The end of the beginning…

It was perhaps an appropriate end to the season of discontent: a team that had captured the imagination with its brand of fearless cricket, a team that stormed into the final powered by its desire not to just win, but to dominate, found itself paralyzed, in the mind [a skyrocketing required run rate, and Keiron Pollard cooling his heels while lesser batsmen came and scratched around?] and on the field [the fielding, an MI strongpoint, was pathetic; the catching, execrable; the bowling, ordinary], by the fear of failing.

And the man who built a compelling league from the ground up took the stage as “commissioner under suspension” to deliver an overwrought, self-serving speech, crassly turning the focus on himself [and cloaking himself with assorted mantles ranging from Martin Luther King to Krishna] when the spotlight should have firmly been on the cricket itself.

Modi’s speech was inappropriate, but that he made it was not particularly surprising — it is the BCCI way to put itself ahead of the cricket. Remember the felicitation ceremony at the Wankhede when India returned with the World T20 Cup? The likes of RR Patil and Sharad Pawar turned the occasion into a political rally; on the dais, the front row was occupied by Pawar, Patil, Rajiv Shukla, Niranjan Shah, Modi himself, IS Bindra, PM Runga, Dilip Vengsarkar and others, while the cricketers who had against the odds won the trophy were relegated to the third row.

Behind the scenes, a series of thrust and counter-thrust saw the unceremonious exit — okay, suspension — of Modi. And the IPL high-flier has only himself, and the ‘brains trust’ that advised him, to blame. The script was for him to attend the governing council meeting, now on as I write this, accept his suspension, retain his seat in the BCCI as vice president, and let the dust die down. Instead, he first said he would skip the meeting; then, in bizarre fashion, called it his own meeting and sent out agendas, and indicated that it was no part of his plan to accept the compromise formula worked out by the likes of Pawar, Shukla, and a couple of former cricketers.

Bad move, as it forced the board to take pre-emptive action — action that has not merely taken the reins of the IPL out of his hands, but also deprived him of his BCCI position, which means he is now shorn of all power, and has been set up for the hangman, as the board’s sacrificial victim of choice.

While on this, I find the media fairly amusing: when first thrown the Lalit Modi-corruption bone, the media climbed all over it. Now, as we approach the denouement, the media reacts with equal parts triumphalism [“We did it, our relentless crusade got Modi out” — actually, no, the media got played by a government that sat on corruption for months, then picked its time, and indulged in some inspired leaking] and “soul-searching”. Thus, several television anchors, who risked chronic laryngitis while the “drama” was unfolding, are now doing the “give Modi his due” number.

Typical. And typically short-sighted, to imagine that this is about a person, rather than a concept. Modi the man is not, never should be, the issue.  The IPL is an idea — a very good one. It deserves to be allowed to take root, grow strong, and build itself up into the truly great sports franchise it has the potential to become. And it cannot do that if it operates under the cloud of corruption, of financial skulduggery, of funny money and funnier operators. Because in such an atmosphere, a dangerous cynicism sets in, to the discredit of the cricket itself.

An instance in point — as the MI chase went on the rocks, the buzz on Twitter was that the outcome was fixed. That too was the substance of calls from assorted friends. “The betting was on MI to win, considering how dominant it was — so MI was bribed to lose, just so the bookies could make a killing,” an angry friend called to tell me, as the chase entered the last five overs.

How do you know? “Oh come on, even the blind can see what is going on,” was his response. Translated, it actually means: I don’t know, I have no evidence, but since the IPL is corrupt through and through, why is this beyond the realm of the possible?

So I asked him, fine, commit to this: Are you saying that Sachin Tendulkar is corrupt? Because the decision to hold Pollard back was his; the decision to take Rayudu out of the number three position where he had produced compelling performances was his; the decision to send out Bajji ahead of established batsmen, and Duminy ahead of Pollard, was his. So if the outcome was fixed, it had to be Tendulkar who did the fixing. So — is Tendulkar corrupt?

