One hundred and forty four players from 11 countries will go under the hammer on Saturday in the 2012 IPL auction in Bangalore, but the vast majority of them are likely to go home empty handed. While the franchises having been allowed to spend an additional $2 million, and had their squad sizes increased from 30 to 33, no more than 30 players are likely to be bought, and that number could be closer to 20, franchise officials said. Having had a season to evaluate their teams and pinpoint their weaknesses, this auction is about shopping smart, not shopping in bulk.
"Teams will be looking to fill in the gaps that they have identified," a franchise official told ESPNcricinfo.
One player that won't lack for suitors though, is India allrounder Ravindra Jadeja. His ability as an allrounder, coupled with his excellent fielding, makes him the most attractive player in the auction. Bought for US$950,000 by Kochi Tuskers Kerala last year, Jadeja is expected to go for over a $1 million and could potentially end up in a tie-breaker situation, with two or more franchises bidding the maximum of $2 million for his services.
The Kochi franchise was terminated by the BCCI last September for breaching its terms of agreement. The board encashed the team's bank guarantee worth Rs 156 crores (US$ 30.39 million) and decided to include their players in the IPL auction.
Other India internationals, such as Vinay Kumar and Parthiv Patel, are also in demand, given their availability and the lack of restrictions on playing India players.
At the other end of the spectrum lies VVS Laxman, who might struggle to attract bids with a base price of $400,000 as he is not seen as a Twenty20 player. He only played three of Kochi's 14 games last season. However, one franchise official thought Laxman could be worth buying if he was willing to serve as a mentor for the team.
Among the foreign players, Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, and Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand opener, are thought to be the most in demand. The duo was Kochi's leading scorers last season. Jayawardene is not expected to command the $1.3 million that Kochi paid, but the BCCI has said it will honour any difference between the new contracts for former Kochi players and their old ones.
Muttiah Muralitharan, the retired Sri Lanka offspinner who has been playing in New Zealand's domestic Twenty20 competition, is considered more of a gamble. He played only five out of 14 games for Kochi last season, and one official said he would be surprised if Muralitharan "went for a lot". Last year Kochi bought him for $1.1 million.
Chris Gayle, the West Indies opener, would have been the biggest draw had he been included in the auction, but Royal Challengers Bangalore managed to retain his services for $550,000 ($100,000 less than he was paid last season). Given his multiple match-winning innings in 2011, had he been in available, he probably would have commanded the maximum $2 million contract. His deal with Royal Challengers also allowed the franchise to have $1.45 million to spend in the auction.
In general, the foreign players are riskier bets because the IPL only allows teams to field four in their playing XIs. "Many good players are just sitting on the bench [already]," another franchise official said. "What's the point of having more good players sitting on the bench?"
Another consideration franchises must take into account is the availability of players. The IPL season overlaps with a number of international tours featuring England, Australia and West Indies, so franchises might chose to mix and match players who are available at different times. The likes of Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Ian Bell could draw interest because the England players are available in April but not in May, while the Australia players will join the IPL only after their tour of the West Indies ends on April 27. Anderson, who is not currently part of England's Twenty20 plans, has said he is hopeful a good stint in the IPL could lead to a recall to the national side.
Those West Indies players who are not fixtures in all the formats for the national side, such as allrounder Andre Russell, are also expected to attract interest. Russell was one of the better performers for West Indies in last year's one-day series in India, and it was his crucial partnership with captain Darren Sammy that clinched their only victory of the tour in the third ODI in Ahmedabad. Kevin O'Brien, the Ireland international who made the fastest century in a World Cup to shock England last year, might also find an IPL home.
Among the more intriguing options are the 40-year-old former Australia spinners, Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill, who are available for the first time. Both men came out of retirement to play in the Big Bash League and their performances in that tournament convinced them to test the IPL waters. The pair has the advantage of not being tied down by international commitments and at a base price of $100,000 each, could be good value. The crucial factor will be how teams think they will perform in Indian conditions, a franchise official said.
The limited number of India players in the auction - eight in total - guarantees that a number of foreign players will find a home. Those who do will receive a two-year contract (the second year is optional). Most of them though, will have to wait until the next auction and try again.