It's homecoming for India's top shuttler PV Sindhu in Premier Badminton League (PBL). The 23-year-old will represent Hyderabad-based Hunters in the fourth season of the league, which starts in Mumbai on December 22.
Sindhu and Carolina Marin were expectedly the most sought after Icon Players as they were picked by Pune 7 Aces and Hyderabad Hunters respectively in the Players' Auction of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) held in New Delhi on Monday.
The fourth season of Vodafone PBL, organised by Sportzlive under the aegis of Badminton Association of India, will kick off in Mumbai on December 22 with the final being held in Bengaluru on January 13.
With no retention or Right to Match (RTM) card at disposal, the Players' Auction was always going to be a keen contest for teams to get the combination right while looking for that one Icon Player who can inspire them to bigger glory.
Indonesia's Tommy Sugiarto became the highest paid non-Icon Player with the Dalmia Cement Group owned Delhi Dashers splurging INR 70 lakh for his services. The Delhi outfit won a tense battle with two other teams to acquire the World No 11, paying INR 40 lakh above his base price.
Among the Indians, rising doubles star Satwiksairaj Rankireddy was the top draw and Padmanabh Sports Pvt Ltd owned Ahmedabad Smash Masters outbid the Hyderabad Hunters to secure the youngster for INR 52 lakh, a massive jump from his base price of INR 15 lakh.
Given the strong pool of players in the auction, it was interesting to see the strategies the teams implemented to build their squad as three of these players could be retained for the next two seasons as well.
Marin and Sindhu were the obvious choices for almost all the teams. At least four teams raised the prize purse to INR 80 lakh, the maximum limit a team can bid for a player before the players got assigned to the teams by a draw of lots.
The Spaniard, who played a major role in helping Hyderabad Hunters win the title last year, would now shift base to Pune. The new outfit were clearly gunning for the three-time world champion and were understandably delighted when the announcer pulled out a chit of their name in a draw of lot.
"I am very excited to be part of Pune team. Hyderabad has been like a second home for me. But now I am excited to be part the Pune team and explore this part of India," said Marin after learning about the bid.
Speaking post the player auctions an upbeat Taapsee Pannu, owner of Pune 7 Aces said, "We had a set game-plan and I am really ecstatic to be able to rope in some of the big names in the auction pool today. It has been a perfect implementation of the backdoor homework we had done.
"With a champion in Marin, experienced Mathias Boe in the doubles category and young Lakshya Sen, am really optimistic how balanced the team has shaped up. Can’t wait for the season to start."
While the Hunters lost their star performer from last year, they would be delighted to welcome home Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu. The 23-year-old, who was playing for Chennai Smashers for the last two seasons, will be playing for the home city for the first time and couldn't hide her disappointment.
Two-time CWG gold winner and India's badminton queen Saina Nehwal will be seen plying her trade for the Northeastern Warriors in the upcoming edition.
"It's a great opportunity for me to get associated with the North Eastern Warriors. The fans over here are extremely passionate and I will try and give my best for them. I always had a special admiration for the north-east and with this alliance, I wish to promote badminton in this region, so that we have more people inspired to take up the sport," said the 2012 Olympic Medallist.
Among the other Icon Players, former world champion Viktor Axelsen will represent Ahmedabad Smash Masters, Kidambi Srikanth would play for Bengaluru Raptors, HS Prannoy will turn up for Delhi Dashers.
Chennai Smashers, who will have Korean Sung ji Hyun as their icon player, managed to retain the services of English mixed doubles combination of Chris and Gabby Adcock, paying them INR 54 lakh and INR 36 lakh respectively.
Korea's mixed doubles specialist Eom Hye Won also got a Rs 30 lakh jump from her base price of Rs 7 lakh as the Hyderabad Hunters secured her to build a strong doubles unit.
But it was Delhi Dashers who broke the bank to get Sugiarto in the squad after they had already paid Rs 80 lakh for Prannoy. However, their strategy clearly was to invest in men's singles and they made the most of it.
Two teams -- Awadhe Warriors and Mumbai Rockets -- exhausted their entire purse of INR 2.6 crore while Pune 7 Aces despite putting up a challenging line up managed to save INR14 lakhs and North Eastern Warriors despite building a formidable squad around Saina still saved INR 8 lakh.