Fantasy cricket league draft lets World Cup fans feel like $100 million

Team owners say they are getting the tycoon treatment as they spend play money to stock their squads with the best talent.

Dubai, March 21, 2011 - Members of team Chill Meena from left Zoheb Mustafa watches as Sagar Ankolekar helps Prithvi Adnani select cricket players their team, one of 16 participating in the auction, will bid on during a cricket World Cup fantasy auction in the Sports Lounge of the Citymax Hotel in Bur Dubai, Dubai March 21, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)

DUBAI // Dozens of cricket-mad Asians have scrambled to outbid each other in selecting their dream team in the region’s first fantasy cricket auction series ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals.

Both male and female fans raised colourful numbered plastic bats to make their offers in a Bur Dubai sports lounge to pick the best team. More than 100 people were given a budget of US$100 million per team in play money to staff each 12-man squad. Matches in the World Cup knockout stage begin tomorrow on the Indian subcontinent.

Though the competition is just for fun, the excited participants said the fantasy league tests cricketing knowledge and teaches strategy as well. The auction also helped the bidders, mostly Indian expatriates, realise their dreams of owning top-notch teams just like the rich and famous industrialists who finance teams in the professional IPL cricket league.

“I feel like I’m a Vijay Mallya or an Ambani when I’m spending US$100 million,” said Radha Javeri, a homemaker who stocked a team with the help of her husband and his family. “I feel like I own the players and can call them up and say, ‘Hey, play better.’”

While team membership in the actual World Cup is based on nationality, the fantasy teams are comprised of the finest cricketers from across the globe. Featuring colourful names such as Shaikhs, Magicians and Blizzards XI, those teams score points daily based on runs scored and wickets taken by cricketers in the actual tournament.

Participants in the auction acknowledged that the fantasy league has made them obsessive about checking their e-mails for points updates.

“I’ve set my alarm for 2am, when I usually receive the points, and check it by 2.30am every day,” said Deep Javeri, a Dubai-based banker and Radha’s husband, about the family team. “At 6am I meet my brother and we confirm that our team is still leading. This is as close as we can come to owning a team. That’s the fantasy.”

The “owners” are drawn from different professions across the Emirates, with software experts and businessmen pitting their wisdom against college students and housewives. The auction process took place in two phases, with the first kicking off the league stage last month. This week’s auction allowed the league winners to pick their squads for the finals.

The loudest cheers at the auction greeted a bidding war for the Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, whose rights eventually went under the hammer for $60m in pretend money. The Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara and A B de Villiers, South Africa’s leading batsman, also drew high offers as the auctioneer prodded the crowd for bids.

“Do I hear something larger for Sachin?,” asked Gaurav Verma, the director of RNH Events, who conceptualised the format. “Sachin going once, twice and sold to number two for $60 million.”

As each player’s photograph and match statistics were beamed on large screens, bidders thumped tables covered with mats printed with the World Cup schedule leading to the April 2 final in Mumbai. Fans paid a Dh100 fee to participate in the fantasy league and will win cash prizes of as much as Dh8,000 if their team scores the most points.

Some are taking the competition very seriously. Armed with laptops crammed with player statistics, participants pored over sheaves of paper highlighted with their top price per cricketer. Many tracked the spending of top teams in last month’s auction to gauge how high bids could go.

“We started out for fun but we are serious now. It feels like a real bid,” said Thomas Reju, an IT project manager. “It’s a great opportunity for cricket fans and we’re giving it our best shot.”

His team, the Eagles, exchanged e-mails titled 'Team building' urging co-owners to attend hour-long selection meetings.
The auction included plenty of action, with friends prodding others to raise their paddles or yanking the bats down when bids soared out of their range.

"My friend is aggressive and if we don't stop him our budget will be finished," laughed Mr Reju. "The trick is getting the best team at a good price."

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