If it had not been the BCCI that first linked him to the Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL), his recent disclosures about the Indian Cricket League (ICL) could have been construed as yet another attempt by Lalit Modi to turn the spotlight back on him.
The ex-IPL honcho projects an impression of missing the glory, accolades and kudos that came his way when he was the high-flying architect of the biggest organizational success story in international cricket since Kerry Packer‘s World Series Cricket (WSC).
The Indian television media, as expected, went overboard on his revelations. Arnab Goswami of Times Now button-holed the IPL founder on prime time. Lalit Modi flatly denied any connection with the Sri Lankan league—direct or indirect.
To attribute altruistic considerations to Lalit Modi’s revelations—as Arnab rightly pointed out—is foolish. However, to dismiss the allegations as ravings of a disgruntled ex-BCCI employee or to term him a liar is foolhardy.
Mr. Modi promised to provide proof of wrongdoings on his website soon;he has kept similar promises.
Lalit Modi, perhaps, believed that it was the right time to try to isolate the BCCI even further, especially after the criticism it has copped for its intransigence on the Decision Review System (DRS) . His latest blog post is critical of the BCCI’s stance on the review system.
Now that the hangover induced by the media-provided buzz has subsided to some extent, let us examine the allegations made by the former IPL commissioner.
Mr. Lalit Modi’s many allegations
Mr. Modi claims that the BCCI did their best to scuttle the Indian Cricket League founded by Subhash Chandra of Zee Telefilms.
The BCCI arm-twisted state associations and prevented the fledgling league from having access to cricket stadiums. Indian players were warned against participating in the league under threat of blacklisting by the national body.
The Board used money and power and coerced international boards into outlawing the ICL. Lucrative remuneration from the Champions League was the blandishment offered.
Advertising revenue to the rebel league was choked by threatening interested parties with debarment from BCCI events. All parties associated with the event were blacklisted.
Finally, in 2009, the BCCI offered an amnesty to all Indian cricketers contracted to the league allowing them to represent their states and take part in the IPL.
However, most of the above allegations are an old hat. There is little new that has been added to the list of iniquities perpetrated by the Indian board on its rival for big stakes in the sphere of T20 cricket.
These allegations have been made before by parties within the ICL such as Kapil Dev and Kiran More.The former Indian all-rounder was sacked as chairman of the National Cricket Academy because of a perceived conflict of interest.
The BCCI played its card shrewdly by ensuring that none of their top-flight cricketers joined the league.
Even though Subhash Chandra was able to entice big names such as Kapil Dev, Tony Greig, Dean Jones, Madan Lal, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Kiran More to come on board his venture, he was unable to get access to the big names of Indian cricket, namely Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
No élite Indian player expressed any interest or participated in the league rightly fearing that they would be kept out of international fixtures—if they did. Additionally, top Indian cricketers enjoyed substantial income from brand endorsements—a perk of being part of a spoilt Indian team.
The few international stars that the ICL managed to clobber together were either retired players such as Brian Lara or players who were in and out of their national sides due to injuries sustained in the line of duty such as Chris Cairns.
One big name casualty of the ICL was Shane Bond, the express paceman from New Zealand. He, too, was welcomed back to the fold following the amnesty announced by the BCCI.
The Indian cricketers who joined the league were either on the fringes or believed that they would find it difficult to break into an established Indian side. Neither were they in the running for the India A side.
The lure of lucre was hard to resist for these also-rans. The ICL was touted as a learning opportunity for young players to play against international stars and gain much-needed exposure—much as the IPL is now.
Ambati Rayudu—one of the stars in the latest IPL edition—chose to ply his trade in the ICL.
The Nature Of The Beast
Was it wrong on BCCI’s part to indulge in strong-arm tactics to suppress the ICL?
The BCCI is the sole arbiter of cricketing events in the country. It is the nature of the beast. It is a monopoly—as are other national sports federations.
Else it may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
Consider hockey. Hockey India (HI) and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) are at loggerheads. The former is recognised by the international federation, the latter has been associated with the sport in the country since its inception. Who has the greater legitimacy?
The BCCI wielded hefty clout simply because of money power at its disposal—unparalleled in the history of the game.
It was bound to defend its turf when encroached upon by hostile parties.
Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group was a worthy adversary—a foe with equally deep pockets.
The BCCI—as Lalit Modi puts it—feared his media power. They felt that they could be pushed aside if the media giant was successful in his plans.
To understand why the BCCI were afraid, let us revisit a bit of administrative and marketing cricketing lore.
Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket
Kerry Packer formed the World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977 in response to the Australian Cricket Board (ACB)’s refusal to give him the telecast rights to Australia’s home Test matches in 1976.
Despite Channel Nine’s offer being substantially higher than its competitor’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), he was rebuffed.
The Kerry Packer circus—as an idea—germinated as a result of this rejection and the Australian media mogul turned the cricketing world upside down by signing up prominent Australian cricketers led by Ian Chappell. English captain Tony Greig was another of his high-profile signings.
Kerry Packer was able to sign up a substantial chunk of top international players—in stealth mode. There was nary a whiff of the storm to come.
When the news of Packer’s signings broke, Tony Greig was one of the first victims. He was stripped of the English team’s captaincy.
The Cricket Council in its statement said: “His action has inevitably impaired the trust which existed between the cricket authorities and the Captain of the England side.”
Packer players were banned from Test and first-class cricket by the ICC. However, the English cricket board, Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), were challenged in court by Packer’s lawyers.
In a landmark judgment, Justice Sir Christopher Slade ruled that cricketers were professionals and thus entitled to ply their trade as they willed. English counties were delighted, since this allowed them to retain key players.
Even though the ICC initially rallied around the Australian cricket board, the West Indies were in no mood to relinquish their hold on the cricketing field and refused to ban any of its contracted players.
