Lalit Modi’s journey in cricket continues its careening path. A little over a year ago he was the ace shooter for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), so to speak; last week he turned whistleblower on the country’s cricket establishment.
Holed up in London, Modi unleashed a flurry of tweets recently which alleged the BCCI had arm-twisted the International Cricket Council (ICC) to alter its constitution, threatened domestic players, and generally used its might to scuttle the Indian Cricket League (ICL) promoted by the Zee group in 2007-08. Modi also claimed that the Zee group was unfairly denied the television rights to broadcast cricket played in India which, it might be recalled, was the trigger for the ICL. In 2006, the telecast rights for Indian cricket were ostensibly won by Zee, but the decision was soon mired in technicalities and legalities and finally annulled.
Zee responded by setting up a private T20 league, with former India captain Kapil Dev to front it. Several domestic and international players—not all disgruntled—gravitated towards it, lured by the big money on offer and the opportunity to play at a competitive “international” level. Scared of the media behemoth’s might, the BCCI, says Modi, countered with the Indian Premier League (IPL) which coerced other boards, paid bigger bucks to ensure the participation of the game’s biggest stars, got the ICL outlawed and went on to win cricket’s biggest deal since the Packer Circus three decades ago.
Controversy’s man: Lalit Modi. Hindustan Times
What precipitated Modi’s sudden spurt of revelations? According to sources, ostensibly emanating from the BCCI, he is a back-room boy for the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) to be played next month. The BCCI, in an abrupt decision, had banned Indian players (no stellar player had been contracted) from playing in this league, much to the consternation of the Sri Lankan cricket board.
Modi, while rubbishing reports of his involvement in the SLPL, had taken up cudgels on behalf of the players, claiming that the BCCI—after its dubious track record in muzzling the ICL—could hardly pretend to be Caesar’s wife. Of his own flip-flop ways—he was the driving force behind the annulment of Zee’s telecast rights as well as the driving force behind the IPL—Modi says he was only doing the best he could for the organization he was serving.
What Modi has obviously not spelt out is that he is also seeking retribution for his ouster from the BCCI—indeed the country—in the aftermath of the controversies that erupted in the 2010 IPL season. Right through IPL 4, he took potshots at the BCCI, and has now seized the moment for a full-frontal assault. This does not absolve him of his role in the shenanigans he now pooh-poohs. Indeed, the BCCI might believe that it was protecting its turf; and that all’s fair in war and business is a truism. Yet, along with several other controversies, the Indian cricket board is not exactly left smelling of roses.
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It can’t be anybody’s case that the BCCI is totally inept, of course. Indian cricket—in terms of results and balance sheet—has never looked healthier. The team is ranked No. 1 in Tests and is the World Cup winner. Players haven’t been better paid, though at the domestic level there is some heartburn about wages being delayed.
Yet misgivings abound about the BCCI’s functioning. Most of the other cricket boards are arraigned against what they perceive as the indiscriminate “power play” of the Indian cricket authorities. Where objection to the SLPL is concerned, the matter is still mired in intrigue. There could be wheels within wheels, and it remains to be seen what transpires between the BCCI and representatives of the Sri Lankan board, who are in India for negotiations even as this is being written.
But there are other issues which rankle, notably the BCCI’s recalcitrance towards the umpires’ Decision Review System (DRS), which every other cricketing country has adopted. For almost three years, it was believed that the Indian cricket board was pandering to the whims of a few major domos such as Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Tendulkar’s recent clarification that he was not opposed to DRS or Hawk-Eye, but only wanted it enhanced with Hot Spot and Snickometer, has sort of stumped the BCCI. The argument that the existing technology is not foolproof is not ill-founded, but it holds little relevance against the argument that if every other nation accepts this, one nation cannot be exempted.
It is such defiance of majority opinion that is sullying the image of the BCCI, apart from sundry other issues that have cropped up, such as not agreeing to the Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency)-approved drug-testing of players, adhering to central taxation procedures, coming under the ambit of a national sports policy, etc. All of these suggest an opacity that is not going down well within and outside the sport.
Some of these issues can be disputed, but that does not mitigate the need for the BCCI to show greater leadership in the sport rather than just flex its muscles every now and then. As the richest, most powerful body in sport, how much better it would be if the BCCI were to provide, even if only periodically, a vision for future betterment, not just consistent pique.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org