“No, I don’t think so,” was his answer. How was the game “fixed”, then? He didn’t know. He only knew that it must have been, because everything about the IPL, from the ownership of the franchises to the holders of lucrative rights had been fixed, so why would match outcomes be exempt?

That impression in the minds of the fans is precisely what the IPL does not need, has not needed through the three years of its existence. And that is why this cannot be about Modi’s sacking. [There are some interesting arguments, including a point/counterpoint with my friend Ramesh Srivats, on this topic in the comments section here] That is merely a beginning, akin to quarantining a virus carrier; the treatment itself is key, and how the BCCI goes about it from here on will determine the future of the nascent league.

Examining the financials and cleaning up the franchise structure — all of this is merely a beginning. What the current crisis affords is an opportunity to go beyond that, to put in place the structure for taking IPL to the next level.

On that, read one of my favorite cricket writers:

There might have been a more meaningful way for Indian cricket to use corporate imagination and energy. Tenders could have been floated for partnerships with state cricket associations, rather than for owning teams. This would have avoided creating the parallel team structure that now exists. More importantly, it would have avoided the murky ownership issues that the league is now being investigated for.

As partners, the companies/consortiums could be mandated to invest in grassroots cricket, take the sport into disadvantaged communities, support first-class cricket, and help build spectator infrastructure. They could also be enlisted to try and tackle the most nefarious problem blighting domestic cricket: nepotism, especially in player selection. This could be done by establishing ombudsman panels comprising a nominee of the partner, one of the association, and a third independent member, each “of outstanding repute”, to whom any matter of impropriety may be referred.

The prize for the partners would have been a shot at a three-week-long Indian Premier League. This would feature eight teams, qualified through the domestic tournament, with each team allowed to contract three foreign players in the XI. From the IPL they would draw the invaluable brand exposure and a share of revenue, as they do now.

The job of the partners would not then be so superficial and self-aggrandising as that of the owners now. At present they are super-selectors in a fantasy game, buying and selling and managing their playthings under rules set by Modi. In the alternative proposal, they would be compelled to help create the strongest possible cricket system in the states, without which their team would not be able qualify for the IPL. It would be a far more equitable arrangement too, as Ramachandra Guha argued the other day, because a city or state would be rewarded for its cricketing merit rather the money power of someone who has bought a franchise there.

The basic idea, and it is a very good one [a variant had been surfaced on this blog a few days ago — in case you missed it then, here you go], is to use IPL not merely as a money-minting machine, but as the one thing Indian cricket has sorely lacked: a mechanism to upgrade infrastructure, improve spectator comfort, create and refine a talent pool, and serve as a feeder mechanism for team India.

Back to today: the governing council is meeting, and what it will do is ‘discuss’ the issue after having already taken, and acted on, the decision to suspend Modi. In other words, the meeting now on is mere formality, meant for the public record and to provide a post facto imprimatur to the decisions of the ruling cabal. Which is why I am totally uninterested in the press conference to follow the meeting.

Modi, meanwhile, will challenge the decision once it is officially announced — possibly legally. It won’t do him any good, though. He will also “file his response” — which won’t do much good either. As far as he is concerned, the end game is on, and the outcome is obvious: mate in three moves.

He can take consolation, if consolation is the word, in this: he has no one to blame for his downfall but his own arrogant assumption of entitlement. If the circumstances surrounding his exit lead to a refurbishment of the league, he can, on the plus side, take credit for two accomplishments: the first is of having created the league, and steam-rollered it onto the world stage and two, of having been the trigger for its refurbishment, for the eventual creation of a league we can all take undiluted pride in.

That is more than any other administrator in Indian cricket history can claim.

PS: Also read, Sambit Bal’s take on Lalit Modi’s rise and fall.

20 thoughts on “The end of the beginning…

  1. There is no shame in standing out, and acknowledging all the great work Modi has done in making the IPL what it is. I think it is John Wooden who said, “It ain’t bragging, if you done it”. Unlike Prem, who’s nepotism in the particular case of Cochin just sickens..

