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Watson and Marsh lead foreign legion

A staggering $5.6 billion is likely to be wagered on the Indian Premier League competition, it was estimated yesterday, as a new survey showed that an astonishing 131 million Indians have been watching matches on television.

These latest statistics - published in one newspaper under the headline "IPL showers moolah" - came as detailed new performance tables disclosed that just past the halfway stage of the 44-day, 59-match series Australians Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh are firmly at the top of intricate assessments of which foreign players are providing the best value for money.

Watson heads the so-called MVP index, a collation of batting, bowling and fielding points. On 418 points, the Queensland all-rounder contracted to Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals is way ahead of all the 128 other foreigners playing in the tournament - with Ricky Ponting, comparatively, listed in 110th spot with just 15 points.

A second so-called PV index, also published yesterday, lists the foreign players in terms of "value for money" and what each run costs on the basis of what they are being paid. On this index, Shaun Marsh, playing for a relatively paltry fee of $32,000, is at the head of the list, on $86 per run, with Watson, playing for a fee of $133,000, on $159 per run.

On this table, the disappointing performance by Ponting, playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders for a fee of $426,000, is listed as costing $7949 per run, though the cellar dweller on the index is South African Herschelle Gibbs, whose fee of $613,000 means that each run he has made for the poorly performing Hyderabad Deccan Chargers has cost $17,692.

Publications of the two performance indexes underlines, yet again, the importance of the financial aspects of the billion-dollar competition, with the leading business newspaper The Economic Times reporting estimates yesterday that $5.6 billion will be wagered in mostly illegal betting on the competition by the time it winds up on June 1.

The estimate, which is impossible to confirm, but in line with other assessments as well as being in keeping with precedents from other, similar competitions such as last year's World Cup, comes from the burgeoning "satta bazaar", the illegal gambling centres that flourish and prosper on every street corner in every city across India and which is, according to the newspaper, transfixed by the IPL.

According to its front-page report, frenzied betting is focused on every aspect of the competition, and "bookmakers are an excited lot as the money is really big this time - with bets being laid out for the best batsmen, best team and even the best southpaw. The bookmakers are looking at this as a mega event."

The bazaar reportedly places Bollywood actor Prety Zinta's Kings XI Punjab at the shortest odds of 100-125 rupees, followed by the Chennai Super Kings at Rs100-132 and Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals on Rs100-135. But a leading bookie is quoted by The Economic Times as saying: "The most interesting thing about this tournament is that the odds are changing very fast. If, yesterday, Chennai was the favourite team, today you will find a new team emerging at that position."

The huge ground and television audiences the matches are getting is undoubtedly contributing to this, with a survey by MindShare Insights published yesterday showing that an estimated 131 million Indians have been watching the competition at some stage - a number regarded as astonishing by analysts, given the low rate of television ownership across much of the country.

Meanwhile, Watson has put in another brilliant performance for the Rajasthan Royals, scoring a blistering 74 to take his team to a three-wicket win over the Delhi Daredevils that included Glenn McGrath.

The win, the Royals' seventh win from nine matches, virtually guarantees them a semi-finals berth, and underlines their remarkable turnaround since they were thrashed by the Daredevils in their first match.

Chasing 157 to win, the Royals made 7-159 and won with five balls to spare. Watson's 40-ball knock included four boundaries and five sixes, and was his third half-century in the competition.

Earlier, brilliant bowling restricted the Daredevils to a relatively modest total of 7-156.

Shane Warne had his worst over of the competition when Sri Lankan Farveez Mahroof smashed him for 26 runs, belting him for four sixes.

For a time it seemed that Mahroof's performance in that one over would save the day for the Daredevils.

But Watson, as he has done so frequently, ensured victory for the Royals.

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