BANGALORE – England's star allrounder Ben Stokes topped the Indian Premier League auction on Saturday selling for $1.96 million despite a looming court case for assault.
On a day in which the eight IPL teams spent over $50m on talent, Stokes's deal with Rajasthan Royals came ahead of Indian batsmen Lokesh Rahul and Manish Pandey and Australians Chris Lynn, Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell in the top prices paid.
But England captain Joe Root and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, and star batsmen Chris Gayle of West Indies and Hashim Amla of South Africa failed to attract bids.
Veteran Sri Lanka paceman Lasith Malinga also went unsold but the franchises have the option of getting them back on the auction table Sunday.
Rajasthan Royals, returning to the world's wealthiest cricket league from a two-year match-fixing ban, paid $200,000 less than the record laid out for Stokes last year by Rising Pune Supergiant.
However, Stokes was delighted with the deal.
"Buzzing to be representing @rajasthanroyals in this years IPl (IPL) and great to be playing alongside @josbuttler," he wrote on twitter.
Though Stokes's legal team has assured the IPL that he will be available for the full April 7-May 27 season, all eyes will be on his court hearing on February 13.
If he is stopped from playing the whole season then the Royal have the right to find a replacement for Stokes, one of the best performers last season, who attracted bids from several franchises.
His new team are desperate for success. The Royals were inaugural IPL champions in 2008 under Australian legend Shane Watson, but were barred for two seasons with Chennai Super Kings in 2015 over a spot-fixing scandal.
Stokes edged out Australian batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner as the highest-paid foreigner in the IPL. Smith and Warner were retained by their teams for $1.9 million each to avoid the auction.
India captain Virat Kohli secured a record $2.7 million deal before the auction to stay with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Rahul and Pandey came just behind Stokes in the bidding war. Sunrisers Hyderabad got Rahul and Kings Xi Punjab picked Pandey for $1.7m each.
Among the Australian stars, Kolkata Knight Riders snapped up prolific-scorer Lynn for $1.5m and left-arm paceman Starc for $1.47m. Delhi Daredevils got all-rounder Maxwell for $1.41m.
"Thanks for getting me on board. I am really excited to join the KKR family for this season," Starc said in a video message on twitter.
Among other top purchases, England paceman Chris Woakes was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for $1.16m and Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin went for $1.19 million to Kings XI Punjab.
Punjab were thwarted in several bids by the IPL's 'right to match' rule under which a player's former side can match the winning bid to claim him back.
Punjab lost Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan to Sunrisers Hyderabad after bidding $818,000 and South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis to Chennai who will have to equal their $250,000 bid.
Sunrisers also used 'right to match' to steal Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, 19, from Punjab after they made the highest bid of $1.41m.
A total of 578 players are up for auction, hoping for lucrative deals after the IPL recently signed a new $2.5-billion media deal.
Pakistan players are kept out of the league as sporting ties between India and Pakistan are frozen because of the tense political relations between the neighbours.