A medal for Modi?

Oooooo!

A fresh charge-sheet, containing “grave allegations”, against Lalit Modi even before the man has had time to respond to the previous one. What fun!

Seriously — are you kidding me?

Walk with me through memory’s bylanes, if you will.

In April 2009, the ECB mooted P20 — a two division Twenty20 tournament intended to replicate the success of the IPL.

This being the ECB — a body whose chief characteristic is administrative incompetence — [Hey, I’m not saying it — later that same year, the Sunday Telegraph ran a poll of professional cricketers across England, and discovered that a mere 11 per cent of the players had faith in Giles Clarke and the ECB — an approval rating that is even worse than any George W Bush racked up at the very worst period of his presidency], missed the whole point about the IPL.

Rather than opt for a crisp tournament with anything from 8-10 teams, the ECB opted to duplicate its existing county structure, with 18 teams and two divisions. In other words, it set itself the challenge of finding 18 big ticket sponsors, in an environment where the England team has in recent times struggled to find one [Vodafone, last year, ended its 12-year relationship with the team, and Brit Insurance took over.]

MCC chief executive Keith Bradshaw pointed out at the time that the idea was doomed to fail.

“Looking to the future I’m disappointed we are not going with the franchise as we proposed,” Bradshaw told the Daily Telegraph. “I think it is the best model for English cricket and we are missing a massive opportunity as we can see by the success of the IPL.

“There is still a lot of interest from investors and as recently as last week I had a new investor in touch with me. The fact is though they are not interested in getting involved in an 18-team P20.”

Soon thereafter, the counties joined the doomsday chorus — and the money on offer was central to their objections.

It transpires that, not only is there no firm deal from a broadcaster for the P20, but the sums mooted are much smaller than were originally suggested. For example, a county in the second division of the P20 could expect no more than £150,000 for their involvement, from which they would have to fund the inclusion of three overseas players. First division clubs would receive £250,000.

ECB CEO David Collier however maintained a Panglossian optimism over the future of the project. And then it turned out that the ECB was not fired up by the prospect of building something original, cashing in on interest existing within the locals — the idea actually was to find a way to mop up some moolah from India. And the preferred route was to make it mandatory for each county participating in T20 to mandatorily sign on one Indian player. Vijay Mallya had by then offered to sponsor the league; Zee and ESPN were in talks with the ECB for broadcast rights — but the broadcasters were insistent that absent a sizable Indian participation, they had no interest in forking over big bucks for telecast rights. At which point the lawyers jumped in with a no-can-do — and to cut a long story down to the bone, the ECB was forced to pull the plug on its brainwave.

Now consider the ‘charges’ against Modi — an edited version of the story below:

According to PTI, which said it had a copy of the document, the five-page notice issued on Thursday referred to a meeting Modi held on March 31 in Delhi with representatives of English counties including Yorkshire, Lancashire and Warwickshire, in which he is alleged to have discussed a parallel IPL in England and Wales in which eight existing franchises would bid for nine counties in UK.

In other words, Modi is being ‘accused’ of having discussed with the counties a way to make the franchise model, which the ECB had toyed with and failed miserably to pull off, work. While on that, who held a gun to the heads of the county representatives and forced them to the table? If discussing the idea is a crime meriting a charge-sheet, then why are the counties not similarly charge-sheeted?

The BCCI’s chargesheet, as quoted by PTI, was detailed. “You have allegedly discussed this as a commercial proposition…and also set out that IPL would guarantee each county a minimum of $3-5 million per annum plus a staging fee of $1.5 million if the counties supported this idea,” it said.

“Allegedly discussed that as a commercial proposition”? What, the ECB wanted to run its P20 as a branch of Mother Teresa’s outfit? I look at the graf above, and what I see is Modi throwing a lifebelt to counties that are currently drowning in debt. Give the man a medal, for christ’s sake.

You have allegedly offered a structured deal, by which the returns would be shared 80:20 between the franchises and the counties, a player model based on the IPL model and offered inducement to gather the rest of the county members to support your ideas and goad them to overpower their own governing bodies.

Offering a “structured deal” [as opposed to the pie in the sky version the ECB mooted and had to abandon] is a crime? Modeling a T20 league in England on the basis of the financially successful IPL model is a sin?

It is the wording of these “charges” that get your goat. What do you mean, “offered inducement” to “goad” the other counties? The inducement offered is a workable structure for something the ECB itself was incapable of pulling off — or are you suggesting that cash was paid under the table to the representatives who attended the meeting? Then charge-sheet them too, why don’t you? And “goad”? The offer on the table, at risk of repeating myself, was a properly structured league; the representatives were asked to go back and talk to other counties and see if there was interest in actually making some money, rather than running up more debt. “Goad”?

“You have allegedly planted a seed of thought of players’ revolt if the governing bodies of respective cricket boards do not allow them to participate in this extended version of IPL.”

