World Champion Carolina Marin and Rio silver medallist P.V.Sindhu were expectedly the most sought-after "Icon Players" as the two 2018 world championship finalists were picked by Pune 7 Aces and defending champions Hyderabad Hunters respectively in the players' auction for the fourth edition of the Vodafone Premier Badminton League (PBL) here on Monday.
The fourth season of PBL, organised by Sportzlive under the aegis of the Badminton Association of India (BAI), will kick off in Mumbai from December 22.
With no retention or Right to Match (RTM) card at disposal, the 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 Delhi Dashers splurging Rs 70 lakh for his services.
The Delhi outfit won a tense battle with two other teams to acquire the World No 11, paying more than double his base price (Rs 40 lakh above his base price).
Among the Indians, rising doubles star Satwiksairaj Rankireddy was the top draw and Ahmedabad Smash Masters outbid the Hyderabad Hunters to secure the youngster for Rs 52 lakh, a massive jump from his base price of Rs 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 Rs 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 win the title last year, would now shift base to Pune. The new outfit was clearly gunning for the three-time world champion and was understandably delighted when the announcer pulled out a chit of their name in a draw of lots.
"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 of the Pune team and explore this part of India," said Marin after learning about the bid.
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 Sindhu, 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 excitement.
Two times CWG gold winner Saina Nehwal will be seen plying her trade for the North-Eastern 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 will play for Bengaluru Raptors, H.S.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 Rs 54 lakh and Rs 36 lakh respectively.
South 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 Hunters secured her to build a strong doubles unit.
But it was Delhi, who broke the bank to get Sugiarto in the squad after they had already spent Rs 80 lakh for Prannoy. However, their strategy clearly was to invest in men's singles and they made the most of it.
"We are thrilled to announce our team Delhi Dashers and the choicest players for this season of Premier Badminton League 2018. Led by Indian icon H.S.Prannoy and Indonesian champion Tommy Sugiarto, we are confident that the team will perform exceptionally well and emerge victorious this season," said Mahendra Singhi, Group CEO, Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd, the company that owns the team.
Two teams -- Awadhe Warriors and Mumbai Rockets -- exhausted their entire purse of Rs 2.6 crore while Pune 7 Aces despite putting up a challenging line up managed to save Rs 14 lakh and North Eastern Warriors despite building a formidable squad around Nehwal still saved Rs 8 lakh.