After much speculation and suspense, the Indian Badminton League (IBL) will finally get cracking with players going under the hammer here on Monday.
There have been serious doubts over the inaugural edition of the league, a clone of the highly successful Indian Premier League (IPL), when the players' auction got postponed not once but thrice. Scheduled in March, the auction was first postponed to June 30 and then to July 19 before settling for Monday.
Following cricket, hockey and boxing, badminton too jumped into the business of city-based franchise leagues with IBL, touted as the world's richest tournament having a purse of $1 million.
The auction, to be conducted by London-based auctioneer Bob Hayton, will see the top shuttlers from all major badminton nations -- barring China -- being sold to six franchises.
"The Chinese are not participating because the IBL is clashing with their national games," Badminton Association of India (BAI) vice-president T.P.S. Puri told IANS. It is known that Chinese shuttlers have skipped several important international tournaments for their nationals, which get much more importance than any international event.
The franchises will have a spending limit of Rs.1.5 crore each to buy a team comprising of six Indians, four foreigners and one junior Indian player for the Aug 14-15 tourney.
The city-based franchises -- last of which was bought Thursday -- are Hyderabad Hotshots (owned by PVP Group), Banga Beats (BOP Group), Delhi Smashers (Krrish Group), Lucknow Warriors (Sahara), Pune Pistons (Burman family) and Mumbai Masters (cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, Telugu film star Akkineni Nagarjuna and former cricketer V. Chamundeshwarnath).
India's Saina Nehwal and Malaysian World No.1 Lee Chong Wei will be the prize catches in the pool of several top players, including Thai World No.4 Boonsak Ponsana, Hong Kong's World No.6 Hun Yu and former Olympic and World Champion Taufik Hidayat in the men's singles.
In the women's singles, Germany's World No.4 Juliane Schenk and 2013 India Open Super Series champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand are also sought after.
The maximum base price of $50,000 has been given to the six Icon players -- Saina, Chong Wei, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa, Parupalli Kashyap and P.V. Sindhu. Overseas big names like Schenk, Intanon, Yu and Ponsana have also been tagged at $50,000.
Two former top Chinese shuttlers have also found their way in. Just because they are from the most dominant country in the sport, Zheng Bo (men's doubles) and Bao Chunlai (men's singles), have been given a base price of $40,000.
Interestingly, the format is such that the tie will have five matches excluding women's doubles. There will be a women's singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles and two men's singles.
"There was a shortage of women's doubles players and also the franchises wanted more singles action," added Puri, also a member of the IBL governing council. This point could be explained better by the fact that India currently has eight men's singles players in the top-50 while there is hardly any presence in the women's doubles.
Delhi Smashers coach Rashid Sidek told IANS that with three singles matches, they would like to spend more on skilful individual players.
"Obviously, the importance of singles is more in this format as there are three singles matches while doubles are only two. So we will look to spend more on singles than doubles," the Malaysian said, a point reiterated by the franchise's chief executive Kartikeya Rao.
The league kicks-off Aug 14 with a tie between Delhi Smashers and Pune Pistons and each franchise will host a two-day leg with a total of 90 matches. The top four franchises will clash in the semifinals and the winners will meet in the final Aug 31 in Mumbai.
"Any step taken to promote and popularise badminton is highly commendable. It's a great moment for all of us that India is taking a major step forward by conducting IBL. It will be exciting to play in different Indian cities and I hope to have a great time teaming up with players from different countries," said two-time Olympic silver medallist Chong Wei.