India's Gambhir hits record $2.4 million jackpot

Bangalore: Indians struck it rich on the first day of bidding at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction on Saturday, with Gautam Gambhir fetching a record $2.4 million. The left-handed opener was among four Indians to join the $2 million club at the auction for the fourth edition of the scandal-plagued tournament, along with Yusuf Pathan, Robin Uthappa and Rohit Sharma.

The top seven earners on the opening day of the two-day auction were all Indians, with Irfan Pathan, brother of Yusuf, Yuvraj Singh and Saurabh Tiwary going for more than $1 million.

In contrast, at the inaugural auction in 2008 only two players - India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds - were bought for more than $1 million.

This time Symonds went to Mumbai Indians for $850,000 at the high-profile auction which saw Bollywood stars and corporate big-wigs bid for the players.

Gambhir was the first to go under the hammer in Bangalore, and was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders for an amount far exceeding his base price of $200,000. He was soon joined in the exclusive bracket by all-rounder Yusuf, who was bought by the same franchise for $2.1 million. Yusuf's reserve price was $300,000.

Batsman Uthappa went to new franchise Pune Warriors for $2.1 million, while Sharma was bought by Mumbai Indians for $2 million as Indians called the shots.

The prices paid to the Indian foursome easily eclipsed the previous record of England duo Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, who went for 1.55 million dollars each in 2009.

Pietersen, with a base price of $400,000, was bought by Deccan Chargers for $650,000 this time.

Among other $1 million men were New Zealander Ross Taylor, Sri Lankans Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan, South Africans AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, and Australians Cameron White and David Hussey. Jayawardene emerged the highest-paid foreigner, snapped up by Kochi for $1.5 million.

Former captains Brian Lara of the West Indies and Sourav Ganguly of India remained unsold on the opening day, along with hard-hitting West Indies batsman Chris Gayle and England bowlers Graeme Swann and James Anderson. Lara, 41, was among 21 cricketers with the highest reserve price of $400,000 for a three-year contract.

The annual IPL tournament revolutionised cricket when it burst on to the scene in 2008 with a high-octane blend of international star players, Twenty20 matches and Bollywood glamour.

But its fortunes dipped dramatically last year after allegations of massive corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion, as well as secret deals to hide teams' real owners, and even links to India's criminal underworld.

IPL founder Lalit Modi - whose brash style personified the event - was thrown out by the BCCI, the sport's governing body in India, over allegations about his conduct and organisers hope this year will provide a fresh start.

The tournament, starting on April 8, will feature 10 teams, including the two new sides - Pune Warriors and Kochi.

Twelve players have been retained by their original franchises, with Dhoni staying with the Chennai Super Kings and Shane Warne and Shane Watson sticking with the Rajasthan Royals.

Pakistan's cricketers continued to miss out on the IPL bonanza after none of them was included for the auction. Pakistan players participated in the inaugural IPL, but were forced out of the 2009 season due to security concerns following the Mumbai attacks, and were then ignored for the 2010 tournament.