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'The bidding for Dhoni and Symonds was an experience'

Last updated on: February 22, 2008 17:13 IST

After witnessing eight groups blow close to $40 million in eight hours of frenzy to 'own' 75 of the best cricket players in the world, the man who presided over the auction of the historic Indian Premier League took his place in the spotlight.

Most of the television camera crew had vanished in the wake of the film stars leaving after the bidding. But those who waited got to know some of the things that went on in the auction.

"The longest ever day in 30 years of auctioning," is how Richard Madley, the president of Christie's low-priced arm Christie's East, said.

Asked about any problem or issue he faced during the auction, he said. "The bidding teams were laid out in 180 degrees (a semicircle). It was different from how it usually is. The other challenge was to encourage bidding when it was slow," Madley said, refusing to reveal the names of the players for whom bidding was slow.

Asked about most expensive player Mahendra Singh Dhoni's selling, he said the Indian star's and Australian Andrew Symonds' bids were the most exciting.

"Not everyday does one start an auction from $400,000. It kept going up and there was so much excitement until he was finally sold for $1.5 million. The bidding lasted five to six minutes and it was an experience."

Madley, who also played competitive cricket, said he watched India play when they toured England in 1967. "I am also a wicketkeeper and a batsman, just like Dhoni, though I am nowhere as good as he is," he said.

Madley also had a word of praise for actor Shah Rukh Khan, who owns the Kolkata franchise.

"Shah Rukh was bidding very clearly. He looked like someone who knew what he wanted. So were most other teams. I was told most of the teams sat down with professors from Indian universities and drew a clear strategy before the auction. It was fairly straightforward, with each team knowing who they wanted," he said.

Madley, who was clearly thrilled at having been part of a first in auction history, said it was a landmark event.

"Now, I will be back to selling silver and jewelry in London, and bidding will start at 50 pounds," he said.

Later, Madley took a few minutes off to answer a few more questions. Excerpts:

This is probably the first ever auction where real people were 'sold'. How does it feel creating history?

Yes, this is the first such thing in the world. So, today, not only was cricket history created, but auction history was also created. It was a great honour to be invited here today.

How did you ensure that things went off smoothly, considering there was no precedent here?

I treated it like any other auction. It is important to develop a rapport with the bidders.

I follow my own 3Fs. I will be firm. I will be fair. But I will also be friendly. In this case, the base prices were transparent. Everyone knew what the prices were. When I invited them to make the opening bid, I could sense that these people had done it before. As expected, many of them had and there was no problem.

How different is this from the other auctions? Did it feel odd auctioning off real people?

No way. It was the same way as any other auction. The product didn't affect me in any way at all. Also, it was a good idea not to have any of the players who went under the hammer present. Instead, we had images of the players on a screen along with their statistics. If the players had been there, it would have been really odd when one player is sold for a higher value than the one sitting next to them or someone who they know well.

That brings us to Shane Warne. Just what happened? Why did no other team, apart from Jaipur, bid for him?

No. That's not how I see it. I think $450,000 is a huge sum and the Jaipur team knew they wanted him and bid first. If his base price had been $200,000 and he had gone for $450,000, you wouldn't be asking this question. He was the one with the highest base price and he was worth it is what I would say.

If you are to draw a list of the auctions close to your heart, where will you place this?

Right up there at the top. This is the best. This is the one I will be telling my grandchildren about. It was a world event. My son was watching me live sitting there in England. This has been a great privilege.

Photograph: Reuben MV

Krishnakumar P