England spinner Graeme Swann and Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene head a star cast of cricketers who will be auctioned on Saturday to join the Indian Premier League.
As many as 144 foreign and Indian players have thrown their hat in the ring in an auction restricted to players not already aligned to any team in the money-spinning Twenty20 league.
Australian fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle, and England duo James Anderson and Ian Bell, are among the other leading players going under the hammer in Bangalore.
Each of the nine franchises have a maximum of USD 2 million to spend at the auction as they bid to strengthen their line-ups ahead of the fifth edition of the IPL which will be played between April 4 and May 27. Team insiders warn, however, that no more than 20-25 players are likely to be bought since only a few slots are up for grabs to fill the quota of 11 foreign stars in the 33-man squads allowed for each club.
"Teams will focus on their strategic requirements, not on star quality alone," Delhi Daredevils executive Amrit Mathur told AFP. "If a team already has a number of batsmen, it will likely go for bowlers. The idea is to provide an all-round balance to the squad."
Much will also depend on the availability of the players for the seven-week tournament that will host 76 matches.
England's international players will not be available for more than a month, since their tour of Sri Lanka ends on April 7 and is followed by a home series against the West Indies starting in mid-May. The leading Australians will join the IPL only after their tour of the West Indies finishes on April 27.
Among the players to be auctioned are those from the Kochi Tuskers franchise, which took part in last year's tournament before being thrown out of the IPL in September for non-payment of dues.
Sri Lankan pair Jayawardene and world Test and one day wicket record holder Muttiah Muralitharan are among the Kochi players on the market, as well as New Zealand's Brendon McCullum and Indian veteran Venkatsai Laxman.
Former Pakistan international Azhar Mahmood, who now holds a British passport, is the only player from his country to try his luck at the auction. Pakistani players took part in the inaugural edition in 2008, but were kept out of the next three editions amid growing political tensions following the Mumbai attacks later that year.
Tom Cooper of the Netherlands and the O'Brien brothers from Ireland -- Niall and Kevin -- are players from the non-Test nations on the auction list, which also includes Bangladesh opener Tamim Iqbal.
Players have to be cleared by their domestic cricket boards before they can enter the IPL auction.
"The short-list comprises some outstanding cricket talent," IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla said in a statement. "Given that the list was prepared on the basis of the feedback from the franchises themselves, the stage is set for an exciting and eventful player auction."
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