Indian Cricketers Top T20 League Bids as Youth Beats Experience

Young Indian cricketers grabbed the highest bids as Bollywood stars and Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, built their Indian Premier League teams at a weekend auction.

Actor Shah Rukh Khan paid a record $2.4 million for Gautam Gambhir, 29, a left-handed batsman, to play in his Kolkata Knight Riders team and $2.1 million for all-rounder Yusuf Pathan. Rohit Sharma, 23, went to Ambani’s Mumbai Indians for $2 million as the competition looks to shake off a season of financial scandal.

The payments all eclipsed the former high of $1.55 million paid in 2009 for England duo Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. Former West Indies captain Brian Lara and South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs didn’t attract bids.

The last man to go under the hammer yesterday was Indian batsman Mohammed Kaif, who was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for $130,000. Franchise owner Vijay Mallya, chairman of United Breweries Holdings Ltd., the world’s second-largest liquor company, said the tournament’s first three seasons had underlined the need for a team packed with youth. “We need to follow our strategy of building a young team,” Mallya said in Bangalore. “The show must go on and is going on. We are now looking for getting into the field.”

The Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket tournament is a fast-paced form of the traditional five-day sport, with matches lasting four hours that are accompanied by blaring music between bowlers’ deliveries and dancing cheerleaders.

Modi Suspended

The competition’s chairman Lalit Modi was suspended at the end of 2010 as cricket’s governing body in India began a probe of broadcast and Internet agreements signed on behalf of the sport’s richest league.

Junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor was another casualty last year when he resigned over opposition claims he benefitted from free shares given to a friend by Rendezvous Sports World Ltd., which heads a grouping that won a $333 million bid for a team based in the southern state of Kerala.

“All that has happened in the last year has impacted the IPL brand and it has taken a beating,” Viren Razdan, managing director of Interbrand, a global brand consultancy company, said in a telephone interview from Mumbai. “It has taken the sheen off a ‘super bowl’ kind of tournament.”

Value Doubles

Right-handed Indian batsman Robin Uthappa was sold for $2.1 million to Team Pune, the latest entrant to the league, organizers of the two-day sale in the southern Indian city of Bangalore said in a statement.

The highest bid yesterday was the $900,000 paid by Deccan Chargers for the relatively unknown Australian Daniel Christian, 27, who has played three T20 international matches.

The league’s brand value last year more than doubled to $4.13 billion from $2.01 billion in 2009, according to Brand Finance Plc. Manchester United, a U.K. soccer team, was valued at $1.87 billion in April 2009, while the Dallas Cowboys of the U.S. National Football League was worth $1.65 billion, according to Forbes magazine’s ranking of the world’s most valuable sports teams.

The contracts with players are for two years and the team managements have the option to renew them for a third year on the same terms and conditions as the initial two years.

The 10 participating teams had a total of $72.3 million to spend on players, according a statement issued by the league. On the busiest of the two days, 72 players were sold on Jan. 8 for $52.8 million, including 42 from outside India, according to an e-mailed statement from the governing body of Indian cricket.

Tendulkar, Warne

Among the cricketers sold, South African batsmen AB de Villiers sold to Royal Challengers for $1.1 million, while batsman David Hussey was the highest-priced Australian, selling to King XI Punjab for $1.4 million. Indian batsman Manoj Tiwari was paid $475,000 compared with Australian fast bowler Brett Lee, who was bought by Khan for $400,000.

Players received reserve prices of between $20,000 and $400,000, and Australia’s Adam Gilchrist and Lee were among a group of 21 cricketers in the top bracket. Gilchrist was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for $900,000.

The teams retained 12 players in advance of the auction to meet regulations, according to a statement on the Indian cricket body’s website. Indian Sachin Tendulkar, the leading run scorer in Tests and one-day internationals, and Australia’s Shane Warne spin bowler are among those kept by their teams.

No cricketer from Pakistan, India’s neighbor and rival, was included in the auction for a second year.

The fourth season of the tournament starts on April 8 and ends on May 22.

“I guess IPL is about glamour, entertainment and cricket and it must retain those ingredients,” Interbrand’s Razdan said.

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