NEW DELHI: Indian television czar Subhash Chandra dreams of creating a talent pipeline of cricket stars, but if the indignant and immediate reaction from the sport’s governing body is anything to go by, his plans will face stiff resistance.
On Tuesday evening, Chandra, chairman of the Essel Group of companies that owns sports channel Zee Sports, announced a parallel cricket league that would see a mix of international and Indian players participating in a round robin “Twenty20” tournament at home and abroad, playing for a prize money of $1 million (Rs4.3 crore). A new company would be set up with an undisclosed investment from Essel and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd to manage and develop properties for the league.
The announcement comes as India ponders its humiliating exit from the World Cup and days before the sport’s apex body in the country, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), meets to review the matter. Chandra’s idea also reflects a wider sentiment that not enough avenues exist for promising cricketers. Advertisers, too, have joined the navel-gazing exercise as they decry wasted investments.
Chandra said each of the six teams would have eight budding cricketers, to be identified by talent scouts who would visit colleges, clubs and local leagues across all 35 Indian states—not only the 15 whose cricket associations are affiliated with BCCI.
A throwback to the rebel World Cricket Series started in 1977 by Australian television magnate Kerry Packer, the proposed Indian Cricket League, scheduled for launch later this year, threatens the existing cricket structure in India.
A senior BCCI office holder, speaking to Mint on condition of anonymity, said Essel Group had applied to BCCI to support the league—and that it was very unlikely. “I don’t see the working committee approving it as there never has been a precedent,” he said.
Chandra, however, said the league aimed to serve as a “facilitator” to BCCI in finding new talent to step into the boots of India’s ageing stars, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. “We are not in conflict with the board, we are complementary to it,” he said. In Mumbai, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said in a media statement that the board would take an “appropriate decision”.
The initiative opens new advertising streams for companies looking to break through the cricket clutter and the current team’s slump. LG Electronics’ marketing head Sandeep Tiwari said his company would explore opportunities with its media agency.
Sam Balsara, chairman of media space buyer Madison, too is upbeat. “Advertisers will support this as little is being done to promote sport at the professional training level,” he said. “This is a good idea.”
But rival broadcaster Sony Television, which holds the rights to the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup for Indian viewers, reflected the board’s scepticism. Key players will not shift to the new league unless Chandra paid more than BCCI, Sony executive vice-president Rohit Gupta said.
A top-grade player, for example, commands Rs60 lakh as basic salary; on top of that come fees for each match, and fees from endorsements.