The Indian Premier League, the world's richest cricket tournament, will hold an auction in Bangalore on February 4, where as many as 144 players will go under the hammer. Each team can spend $2 million in the event meant for players not picked up in last year's auction. The exceptions are Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors, who have already spent some money retaining their respective 'replacements', Chris Gayle and Sourav Ganguly.
Given the open slots available for each of the nine franchises and their need to inject quality players, we line up the top ten players who could attract high prices at Saturday’s auction.
The Indian allrounder has the lowest base price of $100,000 among the so-called 'marquee' players but has been tipped to be the hottest property at this year's auction.
A brilliant fielder, tidy left-arm spinner and stroke-making batsman, the 23-year old presents a valuable all-round package. Playing for the defunct Kochi Tuskers Kerala in IPL 4, Jadeja proved a decent buy with 283 runs at 31.44 and eight wickets at 38.12. Earlier, for Rajasthan Royals in 2008, Jadeja had played a big role in winning his team the title.
Potentially, at least four teams will vie for his name, the top two being Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab, who sorely need an Indian allrounder. Kolkata Knight Riders may show interest in him owing to his likeness to Shakib Al Hasan, and playing Jadeja ahead of the Bangladesh allrounder would prove an easier option. Bangalore may also show interest in an attempt to include an allrounder to support Gayle.
McCullum's Twenty20 pedigree speaks for itself: a batting average of 33.06, strike-rate of 137.97 and four centuries. His unbeaten 158 in the first match of the inaugural IPL in 2008 still reverberates for its ferocity and though McCullum has been unable to replicate such brilliance in three subsequent seasons of the IPL, he remains a much-valued player.
Last season, playing for Kochi, McCullum scored 357 runs from 13 matches at 27.46, with just one half-century. However, he was the second highest run-scorer in New Zealand's domestic HRV Cup this season with 372 runs from nine matches at 46.50. In his last two Twenty20 internationals, against Zimbabwe, McCullum hit an unbeaten 81 off 46 balls and 64 in 37.
Among the franchises, Rajasthan and Mumbai Indians – each without a specialist wicketkeeper-batsman – and Deccan Chargers – given Kumar Sangakkara's possible unavailability – are the front-runners to bid for McCullum.
Jayawardene's worth as a Twenty20 player was increased immensely when he was promoted to open for Sri Lanka in the format, and last season Kochi followed this ploy. The results weren't extraordinary, but with 299 runs including three half-centuries, Jayawardene played a steady role at the top of the innings while allowing McCullum to try and dominate.
Jayawardene is a valuable player because he can seamlessly float up and down the batting order, in addition to being a shrewd tactician and good catcher. Though there is some doubt over his availability owing to Sri Lanka's overseas tours during the IPL, it is foreseeable that at least three teams will bid for Jayawardene. Rajasthan, Delhi and Deccan were all let down by the absence of a strong presence in the middle order in IPL 4, and Jayawardene would be a viable option.
Patel has not got as much playing time as he did in the first two seasons of the IPL playing for Chennai Super Kings, but opportunities for India in the 50-over format recently have boosted his stock. A much-improved wicketkeeper and stroke-maker at the top of the innings, Patel is a valuable prize for any IPL franchise. His Twenty20 strike-rate of 108.66 is good for an opener and his ability to contribute cameos - he did this in 2008 and 2009 - make him a viable option.
Should they not manage to secure McCullum, Rajasthan, Mumbai and Deccan could eagerly snap up Patel. The pocket-sized 'keeper stands to gain significantly more than his reserve price of $200,000.
Murali, 39, has left the international game but could find himself highly valued in Twenty20 cricket. Murali has spoken openly about his desire to be snapped up by an IPL franchise, and with a reserve price of $200,000 he could be targeted by Rajasthan and Kings XI Punjab who both desperately need a quality spinner. There are also indications from Chennai, for whom he played three seasons, that they are interested in a second spinner alongside R Ashwin as they have released Tim Southee from their squad. Added to Murali's allure is the fact that he will be free for the entire IPL season.
While playing for Chennai, Muralitharan took 52 wickets in 46 games across the IPL and Champions League Twenty20. However, he played only five of Kochi's 14 games in the 2011 IPL, managing just two wickets at 70.50. Playing for Wellington in the HRV Cup recently, Murali picked up seven wickets at an average of 15.71 and economy rate of 6.11 from five matches.
He may have fallen out of favour with the Indian selectors, but the left-arm pacer is a very capable performer in Twenty20 cricket. The most successful bowler in the IPL with 52 wickets - he was the highest wicket-taker in the second season of the IPL in South Africa - RP can expect to find interest from the franchises. A reserve price of $200,000 makes him a very good purchase, and specifically Rajasthan and Punjab could put down the money for him.
The only current Indian bowler on the auction list, Karnataka's spearhead and Ranji Trophy captain could find himself as an attractive option at the auction. On Indian surfaces his bowling is can be quite successful, and considering the lack of options at the auction, Vinay - with a reserve price of $100,000 - could be a prize asset. Mumbai, Punjab and Rajasthan need to bolster their bowling attacks with Indian pacers and Vinay proves a capable addition.
Ireland's big-hitting allrounder shot into the limelight with a heroic 50-ball century (the fastest in World Cup history) against England in Bangalore last year.
With a Twenty20 strike-rate of 139.46, including the fastest hundred in England domestic Twenty20 for Gloucestershire last year, the 27-year-old offers a slam-bang prospect with the bat.
Apart from that, O'Brien is a handy medium-pacer. Though his Twenty20 stats - 16 wickets from 42 matches with a best of 2 for 12 - don't make for spectacular reading, O'Brien can chip in with tidy bursts. He is also a good fielder. His base price has been set at $50,000 but O'Brien could go for much more (last year Kolkata Knight Riders snapped up Netherlands' allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate for $150,000 after his base price was set at $50,000).
Tamim is the only Bangladesh cricketer in the IPL auction with a reserve price of $50,000, and could be in line for a good payday. What Tamim offers is an explosive approach at the top, and though a career Twenty20 average of 20.87 shows how unpredictable he can be, the fact that he will available for the entire season makes him an important prospect.
Rajasthan and Mumbai are in need of explosive overseas openers to partner their Indian openers in Rahul Dravid/Shane Watson and Sachin Tendulkar - both teams have experimented with several foreigners but with poor results - while Deccan could also invest in Tamim.
Enjoying a new lease on his international career owing to a stunning comeback into South Africa's Test team, the 26-year old Philander may have more joy in store this weekend. A bustling medium-pacer whose strength is line and length and the ability to swing the ball, he will have a tougher time on the subcontinent than at home, but Philander still comes as a huge asset to any franchise. His Twenty20 numbers are very attractive: 40 wickets in 52 games at 30.02, including a best of 5 for 17, and 511 runs at 28.38. With a base price of $200,000, he is expected to attract bids from Rajasthan, Deccan, Punjab and Delhi.