  2. The shame of it all is that Lalit Modi, through his self-serving drivel of a speech, stole the moment that well and truly belonged to the Chennai Super Kings. I liked his business idea but not the business deals. We have something in our hands – the IPL – that we all can be proud of. It needs some of the sewage out, before we can all take pride in it, again. Thanks for the Vishy Anand note as well.

  3. Prem, Clearly u’ve been pissed off way more about Cochin being slighted by Lalit Modi than anything else. Your crass writing on his abilities shows your lack of grace. BCCI was a corrupt, thuggish organization long before Lalit Modi, and will remain so till it is eradicated. That the Cochin bid was put together by a bunch of individual wannabes masquerading as investors, investment bankers etc is plain for all to see, and Lalit Modi was right in preemptively trying to eject them. Kudoes to them, tho for not backing down, when the stakes went higher. Cochin vs. Ahmedabad….and Cochin wins? You cannot be serious!

  4. Pingback: Now Modi is Twattered too… « i3j3Cricket :: A blog for fans of Indian cricket…

  5. a couple of points re: srt

    1) if he is not the “icon” you mentioned (or linked a reference to an article) a few posts ago, who is?

    2) if, somehow, one’s family is threatened and one cannot trust the police force which could not protect its own officers (26/11), would it be better to cave in to the threats or report them to the law enforcement? if one caves in, does that count as corruption or self-preservation?

    i have no evidence of any impropriety, just playing the devil’s advocate here.

    – s.b.

  6. On SRT being corrupt”I am not saying he is” but till the mud came out on Tiger he was considered an epitome of all things good and great.

  7. I am not in agreement with Rahul’s article and particularly with the bits you quoted here. I am not sure where I read the counter argument (either here or Cricinfo) but it sounds convincing enough so let me re-state it.

    Almost all state associations are headed by politicians and they are not letting anyone having their way. Why would a big business put in the money and then waste time playing politics and negotiating for little things with two bit men who fill up the offices of state associations? Imagine team selection for GMR if DDCA was a part of the set up. Goons will breaking furniture in the GMR office as well :).

    The business guys have created a parallel fiefdom where they are the masters.

  8. Dhananjay :

    I feel Lalit Modi / BCCI borrowed the idea from Shubash Chandra and then used its monopoly position to create the league which we have today.

    Actually, no, Lalit had been pushing the IPL idea to Dalmiya when he was in charge. Subhash Chandra was not the originator of the idea.

  9. regarding is sachin corrupt: well while no body can guarantee anything. a few things to note, abhishek nayar was present – co incidentally in quite a few happening things, a dropped catch, some desperate attempts to either get sachin runout or run himself out – in which he finally succeeded. It also looked from sachin’s reactions and body language that he wasnt happy about something ( i know this all looks like digging too much – but i voice it as my views). the batting order could / looked like being handed over by some one above tendulkar. The only place where i find tendulkar guilty is him cowing down to such moves. Or otherwise displaying really weak cricketing sense. God forgive me for such harsh words on God himself.

  10. While we credit Modi for the idea of creating IPL, are we forgetting ICL. Didn’t supersede IPL and IPL was created by BCCI to counter IPL after realizing the money making potential it had? Also didn’t BCCI do everything in its power to ensure that ICL won’t be a success.
    I feel Lalit Modi / BCCI borrowed the idea from Shubash Chandra and then used its monopoly position to create the league which we have today.
    Interestingly ICL was also clouded with allegations of corruption and same is the story with IPL, though the corruption in this case is at much higher level and being a bigger league of much bigger scale.

  11. My conspiracy THEORY is as below.

    IPL matches are fixed officially. You donot need a bookie for this. It is all about massaging egos of franchises and enhancing valuations

    My guess is that there is a secret auction for winners also

    In season one both LKM and NS were together. IPL was new.No one was sure how it will pan out. Hence there was no auction and LKM and NS made sure their respective teams ( owned by them) finished on the podium

    In season 2 the auctions started. The teams which had ended up at the bottom were desperate for some mileage , valuations and massaging of egos. So they bid for the podium positions. In that case DC was more desparate and outbid RCB( You might well remember that DC owners had written nasty letters to their players in season 1 showing their desperation and RCB ceo was sacked midway through the tournament)

    In season 3 everything was setup for MI as it had won the auction. But before the final, the IPL gate surfaced and BCCI wanted to teach LKM a lesson my changing the script of his auction.Also they wanted to gift the win to one of their own(NS).

