The man who led the Indian cricket team to its lone World Cup victory in 1983, and who now heads the Indian Cricket League (ICL) governing body , Kapil Dev, cut an anxious figure last November at Panchkula, during the inaugural chapter of the Essel Group-promoted ICL.
For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, a “rebel” tournament was being staged in the country — prompting many to compare the league with the World Series of Australian Kerry Packer that changed the face of cricket.
Today, with three ICL tournaments in his kitty, Dev is much more relaxed — and confident. To him, the DLF Indian Premier League, or IPL, is an unknown entity, a baby that is not even born yet, while ICL is already a veteran. “Let’s see what it’s all about,” he tells Mint in an interview.
How will you cope with the hype and expectations around IPL?
They have to cope with us, they haven’t yet started. Do I have to cope with someone who has not (even) started? I am not being arrogant, but who is
coping with who?
While Mithun Chakraborty’s association with the Kolkata team drew huge media attention, the coverage of ICL matches is next to nil. How do you explain this?
My job is to give fans good cricket. My job is to make sure they get to see a world-class game. And, that is what we are doing. As far as media coverage is concerned, we can’t force anybody to do that. It is up to them.
ICL hasn’t quite managed to fan regional passions. Could it be because it is seen as a one-centre (Panchkula) event?
Actually, we now have three centres — Panchkula, Gurgaon and Hyderabad.
In four months, it is good progress. I think having three cities on our itinerary gives ICL a huge presence. In time, we will have six cities, and then 10. Give me 10 years, I will take ICL across the country to the smallest of towns.
IPL has managed a larger regional footprint. While IPL teams already have distinct regional identities, ICL teams have a central ownership. Doesn’t this negate your claim of being a regional league?
We are not competing with them. So, it is not fair to compare us with them. Yet, we’re very much a regional cricket league. Our format is very different. To be a regional league, we don’t necessarily have to be owned by different people. Agreed, there are no individuals like Vijay Mallya, Shah Rukh Khan or Mukesh Ambani owning different teams in ICL. Nonetheless, we have different city-based teams. Just because they’re all owned by the Essel Group, doesn’t mean they aren’t regional. In fact, I didn’t hear anybody say that ICL’s are all Zee’s teams. Indeed, it is not a Zee tournament.
But, you aren’t getting much sponsorship...
That’s not quite right. We have different sponsors on board. Last year, we didn’t have one single sponsor. We have more than seven now. And, more will come.
What are your priorities?
My first priority is to give viewers good cricket and a good viewing experience. As a cricketer, that’s what I want. Preparing good pitches, ensuring good cricket is my focus. Then, to provide our spectators a good experience, we have to focus on our infrastructure and related services, such as better toilets and good food and beverages. All this will happen over a period of time.
Any plans to take ICL to countries such as the UK, US or West Asia, where the Indian diaspora is strong?
I will answer that soon.