By Simon Austin & Rahul Tandon
Pietersen has the highest reserve price, but Flintoff has several suitors
Kevin Pietersen will assume his usual position as the centre of attention when the 2009 Indian Premier League auction gets under way on Friday.
At $1.35m (£890,000), Pietersen has the highest reserve price on the 43-man auction list, and Bangalore's pursuit of the 28-year-old is being described as India's worst-kept secret.
Yet there is a chance he could be upstaged by his England team-mate Andrew Flintoff when the team owners gather for the auction in north Goa.
The England all-rounder is listed at a lower starting value of $950,000 (£650,810), but competing interest from Chennai, Punjab, Delhi and Kolkata could send his price spiralling.
Inevitably, there has been plenty of debate about the relative merits of the England duo with the great and the good of Indian cricket all having an opinion.
Kolkata skipper Sourav Ganguly told BBC Sport he was in no doubt as to which player he would go for.
"Pietersen will, of course, add value," the Indian batsman said, "but I think Flintoff adds a lot more with his bowling and batting."
While opinions on the players vary, there seems to be a widely-held opinion that one of them will go for a new transfer record on Friday.
The mark to beat is the $1.5m (£1.04m) paid by Chennai to India's captain and pin-up boy Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Mumbai last February.
2009 IPL AUCTION
Venue: Fort Aguada Beach Resort, Goa, India
Starts: 0430 GMT
Budgets: Capped at $2m
Manoj Badale, owner of last year's winners, the Rajasthan Royals, thinks a franchise might even lavish its entire $2m (£1.38m) budget on Flintoff or Pietersen.
"I would not be surprised if KP or Flintoff goes for $2m," Badale told BBC Sport. "Anything is possible and some franchises have made it clear they are prepared to spend the whole of their wallets on KP or Freddy."
Badale says "two or three dynamics" will work in favour of the England pair on Friday.
Firstly, although 43 players are up for grabs, only about a quarter of them are likely to be signed. Teams are restricted to 10 foreign players each and most already have seven or eight on their roster following last year's auction.
In addition, there will be few truly top-class players on offer with the likes of Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith, Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni already signed up.
Australia batsman Michael Clarke, valued at $1m, was the second most expensive player on Friday's list, just ahead of Flintoff.
But he said on Thursday he was withdrawing because of his hectic international schedule.
After that, the price drops considerably to £300,000 for South Africa's JP Duminy.
Dhoni's agent Jeet Banerjee told BBC Sport only 10 to 12 players would be signed on Friday, and Badale expects that to be to Flintoff and Pietersen's benefit.
"There are a much smaller number of truly world-class players on the list this year compared to last, so those that are there will be hotly contested," Badale said.
"This, combined with the limited number of team slots available, is very good luck for KP and Freddy. Every team can spend $2m and that money will be directed only towards the top players."
Owais Shah and Paul Collingwood are the other England players to have attracted serious interest, although the withdrawal of Pakistan's players from the IPL last week on security grounds could provide a fillip for the likes of all-rounder Ravi Bopara.
If England players are sold at auction, they will only get half the fee, as they are available for just three of the six weeks of the IPL.
Despite talking up the fees that Flintoff and Pietersen will attract, Badale interestingly says he will not bid for either of them.
Some franchises will only want players who are full-time
Kolkata skipper Sourav Ganguly
"Our coach, Shane Warne is focused on getting a balanced team, he is not interested in brand names or superstars," he said.
Rajasthan were rebuked by IPL commissioner Lalit Modi for not spending enough money at last year's auction, yet went on to win the title.
Badale's strategy was to sign players who would be available for the duration of the tournament, like Warne, and to combine established stars such as Smith with young guns like Pakistan's Sohail Tanvir, who was the IPL's best bowler.
Other owners seemed to go to the auction intent on collecting autographs rather than pursuing any kind of strategy.
With that in mind, Ganguly sounded a note of caution for Pietersen and Flintoff.
"Last year we suffered with players coming in and out at Kolkata, and it was hard for us to establish a team," Ganguly told BBC Sport.
"The England players are only available for three weeks, so it would not surprise me if a lot of the franchises do not pick them. Some franchises will only want players who are full-time."
But will someone like Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant billionaire owner of Bangalore, be able to resist bidding for a player like Pietersen, the most glamorous and marketable player not currently involved in the IPL?
All will be revealed on Friday.