Apres Modi

I have just been diagnosed with a rare, and potentially dangerous, medical condition: when the words ‘BCCI’ and ‘professional’ appear in some measure of proximity, I break out into paroxysms of laughter irrespective of where I am and what I may be doing.

Like this afternoon. I was enjoying a nice lunch, washed down with beer, when my cell phone beeped its message-waiting chirp. ‘Ravi Shastri being mooted by some franchises as IPL commissioner’, a friendly source had sms-ed me.

I ended up choking over my beer, spraying it around the table including a generous measure on my T-shirt, and needing emergency first aid in the form of firm slaps to the back [administered with more than necessary vigor by an embarrassed wife] before I could recover. Moments later, I almost had an encore over the follow up sms: “Board will appoint a professional commissioner”, it said. [Where Indian cricket is concerned, the ‘professional manager’ appears on the scene once in 10 years. I’d written about the last occasion here].

The emerging consensus among the franchises is that they would rather not have the boat rocked too violently just now. They’ve pumped in a ton of money; they’ve seen their coffers bleed over the course of three seasons [for all the hype, none of the franchises has made any profit yet]. They are more or less okay with that, their collective expectation being that as valuations rise through the roof, they will make their money back one way or the other [some, like the Ambanis and Mallya and the Chronicle group, see business possibilities; others see the opportunity to sell stake and make a killing — and while on that, some of the stuff floating around makes me wonder if Shah Rukh Khan, at this point in time, continues to own any stake in KKR].

The last thing they need is for someone new to come in and change the rules of the game on them. Hence Ravi Shastri, as “compromise candidate” — someone who is well networked into the IPL machinery, knows how the gears move, is okay with it all and thus can be trusted to keep his lip zipped and allow the business to continue more or less as usual. In other words, Modi-lite — a commissioner who is something of an attention magnet himself, but won’t be guilty of the sort of blatant wheeling and dealing that draws attention to the league.

As for the BCCI’s promise, don’t crack me up — not again. A professional is someone who brings to the table a combination of skills and capabilities you can put a value on. Per the BCCI’s definition, though, if you pay someone for something he automatically becomes a “professional”.

By that yardstick Sunny Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who are being paid for their role as ‘councillors’ in the IPL’s governing council — a role they have interpreted as an a-capella chorus of ‘all is well’, like the 3 Idiots — are ‘professional’ council members. In actuality, they are like Gandhi’s famous three monkeys, given seats at the head table as the token cricketers so the IPL and its commissioner can point to them and argue how well run the league is, with cricketers represented on the board.

What is clear at this point is that Modi’s defiance is at an end. He had hoped to clutch at a vague legal straw and string this thing out a while longer, spewing as much muck as he could in the meantime and hoping that time would provide a solution. That ploy ended when the board kindly pointed out to him that even if N Srinivasan was not entitled to summon the governing council meet, he could as secretary convene a special general body meeting of the BCCI itself — and at that meeting, a resolution could be made to expel Modi from the board.

And once Modi lost his seat at the BCCI [which came his way courtesy good friend IS Bindra], he would not be able to remain as IPL Commissioner anyway.

That possibility took the wind out of Modi’s sails. Rather than be exiled from the board itself, he decided to bite the bullet and give up his position in the IPL provided he was allowed to continue as board vice president — thus defining compromise as a solution that fully satisfies neither party, but permits each the satisfaction of knowing the other bugger has been done in, too. So come Sunday, he will swan in front of the television cameras for the last time, as IPL commissioner — and on Monday, meekly take his medicine, his non-attendance at the general council meet a last, futile show of bravado.

Shashank Manohar will step in as an interim commissioner, despite considerable jibbing by certain franchises. The board is in no mood to let franchises tell them how to run their business — give way on this one, and they fear that going forward the franchises will increasingly flex their financial muscle and begin to dictate to the board on matters large and small. Manohar’s taking charge is the line in the sand the board is drawing — and it will hold, since the franchises cannot operate independent of the board.

The unanswered question is, what next?

The stream of ‘revelations’ currently keeping the print and television media in ecstasies will ebb in the coming week — and by next weekend the leaks will most likely miraculously plug themselves. Absent fresh “information”, the media will congratulate itself on its ‘hard hitting coverage’ that saw the demise of the most powerful sports administrator in the cricketing world, and move seamlessly on to the next sleazy godman. The IPL will lie low, make some cosmetic changes, and the circus will surface again later this year, when the Champions’ League rolls into town.

That is one option.

The other is that the board voluntarily [or involuntarily, at the “urging” of the government] appoint a core team of persons of unquestioned probity, give them the brief of examining all aspects of IPL functioning [including the financial structure of the franchises] and spearhead a thorough clean-up. At that point, the board can hand the IPL’s conduct over to a team of highly qualified professionals [that definition not to mean paid yes-men] to run, while the board’s ‘honorary’ officials play an oversight role.

Those are the two ways this can go. At this point, I hope for the second — and fear the first.

PS: On Twitter tomorrow, during the final. And back on blog Monday.