In 48 hours, the much anticipated million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions begin.
The English players will make their debut in this edition with Kevin Pietersen commanding a huge price. But 2009 will miss some of the big hitters from Pakistan who have been barred by their government from playing in the tournament. The Aussie big stars of the launch edition remain uncertain. But IPL is certainly not short of glamour or substance.
Last season’s success is still something that the purists find hard to believe – TRPs shot through the roof and fearful film producers delayed their releases. This season promises to be even bigger and better.
Bollywood actress and now Rajasthan Royals' co-owner Shilpa Shetty, IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi and CNN-IBN's Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra discussed the much-anticipated second season of the IPL on CNN-IBN's special show IPL Fever 2009.
IPL: Bollywood meets cricket
Last year, it was the perfect combination of Bollywood and good business at the IPL. Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, Katrina Kaif were the dash of stardust as the Indian Premiere League launched in 2008.
While Shah Rukh put together his team – the Kolkata Knight Riders and made a song and dance of it, there was plenty of chemistry between Preity and Yuvraj as they came together for Kings XI Punjab.
Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif were happy cheering for the Delhi Daredevils and Bangalore Royal Challengers respectively. With stars as brand ambassadors, music videos and lots of action on and off the field, IPL married sports and entertainment like never before leaving the malls and multiplexes high and dry.
Even as the second edition of IPL gets going, all eyes are on the new player in the stands, Shilpa Shetty, who thanks to boyfriend Raj Kundra, has pumped in Rs 77 crore for last year’s champs Rajasthan Royals.
So will Shilpa bring the business sense or just the glamour factor to the Royals?
"Well hopefully both. Coming to the film industry was difficult for me. I hail from a business family and thought will become a business woman but God had better plans and made me an actress. I think when a celebrity gets into the foray of business, it's easier because people already know him or her," said Shilpa.
Modi indicated that Shilpa will be a key factor in the Royals journey in 2009.
"I think she will be a good and positive presence for the IPL. She has a great presence. The Rajasthan Royals have been in great form and she will add a lot of value. She is known around the globe and teams are trying to do something unique and different this year; we will see a lot more presence from Bollywood and that's positive for us because Bollywood and cricket are the two biggest things. If we knit them closely, we cannot go wrong," Modi said.
Shilpa however was clear that it's going to be the players who will be in focus once the two-month journey begins.
"I am just a co-owner and I am only going to lend my moral support. The real stars will be the players on the field. In the end, it's going to be the performance of my players that is going to count," she said.
IPL: Recession proof?
With recession looming large in every sector, all eyes will be on just how big will the money game be. Advertisers say this season could be low on enthusiasm because of low ad spots.
However, Modi shrugged of recession worries and said that the recession will not hit the cash-rich IPL.
"I don't see it affecting the IPL at all this year. There will be huge amount of interest. If you look at the stake sale by the Rajasthan Royals, there has been an unprecedented 3,733 per cent appreciation in their share value. It just goes to show that there is a lot of interest. The revenues are going to be looking up and we are quite excited about that," said Modi.
Modi also dismissed speculations that IPL partner DLF was on the verge of a withdraw ahead of the second season.
"They are in no way wanting to withdraw. They want to be a part of the IPL. They are going to continue with the IPL. We made a joint press statement last week to that affect. When nobody believed in us, DLF was our first partner and we believe together we can build a very strong partnership," he added.
Players to go under the hammer
Forty-three players will go under the hammer at the second IPL auction in Goa on Friday. It won't be quite as exciting as the first auction last year, but there are some exciting deals in the offing. The franchises have also started to plan ahead for the tournament itself.
Kevin Pietersen may have lost his job as England captain but he still commands a price tag of $1.35 million. And sources say Vijay Mallya's Bangalore Royal Challengers are the front-runners to bag him.
England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is another one in the "must-have" category. The Chennai Super Kings and the Kings XI Punjab are said to be the front-runners to grab him.
Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke is pegged at $1 million, although uncertainty remains over whether the Aussies will show up at all.
"A lot has been made about the IPL and we might have one week after Pakistan in Abu Dhabi or wherever it may be," Australian skipper Ricky Ponting had recently said.
"I think we need to worry about the international programme before we worry about the IPL. The important thing for me is prioritising and making sure we have all the players that are taking part in those big Test series are fit and ready to go,” he added.
While the Aussies may or may not come, the Pakistanis definitely aren't. That will impact some teams more than others. Rajasthan Royals, for instance, will have to do without last year's bowler of the series, Sohail Tanvir.
"Pakistani players not turning out for this season is disappointing," said Rajasthan Royals Chairman Majoj Badale. "I don't think it's just a disappointment for the Royals, but both for Pakistan and India. By doing this, we are letting the terrorists achieve their goals. It's a real shame."
Kolkata Knight Riders is the other team who will need to re-draw plans. Although they have let Shoaib Akhtar go, in Salman Butt, Mohammad Hafeez and most importantly Umar Gul, the Knight Riders will lose important players.
"If you look at it, we had already heard that Pakistan and Australia were going to be playing for about 20 days last year," said Kolkata Knight Riders CEO Joy Bhattacharya. "So mentally to an extent we were already prepared over the limited availability of Pakistanis and Australians."
But with South African, Kiwi, West Indian and Sri Lankan players available for virtually the whole tournament, the IPL won't be short of star value.
Shilpa, however, refused to divulge the names of the players who are on the radar of the Royals in the auction to be held on Friday.
"I really wish I could divulge who we have in mind and what we intend to do on February 6 but you will have to wait and see. It's very difficult for me to discuss our moves and it's not fair for me to tell you who we have in mind," said Shilpa.
Shetty also revealed her thoughts on the Royals' captain, Shane Warne and reasons for putting her money in the Jaipur team.
"I don't care what reputation he has as long as he plays the way he has played and I'm talking about on the field. I have a great amount of respect for him and honestly the major reason for us to invest in Rajasthan Royals has been Shane Warne. I also think the Rajasthan Royals is the single most coordinated, organised and consistent team and that's the reason I am here," said Shilpa.
Modi said this year's auction will be as interesting as last year with franchises likely to blow away millions.
"Last year the teams could buy eight foreign players and rest Indian players and they had five million dollars to do so. Currently, most of the Indian players have already been bought and the teams have only two to three spots for foreign players left. A two-million dollar perk is quite something and I think most of the teams will use it," said Modi.
With another exciting contest, the world it seems is all set to come to a halt for the next two months.