    In this case MI will not play ball. So they used the alleged sweat equity of SRT in the KOCHI franchise . Even though there are no public records, BCCI has documents of SRT having sweat equity in Kochi franchise which they used to mould him

    The result is evident in yesterday’s match

  12. Very precise article. The writing was on the wall, as Modi was inviting everyone’s wrath with his upstart-ish behaviour. There are reasons galore for the muddle he has got into. But it is surprising that hardly anything has been mentioned about the first sin- the foundation on which the whole IPL was built on.
    The Fascist attitude meted out by the board to ICL, using the enormous clout that it wields- denying facilities like grounds, banning all who had anything to do with the ICL- were all totally undemocratic. And right thru’ the apparent(erstwhile) success of IPL, when LKM was gloating over the success of the tournament, very few in the media remembered that IPL was only a MODI-fication of the original idea!

  13. ‘mate in 3 moves.’ Ironic. There’s been absolutely no coverage of Anand defending his title. Thanks to the this IPL shit. How fair is that? I cringe.

  14. Nothing takes away from LKM the passion with which he created and marketed the league. It is of course not a justification for any wrong-doing that he has done if any.

    Indian cricket needs an overhaul, and not just limited to IPL. The murky controversy has brought the key management issues to fore, though quite likely the ambit of the current clean-up will be limited to LKM’s removal and political scores being settled.

    One hopes that all future BCCI commercial decisions – even the ones unrelated to IPL – will be under greater public and media scrutiny and hopefully the future office bearers will tread with caution.

    Greater player involvement is always a good idea, though they dont make for good marketing, finance or PR wizards. However, they understand the issues important to players and spectators and they are the stakeholders who need to have a greater say in the time to come in how cricket is run in India.

  15. Prem,
    I didn’t quite understand if you were endorsing the paragraphs cited in Rahul Bhattarcharya’s article or not. I agree with the rest of the points made, but strongly disagree with anything that sounds like adding another tyre of babus. Remember power corrupts and all that – In theory it might be better, but in practice – actually having private “super selectors” who will select teams to win is better – always.
    If it is about development of talent etc – we need not look any further than the youth clubs – Barcelona youth club, RM youth club and so on who spot talent, encourage and ultimately improve the unknowns.

    To a degree, it has happened in IPL – unknowns like kamran khan wouldn’t have been plucked out of the blue if there was no attempt at scouting.

    • I cited Rahul to underline the need to rethink the purpose of the league itself. It cannot be *only* about instant entertainment, apres match partying, and a marriage of convenience between business, glamor and cricket. If it is to outlive its raucous infancy and grow into a strong adult, it needs to plug seamlessly into the system, to feed the system that feeds it, so both can grow. Rahul’s suggestions are think points; the ones I had made in my 2000 piece, to which I linked in this post, are ditto. Not prescriptions, so much as pointers to the direction(s) the league can take.

    • Sorry, I missed the point about talent development. Totally with you. In fact, when I had proposed my version of a domestic revamp, one key ingredient was that franchises would be given their own grounds. I mooted that for two reasons: ownership triggers pride of possession; each franchise would want its home ground to be its corporate showcase, and would vie to make it the best of the grounds. The result would be we get 10 world class grounds.

      More importantly, however, franchises will realize [some, I know, already have] that they cannot be dependent on domestic cricket to find and nurture talent; they realize they have to play a role in creating/unearthing talent, and taking it under its wing, absorbing it into its team — in the manner of young clubs attached to the main team. You thought Barcelona, my thought when I wrote that 2000 vision document was Sao Paolo juniors.

      To do that, however, you need infrastructure. You need a place to house your young talent and to allow, facilitate, your support staff to work with them, to hone their skills and to shepherd them into the main team. Hence the vital importance of giving franchises homes to nest in, to develop and to grow in.

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