Eh? Let’s see, now — if P20 had actually taken off [a chimerical possibility admittedly, considering it was the ECB that was trying to organize it], there would have been a calendar; international participation would have been on the same lines as currently exists in the IPL. Where did this “revolt” thing come from? Incidentally, players from the New Zealand, West Indies, even England and Australia and Sri Lanka, have over the last three seasons of the IPL regularly demanded that their boards do not schedule meaningless cricket matches [in the second season, the West Indies actually tried to drum up a Test series against Sri Lanka during the IPL season — an idea that got nixed when both boards realized that its best players would far rather play in India at the time. “Players revolt”, anyone?

If Clarke’s allegations were true, it said, Modi’s activities would amount to a blow to “the very foundation of the way cricket is administered and played across the world“.

Ah, now we come to the crux — this whole nonsense stems from the fear that the ECB would be shown up as incompetent. It would have tried to organize a T20 league, and failed. And then someone else would have come in and shown them how to do it. Which, naturally, would have been a blow to the way cricket is currently administered — incompetently.

No, seriously — what exactly would have happened had the counties gone along with Modi’s suggestion? England would have had a lucrative T20 league of its own. The league would have been not a challenge to the established order, but a sub-set of the ECB, just as the IPL is a league nestled within the BCCI. Is the concern time in the cricketing calendar? It is disingenuous of the ECB to suggest that would have been an issue, when it was contemplating a similar exercise, only involving more teams, and therefore taking more time.

The ECB’s protestations ring doubly false, when you consider this was the very same board that actively encouraged Sir Allen Stanford to organize a T20 match for a million dollars; that permitted, indeed facilitated, the unspeakably crass display of Stanford helicoptering down into Lord’s to show off a plexiglass box packed with twenty million in hard currency; that was in intense negotiations with Stanford to underwrite just the sort of league Modi discussed with the county chiefs… The ECB, remember, was also the very same body that in late 2009 came to the BCCI, hat in hand, to discuss the possibility of hosting the Champions League.

The ECB has regularly talked of the need for reform in county cricket and has, at various times, tinkered with various reforms — to no avail. Meanwhile, the county championship continues to be run on life support — specifically, on the earnings of the national team, some 60 per cent of which goes into the coffers of the counties. To fund this, the ECB has in recent years been seeking to pack its international schedule with as many matches as is humanly possible — ironically, creating dissatisfaction among the players, and prompting them to question why they should sweat it out for 12 months in the year to fund the county structure, when for a fraction of that effort they can make far more money for themselves.

The ultimate irony is this — that T20 was the brainchild of an ECB marketing executive [Stuart Robinson, to name a name]; it was England that first debuted the format in 2003 [to spectacular results, incidentally, with top grounds reporting sell out crowds]; and it was the ECB that then took the eye off the ball, waffled about the “traditional game” and generally twiddled its thumbs until Modi came along with the IPL and snuck the treasure chest right out from under the ECB’s noses. Even then, England could have cashed in, as the likes of South Africa and Australia did when they bought in wholesale into the IPL and its sibling, the Champions League. Instead, England decided to do its own thing, roped in Stanford, and fell flat on its face.

Long story short — I am no supporter of Modi and some of his less savory antics, but this latest “charge sheet” makes absolutely no sense to me. In fact, knowing this was where Modi was headed sparks some grudging respect for the man: imagine a scenario where there are IPL type franchises in the major nations, for instance, with cross-pollination in the form of contests among the winners of the respective editions. Imagine, further, using these contests to develop and nurture markets that are currently untapped [the United States is a prime example; the Gulf is another]. And imagine, further, a situation where the proliferation of such leagues finally compels the ICC to sit down and makes sense of its own international calendar, and work towards a situation where the contests it organizes have context, and hence make for compelling viewing, while the country leagues take care of the popcorn element and bring in the real money.

So where is this “charge sheet” coming from? It is, I suspect, the BCCI’s ham-handed effort to gild the lily, to continue the process of painting Modi in the darkest of hues, in order to further justify his inevitable ouster. The ECB would have only been too happy to play along, and convert a business meeting into a “charge sheet” the BCCI could brandish as its latest club — after all, the ECB hasn’t given up all hope of being slotted in as hosts of the Champions League, at least next year.

Hidden in that litany of “charges” is the real key to the puzzle — that bit about this being a blow to the “very foundation of how cricket is administered”. Because in the final analysis, it is always about the administrators, and their attempts to ensure that they control everything — even if the hallmarks of their “administration” are neglect, incompetence, and worse.

PS: How much are you willing to bet that Modi’s proposal, in some modified form, will be rolled out by the ECB, with the backing of the BCCI, within the next couple of years?

PPS: The World Cup kicks into gear for me this evening, when India take on Australia. Come onto Twitter, and join the fun.

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  1. Pingback: Modi update « Smoke Signals

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