BANGALORE: England allrounder Ben Stokes attracted the highest price of $1.96 million in the early sales at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction on Saturday, despite uncertainty over his availability.
The Rajasthan Royals´ winning bid was $200,000 less than the record price Rising Pune Supergiant paid for him last season.
It still topped the early bids, even though it is not certain Stokes will be able to play in the lucrative tournament after he was charged with affray following a fight outside a nightclub in Bristol last year.
The 26-year-old is due to appear in court on February 13 after being charged over the incident.
The IPL will run from April 7 to May 27.
One of the best performers last season, Stokes attracted bids from several franchises in the eight-team Twenty20 league before the gavel finally came down on Rajasthan.
The Royals are returning to the competition after a two-year ban for match-fixing.
England´s Test captain Joe Root, entering the IPL auction for the first time, failed to attract any bids.
West Indian Chris Gayle, one of the IPL´s star performers over the past decade, also went unsold in the first round.
Both players can be recalled on the second and final day of the auction.
Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc was snapped up by the Kolkata Knight Riders for $1.47 million, the second-highest price in the early sales.
The left-arm paceman missed the 2016 edition because of injury, and opted out of the last season.
Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin went for $1.19 million to Kings XI Punjab.
Punjab also wanted Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan and South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis, but lost both to rival bidders. Sunrisers Hyderabad got Dhawan for $818,000 and Chennai Super Kings claimed du Plessis for $250,000.
First held in 2008, the IPL is the world´s richest cricket competition.
A total of 578 players are up for auction this season, hoping for lucrative deals after the IPL recently signed a new $2.5-billion media deal.