What began with a computer systems failure ended in the biggest bull run in the history of cricket. If there was any doubt that the Indian Premier League could break the mould for the way cricket is run in this country, evidence came on a frenetic Wednesday.
Apart from creating half a dozen millionaires, the IPL seamlessly merged Bollywood and cricket, with the likes of Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta deciding just how much the Ricky Pontings and Stephen Flemings of the world were worth.
The verdict was unanimous — be Indian, buy Indian. In a trend that is sure to startle even those who have been tracking this business closely, and anger some Australian cricketers, India's cricketers lapped up the lion's share of the money that was spent. It defied cricketing logic that Yusuf Pathan was sold for more than Ponting, that someone like Ishant Sharma, the flavour of the day but very much a greenhorn still, came in at close to a million dollars.
It was also a day when it was next to impossible to predict trends. This was one hell of a free market. With Richard Madley often calling out figures and ending them in pounds, rather than dollars, but otherwise conducting the auction impeccably, it was a day that no one who was present would forget.
The auction began rather typically, with a delay of almost an hour, but for once, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was faultless. It was ready well in time but the Mohali signatory did not show up on time, and the auction almost began before he could show up.
Lalit Modi, in turns headmasterly with both the participants in the auction and the impatient media outside, handed the Mohali man a two-minute deadline to make it into the auction room. Fortunately, a brief systems failure with the computers in the auction room gave him the time he needed to get settled.
Once things got going, though, an auction of three parts ensued. Contrary to popular logic, it was not always to be high up in the order. It certainly helped that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who benefitted from some serious action between Mumbai, Mohali and eventual winners Chennai, who forked out a day-high 1.5 million dollars (Rs 6 crore) for him.
Some of the other early starters weren't quite so lucky, prominent among them the Australians, as the franchisees held back their purse strings, waiting to see what else was on offer.
Mumbai was a particularly difficult group to gauge, a source within the auction revealed, for they seemed not to bid at all for certain lots and then jumped in to snatch only the players they genuinely wanted. Some other franchisees, Jaipur for example, seemed random in their choices, and even failed to understand the rules of the game, ending up short of spending the floor amount of $3.3 million.
An argument ensued and once more, Modi had to step in and sort things out. When the Jaipur representative claimed they had not been told about having to spend the floor price, the authorities were left with no choice but to insist that they pay the difference, between $500,000 and $700,000, a source revealed, to the IPL.
But these were minor glitches on a day when cricketers celebrated the biggest pay packages of their lives. At the end of it all, Lalit Modi, whose baby this IPL project is, was a tired but very contented man.