New Delhi - England's Ben Stokes could remain the Indian Premier League's (IPL) most expensive foreign player despite court proceedings against him when he goes under the hammer at the competition's glitzy auction this weekend.
Stokes, who went for a record $2.16m to Rising Pune Supergiant last year, is among the top 16 players and will carry a starting price of $312 500 when bidding starts on Saturday in Bangalore.
The strong, aggressive all-rounder totted up 316 runs in 12 matches for Pune last year, along with 12 wickets, justifying his hefty price tag - which was a record for a foreign player.
Stokes, 26, has been cleared by the England and Wales Cricket Board to play in the IPL despite facing charges of affray, following a nightclub incident which saw him suspended during the Ashes Test series.
Franchises have an option to release a player midway or give him leave during the tournament, which could give them flexibility if Stokes is absent because of the court case.
Delhi Daredevils CEO Hemant Dua said that Stokes' legal advisors have also said he will be available for the April 4-May 31 tournament. His first court appearance is on February 13.
"He is an invaluable asset and a prize pick, there is no debate about that. On his day he can knock it out of the park," Dua said.
"Yes, he has got a legal case announced against him, so he has to go through that. But his legal advisors have said he is available and there wouldn't be any problem for him.
"But again you are not just buying him for this year you are looking at the next year or longer. So all those things put together the teams will weigh in to get him."
England Test skipper Joe Root, West Indies batsman Chris Gayle and South Africa captain Faf du Plessis will also be the subject of intense bidding for the world's most popular Twenty20 league.
India captain Virat Kohli has already pocketed a record $2.7 million after Royal Challengers Bangalore opted to retain their star batsman.
Australian batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner were also retained by their teams for $1.9 million each, making them the highest-paid foreigners so far this year.
But the numbers could skyrocket in the auction for the IPL's 11th edition, after the wage cap was increased by 20 percent to a total of $12 million per team.
"The eight franchises have given us an indication of what their core would be with their player retentions," IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla said.
There is also a unique feature called right to match (RTM) on offer for teams that wish to get back their players from the previous season who they could not retain.
Gayle, who was not retained by Bangalore, could still return to the franchise with the new 'right to match' rule, which states that teams can retain players by equalling the final bid.
Du Plessis, who is leading South Africa in the third Test against India, said players had been told not to discuss the auction during play.
"The IPL plays a big part in all of our lives. For the management and myself it's important to keep the focus and the energy driving towards the Test match," Du Plessis said ahead of the match in Johannesburg.
"At the end of the day's play, if you want to talk about the auction for a bit, you can do it."