IPL and the battle for Indian cricket

What the prophets of doom have been predicting is slowly coming true — international cricket under the ICC’s aegis is gradually become hostage to the IPL. Consider this:

New Zealand have shortened next year’s home Test series against Australia to two matches to help alleviate scheduling conflicts with the lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 season.

Six senior New Zealand players, including captain Daniel Vettori, delayed signing their contracts with New Zealand’s cricket board until late July, after conflicts between the IPL and the team’s international programme were clarified.

The unstated sub-text: six senior Kiwi players including the captain were willing to refrain from signing national contracts if doing so meant they couldn’t go make money in the IPL. And the Kiwi board took the threat seriously enough to make a drastic change to the ICC-underwritten calendar.

The ICC had the option, when framing its latest Future Tours Program, to bow to the inevitable and create an IPL window of a couple of months. But the global body could not be seen to be bowing to the dictates of an upstart league, hence it refused such accommodation — and here on, will find itself increasing facing the problem of top stars opting out of national commitments unless the schedules are adjusted and they are allowed to make full use of the money-making opportunities afforded by the Indian league.

Standby for outbreaks of heartburn from across the cricket playing world; for diatribes on how Indian money is spoiling international cricket. Such polemics miss one central point: the IPL is a fact of life, as is the desire of cricketers to earn as much money as they possibly can while they are still on top of their game, and the solution clearly lies in making a simple accommodation.

The more interesting and potentially more far-reaching confrontation however is internal. The face-off between the BCCI, represented by its secretary N Srinivasan, and high profile IPL commissioner Lalit Modi is prima facie a dispute over the bill presented by the IMG for services rendered — but there’s a far larger battle brewing beneath the surface.

Harsha suggests that it is a personality clash.

The IPL has a visionary in Lalit Modi but if it wants to compete with Wimbledon or the English FA or the Augusta Masters it must create strong systems and ease away from personality cults. Modi and Srinivasan cannot oppose each other!

I suspect that to see this as a battle of wills between Srinivasan and Modi is to concentrate on the battle, and ignore the far larger war. Check out a couple of links from the morning papers: state associations weigh in on IMG dispute, and this other story on the controversy. Clips:

Cricket Board’s affiliates want a reduction in the Rs 33 crore fee payable to the International Management Group for services rendered in conducting this year’s Indian Premier League in South Africa, according to BCCI sources.

“A fee reduction in the range of Rs 7 or 8 crore is what the members want,” sources said.

The 25 associations affiliated to the Board are set to get Rs eight crore each as their share of the IPL spoils and apparently want an increase in this amount.

First up, we have now officially entered into the war of letters. Thus, if Modi and the IPL wave around the letters of Mukesh Ambani and six of the other seven franchises, BCCI secretary N Srinivasan can now wave in response the missives of the 25 associations that comprise the board.

Why would state associations get Rs 8 crore each year, considering they do zip towards the conduct of the IPL? Because that is how the machinery works: the associations elect the office bearers who, in turn, reward these voters with matches, grants etc.

In this cozy little scheme, the franchises are the outsiders — and what the board fears above all else is the prospect of the franchises demanding and getting a share in the decision-making process. Consider this:

It is also not clear why the working committee, the all-powerful arm of the BCCI, was in such tearing hurry to pass a resolution to this effect on this potentially tricky issue. A few working committee members that TOI spoke to admitted to the haste on their part but are livid with the IPL franchise owners for “poking their nose into” something that is clearly “none of their business”.

“The issue involves two parties – the BCCI and IMG. The franchise owners have no locus standi. The matter is being reviewed by the BCCI president, who I am sure will come up with an acceptable solution,” a working committee member said.

There lies the crux of the problem: the BCCI’s honchos cannot permit a situation where its absolute right to take any and all decisions is diluted in any way, and they view giving in to the franchises on the IMG issue as the thin end of a wedge that could eventually create huge fissures in the time honored power structure.

N Srinivasan represents the hierarchy; Lalit Modi, who earlier this year lost elections for the post of president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, is now no longer a part of that structure, has no stake in it, and would love nothing more than to create an independent power structure.

Funnily enough, Lalit Modi had come up with the idea of franchise-driven sport several years before the IPL was born. He was out of power at the time, and had taken the idea to the then fuhrer, Jagmohan Dalmiya. Dalmiya thought about the proposal and finally turned it down. The reason given? Professionally run franchises, he argued then, would not be content to just pay money into the board’s coffers, but would demand a seat at the top table and a share in the decision-making process.

The fear expressed by Dalmiya then is coming true now. This particular shindig will subside soon, with Board president Shashank Manohar finding some kind of compromise formula ahead of the BCCI AGM September 24. But unless I miss my guess, the larger battle for the control of Indian cricket is now fully joined — and its going to be prolonged, bloody and attritional. [Oh, and much fun for us on the sidelines].

Update: Thanks to Cricinfo’s Surfer, just discovered two stories of related interest. Sports attorney Gaurav Sikri looks at the ramifications, legal and otherwise, of the IMG-BCCI spat.

This may not be all that is behind the termination of the agreement however. The fact that the franchisees have come out this time in IMG’s support, leads one to believe that there may actually be other contenders for organising this League, and that is where the dichotomy between aspiration and reality arises. It also reflects the changing mindset of sports in India as they get professionalised and corporatised. In what is subtly being referred to as a unilateral decision, this is actually a protest by the franchisees signifying a realisation of, and discomfort with the perceivable abuse of dominant position on display here by the BCCI/IPL, with respect not only to the treatment meted out to IMG, but importantly, to the franchisees themselves who were not consulted prior to the termination notice.

In the Indian Express, Kunal Pradhan sees the issue as being part of a larger power struggle:

In a letter, for example, Mumbai Indians owner Mukesh Ambani has written: ‘I am personally shocked at the unilateral decision of doing away with the services of IMG… It is also worrying for me that such a significant decision in relation to IPL has been taken without even so much as consulting the franchisees.”

The sentiment is that the new franchisees feel they have the right to demand answers about how cricket in India is being run. And in a Board that has never been faced with such a problem because of its ‘independent’ nature, not everyone is sure how to react in this novel situation.

So while one side is waving letters — from Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan and even former Board chief Sharad Pawar — to oppose the dismissal of IMG, which was praised so lavishly by Modi at the end of the second IPL; the other side’s old-school BCCI survival instincts are considering this a sign that the exclusivity of their private club is in danger of being breached forever.

“Today, they (franchisees) are saying which company should be the IPL’s promoter, tomorrow they will want so-and-so to be the league’s commissioner, and the day after they’ll say we want this man as Board president,” a top BCCI official said on Tuesday, clearly expressing his faction’s biggest fear. “This is not proper.”

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2 thoughts on “IPL and the battle for Indian cricket

  1. Pingback: Cricket clips « Smoke Signals

  2. Hi Prem,

    I totally agree with most of what you’ve said, but I think the kiwi players are an exception. I feel sympathetic that they are going through this as this is their only chance of earning any money before they retire. I am in Auckland and Rugby union in this country (All Blacks ) is akin to cricket in India. There were days when NZ cricket wasn’t mentioned in any major sporting news unless they’ve managed to do win somehow.BUt for most of the time they are totally ignored. Simon Doull used to work in one of the radio station ( Rock FM Auckland ), before India recently visited NZ four months ago, and then he got a bit of ” help ” from Ravi shastri and thankfully is now globe trotting with IPL and the like. Cricketers pay is ridiculous in this country but on a brighter side, IPL is forcing youngsters to take up cricket as an option.

    Cheers

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