their receptive teams. Many players who have barely arrived on the international scene were dazzled with astronomical pay-packets
These included players like 24-year-old Pragyan Ojha, who was snapped up for $ 500,000 (Rs 2.3 Crore) by the Deccan Charges and his contemporaries R Ashwin who was bought by the Chennai Superkings for $850,000 (Rs 3.91 Crore), Rohit Sharma who was taken on by the Mumbai Indians for $2 million (Rs 9.2 Crore), Yusuf Pathan, by the Kolkata Knightriders for $2.1 million (Rs 9.66 Crore) and Robin Uthappa, by the Pune Warriors, for the same price.
But cricket veterans who reek of star quality and have spent over a decade proving their worth in the the international arena with the type of credentials that are paralled by only a few, were given the cold shoulder by the bidders on Saturday.
The foremost in the list to be subjected to this sort of high-profile brush-off was former Indian captain and opening batsman Sourav Ganguly. The Prince of Kolkata was literally turned into a pauper as not a single bidder came forward to meet even his base price of 400,000. The man who had become the mainstay of the Kolkata Knightriders, even leading the team in the inaugural IPL season, was outright denied a place in the a side, nor could he find a berth in any other team as well.
Never mind that he is one of India's most successful captains and the only one since Kapil Dev to take his side to a World Cup final. Even the fact that he has notched up a batting average of 27.07 in the 58 T20 matches he has played thus far, was conveniently forgotten. The man who took his return to the format seriously by considering a Ranji stint in preparation for the League's fourth season, has been booted out the door without any consolation.
But West Indies batting great Brian Lara, was at the receiving end of the day's biggest snub. Hoping that the IPL would give him a shot at making a high-profile return to competitive cricket after a three-year hiatus, Lara fell to the ultimate humiliation of being ignored by all the IPL teams.
The franchises had been bidding enthusiastically during that session of the auction. But when Lara's name was called out, an awkward pall of silence fell upon the whole room. Bidders twiddled their thumbs, eyes tilted toward the ceiling and one would daresay, the sound of crickets in the shrubbery lining the outer walls of the hotel invaded the room's four walls as it became resoundingly clear that no one wanted the man who was once touted as the greatest batsman ever. The fact that he has a whole list of records, including the highest individual Test score, suffixed to his name, amounted to naught in the auction room.
Another stunner was that West Indies opener, former captain of the side and certified power-hitter Chris Gayle, also had no takers. It didn't seem to matter that he has been a stable, resilient figure for the Kolkata Knightriders that has on many occasions given the team a flying start. The 6'4" dasher averages 29.97 with the bat at a strike rate of 134.79 and averages 25.90 while bowling his off-spinners at a respectable economy rate of 7.29.
But no one was willing to scrimp together even Gayle's base price is $400,000. Rumours are rife that his exclusion was partly due to an England Vs West Indies test series which is in the pipeline for mid-April and will therefore clash with the IPL, resulting in Gayle becoming unavailable for most of the tournament.
Another casualty, presumably due to the same planned series, was English off-spinner Graeme Swann. The man who was an integral and indispensable part of the English side which won the World Twenty20 last year and who took 2010's highest number of Test wickets at 64 scalps, also was not bid for and will probably not be able to make his IPL debut this year.
But if availability in April 2011 is the reason why Swann has been kept out of the IPL, then why was his compatriot and team-mate Stuart Broad taken on Kings XI Punjab for $ 400,000 (Rs 1.8 Crore)? After all, the fast bowler is even in recuperation from an injury picked up during the Ashes.
Finally, one of the most aggressive one-day batsman ever - Herchelle Gibbs - was also shown the door. He has earned the credentials of being a right match-winner as his endeavours in that regard are highlighted by his pivotal 175 in chasing down Australia's mammoth 434 in 2006.
He has been out of the South African side for the last several months, ostensibly due to a spat with captain Graeme Smith and the management, but that only indicates that he is fully available for a stint with the IPL. However, he still finds no place in any of the ten teams.
Sanath Jayasuriya may have an average of 24.14 in Twenty20s with an impressive strike rate of 142, but coming off a poor last season probably cost him a berth with any of the teams this year. His ouster nevertheless came as a disheartening surprise as was the fact that his team-mate Chaminda Vaas was also given the cold shoulder. Vaas has an effective average of 19.25 and a frugal economy rate of 6.85 in the format, but that still rendered him without any takers.
Several lesser mortals also didn't get any bidders and will remain unsold. The individual teams financial restraints and the soaring prices of the few premier players are also possible reasons for these players' ousters. One will have to see how may more shockers are in store for the second and final day of the auction.