Money seemed no object as franchise owners spent lavishly in a player auction for the new Indian Premier League, with India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni topping the bidding on a day that demonstrated the enormous financial power of the Twenty20 competition.
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a price tag to match [GALLO/GETTY]
Bidding for the 77 available players reached near $40 million, pending late bids at Wednesday's auction, and followed on from the $1.026 billion paid for the initial television rights and $723.6 million for franchise ownership.
Chennai trumped Mumbai in the race for India's limited-overs captain Dhoni, with all team owners cheering the breaking of the $1 million mark as the southern Indian team landed him on a three-year contract worth $1.5 million per season.
Dhoni, currently leading India in the limited-overs tri-series in Australia, was relaxed about being the most sought player for the league which begins April 18.
"I heard about it from my manager soon after the bid was held. The sum seems to be good and I'm happy, but I was never in any sort of tension about it, nor was I losing sleep over it,'' Dhoni told the Hindustan Times website.
Symonds next in line
Australia allrounder Andrew Symonds attracted the next highest price, $1.35 million from Hyderabad, more than five times his reserve price.
Mumbai, having bid strongly for Dhoni and Symonds without success, spent heavily to secure Sri Lanka's 38-year-old opening batsman and former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya for $975,000 per year, while also landing India offspinner Harbhajan Singh.
Former Indian Board (BCCI) president Inderjit Singh Bindra was taken aback by the amounts being bid, with his excitement at the auction reflecting the importance of the IPL on the cricket landscape.
"I have never seen anything so riveting and so absorbing and so exciting even on the field, it's amazing drama,'' Bindra said.
India pace bowlers Ishant Sharma and R.P.Singh were the target of aggressive bids that saw Sharma fetch $950,000 from Calcutta.
India allrounder Irfan Pathan attracted a bid of $925,000 from Mohali, while South Africa's Jacques Kallis was sold for $900,000 to Bangalore.
Mohali team's owners were jubilant with the successful bid of $900,000 for Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, with businessman Ness Wadia pumping his fist and hugging partner and Bollywood actress Preity Zinta.
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Interest in Ponting cool
Australia captain Ricky Ponting went to Calcutta, only modestly over his starting price.
His arrival will make for a collection of strong leaders at Calcutta, which is expected to be coached by former Australia coach John Buchanan, and which also has India's most successful test captain Sourav Ganguly.
The structure of the bidding saw players auctioned off in groups, marquee players, batsmen, bowlers, wicketkeepers, allrounders and produced some unusual results.
Ponting, captain of the world's best national team, will be paid some $250,000 per year less than Calcutta teammate David Hussey, who is only on the fringe of the Australia set-up.
There was the possibility of leadership friction at Jaipur, where retired Australian legspin great Shane Warne will join South Africa captain Graeme Smith, with the pair having previously engaged in some strong verbal exchanges, on and off the field.
Australia's retiring wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist (Hyderabad) and Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan (Chennai) were among the six marquee players, of which Dhoni was the only one to finish in the top ten of bidding.
The others marquee players were Warne, Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene (Mohali) and Pakistan paceman Shoaib Akhtar (Calcutta).
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The IPL reserved four "icon" players from the auction, team captains Ganguly (Calcutta), Yuvraj Singh (Mohali), Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai) and Rahul Dravid (Bangalore), who were guaranteed 15 percent more than the highest-paid player at their franchise. Virender Sehwag was added to the "icon" list on a request from the Delhi squad ahead of the bidding.
The 15 percent premium meant Tendulkar would fetch $1,121,250 per season, still short of Dhoni's salary.
Australia batsman Mike Hussey, Pakistan's Mohammad Yousuf and retired Australian strike bowler Glenn McGrath were among the players who did not attract their reserve price and were placed in the reserve pool for late distribution.
There were no England players available at auction, with the players committing to national team and county duty in an increasingly crowded cricket calendar.
The winning bids were disclosed by Lalit Modi, chairman of the IPL governing body.
"We're all very excited, this is a tremendous day for world cricket," Modi said before the auction began.