THE BCCI is angry. That is a good sign as it is usually too thick-skinned to express emotions. Its celebrated killer application, the IPL, has just found a close cousin in the neighbouring emerald island of Sri Lanka. Sweat pearls have begun to gingerly descend down the necks of BCCI topdogs. Greed is a widespread human condition, but masquerading that as a business model with fringe benefits such as “globalising the game” was always disingenuous. But now with their former commissioner-in-cahoots Mr Lalit Modi attempting a spiritual makeover by doing soul-searching on prime-time television, sleepless nights are what the doctor ordered, perhaps.
The BCCI has always been opaque, like an in-denial giant ostrich. Its sudden reversal of decision to send Indian players to the new-born Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) reflects both its feet of clay and a wooden head. Since, at any given time, the Indian team can accommodate a maximum of 16 players, it has a deep reservoir available for some slapdash, slapstick and sham in 20 overs of mindlessness. In any case, between 19 July and 4 August (SLPL tournament dates), India will be playing Test cricket in England. Even domestic cricket is in limbo because cats and dogs are raining from the skies. Thus, the critical question: why the dramatic volteface? The prima facie reason for the cricket purist would be the collision course in official timings of both SLPL and India’s Test series; remember, official TV broadcasters cannot just pull strings, they can heave ropes as well. Will Indian households prefer SLPL fireworks over watching well-choreographed applause from distinguished gentlemen wearing Savile Row suits at Lord’s? Will SLPL diminish the impact of an already dissipating IPL (pardon the alphabet soup) with its abbreviated tenure? But the real reason seems to be the return of the Dark Lord Modi. More on that later.
The BCCI is actually receiving the taste of its own acrid medicine. While it acts like Big Brother of international cricket with king-size relish, its idiosyncratic ways, flip-flops and stubborn postures (the singular board that hates Umpire Decision Reviewal System, anti-doping measures, etc) makes them appear like those cantankerous caricatures in cartoon strips. The Sri Lankan board is in financial doldrums and without BCCI’s magnanimity, its sustainability is suspect. When they ordered their own players to return for a preparatory camp before the England tour, the BCCI exploded in terrible rage. But now it may be payback time. Or expect a long acrimonious confrontationist exchange between the two boards, not necessarily in a convivial relationship of late.
Will Indians prefer SLPL fireworks over watching wellchoreographed applause from gentlemen in Savile Row at Lord’s?
The ICC is now like a publicly listed Indian family business where outside shareholders have no voting rights. The BCCI governs cricket with its own tightfist ready to clobber any head that has pretensions of remonstrance. The IPL was a direct import from the English Premier League, but with a few synthetic twists, it became an IMG/Lalit Modi brainchild. The BCCI is making a laughing stock of itself by calling SLPL a “private league”. In fact, it is the IPL that has a privately-owned franchise structure, in SLPL, all teams are owned by the Sri Lankan board itself. The BCCI has absolutely no business to disallow players from earning their professional fees if they are not on any official duty. But the covert, cloak and dagger engagement of Modi’s erstwhile employees in SLPL’s marketing partner Somerset has given the BCCI a cold sweat.
The IPL has become an ever expanding apple pie that all country boards want a share of. The current ICC President Sharad Pawar himself attempted a backdoor entry in the famous gold rush. Chris Gayle, the magnificent destructor who gave the moribund IPL 4 some testosterone moments, is currently rootless in his own homeland; defunct deficit boards are losing their regal assets to overseas mercenaries. Re-enters Mr Modi. Again.
After almost a year in forced hibernation, Modi couldn’t endure the excruciating pain of anonymity. His latest diatribe against the BCCI is a bit too late; the horse has long bolted from the stables. It is like the pot calling the kettle black. But by publicly admitting that Operation Scuttle of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) was an orchestrated BCCI conspiracy with malevolent intentions, he has stirred the hornet’s nest. Operation Scuttle makes everyone guilty of corporate malfeasance, including all BCCI office-bearers who were party to a concerted attack to decapitate ICL. In effect, it means that the BCCI killed a creative, enterprising business venture by abusing its monopoly power status. This is a serious issue that ought to come under the umbrage of Competition Commission of India. Worse and if true, the BCCI’s contemptible act of blacklisting the hapless players, victims of filthy internecine power struggles, destroyed their professional careers and needs to be strongly condemned. The players were declared, outcasts, their national dreams stymied midway by an avaricious despot. Can anyone now resurrect those damaged aspirations? Who will pay them financial damages for an aborted career pursuit? This is the million dollar question (literally) that the BCCI must answer, as it stands guilty of sabotaging India’s domestic talent for their own moolah-making factory. If Modi is speaking the truth, then Operation Scuttle could be cricket’s biggest international scam as it was BCCI instigated but collectively backed by all other international boards, including the ICC, by making hurried constitutional amendments to the game’s charter.
THE BCCI literally vanquished the first-real T20 league called the Indian Cricket League promoted by Zee TV once India won the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. Several young domestic hopefuls were prematurely sentenced to permanent oblivion. Only a few got rehabilitation in the IPL. International superstars ended up looking foolish as the ICL got short-circuited in remarkable haste. Kapil Dev was treated with impertinence. Television rights deals were suddenly annulled. The BCCI remark on the SLPL that “it does not want players to suffer in case a private company is unable to pay them” is an outrageous lie.
The entire global cricket administration was hand-inglove with the BCCI bosses, who with hard-boiled ruthlessness, disenfranchised them for participating in the ICL. It denied a hard-working cricketer his rightful fair livelihood. That is a serious contravention of basic fundamental rights. The unfortunate players (both Indian and international) can take legal recourse against the BCCI and their respective boards if Modi’s allegations can be substantiated. Modi was not just the BCCI’s hatchet man, he sadistically presided over ICL’s closing ceremony with delight.
Modi is not a man to be easily trusted, he can be as slippery as an eel. But first, Modi himself needs to do some serious introspection and perhaps explain why didn’t he sue the Kochi franchise owners when they accused him of bribing them with a staggering $50 million offer for surrendering their newly acquired franchise, considering it was such a slanderous assault? Modi had then threatened immediate action.
The Great Indian Cricket Drama, ladies and gentlemen, is still unfolding.
Sanjay Jha is founder, CricketNext.com