With the recent World Cup and Sri Lanka`s sterling win in the final slowly fading into memory, a new competition The Indian Premier League has emerged amid a surge of interest in the region. This has, in no small part, been assisted by the success of all sub-continental teams during the tournament and particularly India`s participation in the semi-final. The IPL is the culmination of experimentation with a shorter format of the game, some say to sell it to wider markets. Its appeal lies in big-hitting and large scores but some subtlety in bowling and fielding tactics have made themselves apparent over a number of months which means that, contrary to initial impressions, IPL teams will not be composed entirely of batsmen who hit a long ball. Good performances in the World Cup will increase the asking price of players and so here we take a look at the big names who will likely fetch the highest price tags in the IPL auction.
The Sri Lankan team were one of the best sides in the tournament and won in sterling fashion an evenly-matched final, somewhat avenging a World Series Cup (WSC) loss in Australia earlier in the year. The current Sri Lankan side is a model for others in winning limited-overs contests with big hitting opening batsmen, fast-scoring stroke-makers in the middle-order and economical, suffocating bowlers. The big-hitting combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana have re-invented the role of the limited-overs opener in much the same way as Mark Greatbatch did four years earlier. Their clean-hitting over the top of the field in the first 15 overs has given Sri Lanka several rollocking starts in the World Cup and lead-up tournaments such as the WSC so, despite Kalu having a rather average World Cup campaign, it would be no surprise if their pay cheques were somewhat bulkier than most. After his glorious hundred in the World Cup final, Aravinda De Silva would also be a much sought-after player as, like Jayasuriya, he offers a handy spin option and outstanding fielding. As with most other big hitters, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharan are likely to be purchased by the Deccan Chargers who are banking on their batsmen to win their matches.
Sri Lank`s bowling all-rounders such as Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Dharmasena may get a contract with cheaper teams such as the Rajasthan Royals. They offer solid all-round capability with accurate bowling and good hitting as well as very solid fielding but owing to their inexperience, they would likely be paid less than others despite goof form from Dharmasena in a lead-up tournament in Sharjah. Rising star Mutthiah Muralitharan would be unlikely to get a contract, despite glowing reports within the Sri Lankan camp about his ability. He is, as yet, unproven at international level and offers little with the bat.
As one of the form teams of the tournament, Australia has several players who will gain high prices in the player auction; Michael Bevan has risen rapidly to be one of the best finishers in the game with several performances in Australia during the WSC as well as the World Cup. However, those in the Australian team likely to get the highest prices are no surprise; Steve and Mark Waugh are still two of the premier limited-overs batsmen in the world with perhaps Mark Waugh over-taking his brother recently. Mark Waugh had a stellar World Cup with three hundreds, one of them in the quarter-final against New Zealand. Steve Waugh had a quieter time of it but, as with Mark, his bowling and fielding coupled with his late-over hitting should result in one of the highest prices for the tournament. Both Waugh`s have been linked to Bangalore, a franchise who is cashed-up and looking towards Test stars to win the tournament. Certainly, Kolkata have also intimated a similar philosophy in choosing who they will target so Bangalore might have a fight on its hands and we may see the Waugh twins playing against each other. Rising star Ricky Ponting, at 21, has already impressed with several big scores at ODI level and will get a contract at the auction but not with the more expensive teams. He is seen as a player for the future with his strength in ball placement and hard running as well as his brilliant out-fielding. He has already been linked to the Kings XI Punjab, a franchise who is putting their stock more in younger players.
On the bowling front, Australia have several strong performers who will likely result in high prices; Shane Warne remains the most potent spinner in the world by some distance and Damien Fleming has bowled consistently well for some time with the new-ball and may not be the highest earner but should earn in the middle-tier of contracts, if he can stay on the park. This is particularly so if Craig McDermott`s run of injuries continues. In breaking news, a project player taken to the World Cup after an outstanding year for South Australia, Jason Gillespie, has already been signed by the Rajasthan Royals. He already has a reputation for searing pace, scaring the pants off several Australian batsmen in practice as well as many at state-level.
The West Indies have several players who will be worth quite a bit at auction. Brian Lara, after an outstanding World Cup, will be one of the highest earners for the tournament despite his stock falling a little with his recent Test form. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, very young and a fantastic fielder, has much potential but would be lucky to receive a contract whereas Richie Richardson, despite his record and at one time being the premier one-day batsman in world cricket, would be unlikely to receive a contract. A solid but unspectacular world-cup campaign followed a very ordinary WSC in Australia and he may not be in the WI side for long. Some negotiations with Bangalore have been evident, though. The injured Carl Hooper, if fit in time, will be the most likely candidate of the rest of the batsmen to gain a contract as he adds clean-hitting to accurate off-spin and brilliant fielding. Will be one of the higher-paid players if fit as although his record is average for a player of his talent, his profile will ensure he draws crowds and subsequently, a higher price for his services.
