Bargain basement players thrive in IPL
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Ii is the inversion, to some extent, of the old adage that money talks.
For, in a curious upset at the halfway stage of the billion-dollar Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, the teams that cost the most are at the bottom of the table as it heads towards the final in Mumbai on June 1.

And, ironically, the players who cost the least are performing best, with Australian Shane Watson, bought by Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals for what is considered to be the bargain basement price of $US125,000, judged yesterday by the leading Hindustan Times to be "the best buy of the league" so far.

Warne, too, is considered, on the basis of his performance in the seven matches the Royals have played so far, to have been a "great buy" - snared by the team based in Jaipur, capital of the state of Rajasthan, for the knockdown price of $US450,000.

Yesterday the Royals were second on the table, having fallen from the top place they held earlier in the week. But for a team that started out as the competition's underdogs and expected cellar dwellers, they have defied their critics and ensured that the teams that cost their franchise holders the most have remained in the bottom half of the table.

The Royals, indeed, graphically illustrate the point made yesterday by the Hindustan Times: They cost their franchise holders $US67 million, the "cheapest" buy in the frenzied auctions that preceded the tournament.

Similarly, their next-door team, the Punjab Kings XI, owned by Bollywood star Preity Zinta and based in Mohali, cost a relatively modest $US76m.

But yesterday the Kings XI was, against all expectations, heading the table.

Contrast this with the teams in the bottom half of the table: the Mumbai Indians, bought for a whopping $US111.9m by the country's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, the Bangalore Royal Challengers bought by liquor and airline baron Vijay Mallya for $US111.6m, and the Hyderabad Deccan Chargers, bought by a local newspaper group for $US107m. The Bangalore team, led by Indian star Rahul Dravid and including Jacques Kallis and Anil Kumble, has lost six of its eight matches, and by all accounts Mallya, an astute businessman, is furious.

Apparently Heads have already started rolling.

Kallis, who cost $US900,000, has scored just 118 runs in the first seven matches, but is not the only underperformer.

The Hindustan Times published a list of what players cost, and what they had yielded thus far, pointing out, for example, that Sanath Jayasuriya, who cost the Mumbai Indian $US975,000, had, in seven matches, scored 138 runs for an average of 19.71 and a strike rate of 136.71.

Perhaps the biggest question marks, however, hang over the great Sachin Tendulkar, for whom the Mumbai Indians paid $US1.1m. Because of injury, he has not played a single match, and West Indian Chris Gayle, for whom the Kolkata Knight Riders paid $US800,000, has also been sidelined because of injury.

Harbhajan Singh, too, is judged as having failed to deliver following his enforced exit from the tournament. He cost Mumbai $US850,000 and got three wickets in five matches for an economy rate of 8.50 before he was banned for slapping team-mate Sanath Sreesanth.

Many of the more expensive players are, however, judged to have been good investments. Brett Lee, for example, cost the Punjab Kings XI $US900,000 and played four matches and took four wickets before having to leave to join the Australian squad going to the West Indies.

But his presence, albeit briefly, is judged to have been a huge success, and to have contributed significantly to the team's current position at the top of the table.

Overall, as it reaches its final stages, the tournament has been a huge success, with most stadiums across Indian packed each time a match is played, and massive audiences watching on Indian television.

Takeaway food outlets in New Delhi have reported a growth in their businesses of more than 25 per cent as residents hunker down to watch the games each night, rather than go out.