A Kerry Packer flying-circus tour of the West Indies replenished an ailing West Indian cricket board’s coffers. They had little or no cause to complain.
Packer appeared to have bottomless pockets, and the list of contracted players, specifically from Down Under, kept growing.
Although the World Series was not an overnight success, the media mogul ploughed on. In the process, he discovered that day-night cricket and the 50-over format had won over spectators and television audiences.
The following season—1978—was a resounding success. Once the initial investment was made, it was merely a case of having enough funds to keep operating.
Packer, however, was not really interested in overthrowing the establishment or establishing a parallel cricketing infrastructure to rival the ICC’s.
He was more interested in righting a perceived injustice; he believed that he had been denied by an “old boys network” the rights to Australian cricketing events.
The Australian Cricket Board was driven to the verge of bankruptcy. As rightly envisaged, the absence of marquee players in the Australian side meant that the board’s cash cow, the Ashes, was no longer a money spinner.
The ACB finally negotiated a compromise, allowing the media baron’s Channel Nine exclusive rights to promote and market the game in May 1979 for the next 10 years.
Kerry Packer had won; televised cricket coverage would never be the same again.
Innovations such as day-night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and carbon-fibre helmets are legacies of the Kerry Packer brand of cricket .
The WSC also ushered in bigger pay packets for Australian and English cricketers.
It is in this context that one should look at the BCCI’s handling of the rebel ICL.
Subhash Chandra’s ICL
There are a few uncanny similarities—to WSC—in the formation of the Indian Cricket League.
Like Packer, Subhash Chandra was kept out by the BCCI when he bid for telecast rights to the 2003 ICC World Cup and the 2006 ICC Champions trophy. He fought the BCCI in court for five-year telecast rights in 2004 but was unsuccessful.
Zee Telefilms, then, decided to create cricketing content of its own. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”Thus, the ICL was born.
The BCCI had every reason to fear Zee TV’s ICL. Chandra had money, influence and more importantly access to powerful media contacts.
The BCCI traditionally outsourced its marketing to third parties. The BCCI’s core competency remains the game’s administration.
If the ICL succeeded, the BCCI’s plans of launching a league of their own would fall flat.
The success of the Indian cricket team at the inaugural T20 World Championships in 2007 and the attendant mass hysteria—the triumphant Indian team paraded Mumbai streets in an open coach—brought home to the BCCI the urgency of forming its own league.
Lalit Modi’s proposal was dusted off and the Indian Premier League took off in April 2008.
Had the BCCI not acted swiftly and decisively, is it possible or probable that the ICL could have usurped their authority? Kerry Packer’s WSC set a dangerous precedent; the lessons were hard to ignore.
Had the ICL grown as envisaged by its founder, Subhash Chandra, the BCCI could have stared down the barrel—a similar predicament to that of the ACB in 1979.
In retrospect, the ICL’s inability to attract premier Indian signings led to its downfall. The BCCI were able to scupper any high-profile defections from the Indian side. Additionally, there was much more money in the game now.
The Indian players who participated in the league were young players on the fringe of selection (e.g. Ambati Rayudu) or players who believed that they would never make it into an Indian side (e.g. Rohan Gavaskar), consisting of established stalwarts.
Although the ICL triumphed in a court battle against the BCCI at the Delhi High Court in August 2007, with a ruling that prevented corporate sponsors, state associations and the BCCI from terminating valid contracts of ICL players, it was not enough to prevent the fall of the ICL.
In addition, the lack of transparency in the functioning of the ICL caused financial analysts to doubt its viability.
The IPL’s launch and its mega-success were other contributing factors behind the ICL’s demise.
The ICL’s advent did have a salutary effect on the remuneration offered to domestic cricketers participating in Ranji, Irani and Duleep trophy fixtures. Their match fees were hiked by as much as 100 percent.
The ICL is now defunct. It’s last competitive fixture was in November 2008.
The ICC refused to recognise the ICL, passing on the decision to the BCCI. This was wrought about by a change in the ICC constitution.
Decisions about the recognition or de-recognition of domestic tournaments was now the domain of national cricket boards. The ICC would defer to their judgment.
The 2009 edition of the ICL was called off due to security reasons after the Mumbai terror attacks in November, 2008.
Around the same time, the BCCI offered an amnesty to all Indian players effectively ending the warring between ICL contracted players (represented by the Federation of International Cricketers Association), the BCCI, the ECB and the ICC.
It recommended similar action on the part of international cricket boards towards their players. This effectively squashed any attempt by FICA to take the ICC to court for anti-competitive and restraint-of-trade practices.
The ICL is bankrupt, unable or unwilling to pay 19 Pakistani players fees to the tune of $2 million USD. It is not just Pakistani players who are owed money. FICA has slammed the Essel Group for not paying international contracted players their dues.
Has Lalit Modi grown a conscience?
To affix the failure of the ICL solely on the BCCI and its machinations is to do a disservice to Mr. Modi himself and his grand design for world T20 domination.
It is remarkable that the creator of India’s biggest sporting tamasha has questioned and exposed the very tactics that engineered its success.
The hard-nosed methods employed by the Indian cricket board can hardly be excused.
Perhaps, Lalit Modi prefers to believe that his business plan was so very sound and viable that any competition was irrelevant. Mr. Modi himself says that he is unsure if the IPL and the ICL could have co-existed, despite the huge talent pool Indian cricket enjoys.
As it turns out, his BCCI “partners-in-crime” thought otherwise and flinched not from utilizing every trick in the book—legitimate or otherwise.
And Lalit Modi fell in line—like a good schoolboy should.
Pragmatic, perhaps? Who, more so?
Quote of the day:
The more things change, the more they remain—insane.