Curtly Ambrose is the most obvious candidate for a contract amongst the bowlers and will be one of the most sought-after players for any side. His accuracy and experience will stand him in good stead. Ian Bishop would be in with a chance but his injury record and form during the World Cup are cause for concern. Both bowlers have received overtures from the Dehli Daredevils for their services as fast, strong opening bowlers.
Amongst the other teams to make the semi-finals, India presents richly talented players who are seemingly born to play the shortened form of the game. Sachin Tendulkar will probably be the most highly-paid player in the tournament and his stock will have risen after a highly prolific World Cup where he scored two hundreds and a 90 against Australia. He is unlikely to play for any team other than Mumbai and they will spend much of their budget securing his services. Mohammed Azharuddin will also will be another player who will command a high price despite being out-of-form for some time. A surprise packet promises to be Ajay Jadeja, a player who show-cased his big hitting capability in the quarter-final against Pakistan, smashing Waqar Younis for several sixes in the dying overs. For similar reasons, Navjot Sidhu will pick up a contract as one of the rare big-hitting opening batsmen around, pending on fitness. Both players have been linked to the Chennai Super Kings.
Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath will be the large money earners for India with the ball. Kumble was simply outstanding for India in the World Cup with 15 wickets putting him atop the wicket-taker`s list. Srinath was less spectacular but his place amongst the best fast bowlers currently playing is not in doubt and was considered somewhat unlucky anyway. Many of the Indian players appear likely to sign with Mumbai who has a big budget and affinity for local players.
The others team in the tournament have showcased many talented batsmen who are also likely to pick up contracts. South Africa`s Hansie Cronje, Gary Kirsten, Darryl Cullinan and Andrew Hudson are the most likely picks as they all had outstanding World Cup tourneys and have been consistently scoring well for some time, even if the perception is that some South African batsmen are suspect under pressure, a perception which gained traction after their quarter-final loss to the WI. Cronje in particular will price well because he offers a bowling option and tactical nous. Pakistan`s Aamir Sohail and Inzamam Ul-Haq batted well in the World Cup and lead-up tournaments in Sharjah so will get high prices but the player most likely to gain a huge contract is Saeed Anwar who, after an outstanding World Cup and Sharjah tournament, is one of the best one-day opening batsmen in world cricket. The English team will probably see Neil Fairbrother, despite a quiet world-cup, receive a contract. The big-hitting Graeme Hick, just beginning to settle at the top-level, is tipped to be a huge hit at the IPL.
Many New Zealanders are sought-after owing to their strong showing at the tournament. These include all-rounders Chris Harris, Chris Cairns and Nathan Astle as well as batsmen Stephen Fleming and Lee Germon. Germon and Harris raised their prices and profiles after nearly winning their quarter-final against Australia with their power-hitting. Roger Twose and Craig Spearman showed some ability during the tournament but will be lucky to be contracted. Andrew Flower from Zimbabwe is probably the only player from the lesser teams likely to gain a contract, particularly as he can keep wicket. Many of these players have been sought-after by the Chennai Super Kings who have been targeting some of the world`s best batting all-rounders to further their cause in the competition.
Of the rest of the bowlers, Darren Gough has shown himself to be one of the best new-ball bowlers in world cricket, joining Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Allan Donald as likely to be the cutting-edge of any IPL team they join and commanding correspondingly high prices. Shaun Pollock`s all-round abilities and superb pace will likely earn him a contract along with with younger Pakistan team members such as Saqlain Mushtaq. Experienced players such as Mushtaq Ahmed will also command a high price although, perhaps, not as high as his contemporaries.
An interesting trend is for teams to mine the Australian domestic player`s list for talent with the stocky Darren Lehmann, Stuart Law, Greg Blewett and big-hitting sensation Adam Gilchrist, fresh from his 189* of 187 balls against South Australia in the Sheffield Shield final, emerging as those who will dominate the younger tier of batsmen selected. Of the bowlers, Michael Kasprowicz is in line for a contract after an outstanding season for Queensland in which he took 64 wickets but his lack of international experience may count against him. All of these players have been linked to either Punjab or Rathasjan as, again, they are looking towards younger and more dynamic players who they can obtain cheaply.
Part II of this article will follow the fortunes of these players as the IPL unfolds so keep an eye out for it!