Indian cricket goes global, as Chidambaram and Modi have their way

March 22nd, 2009 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

By Veturi Srivatsa
Lalit Modi made India a powerhouse of world cricket when he launched the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) last year, transforming the franchising and merchandising of the game. He is accused of greed and arrogance by his detractors, and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram may well endorse the view now after the scion of the business house of Modis shifted the second edition of the IPL out of the country.

If Chidambaram was adamant that the general election should take precedence over the IPL and that he could not compromise on security, Modi was equally stubborn to hold the event alongside the polls, making slight alteration in dates.

Eventually, the government has taken a stand not to take chances with security and the IPL took a decision that was best suited to it. Both insist that there was no politics involved in it, only differing perceptions on security.

What seemed to have enraged Modi and his friends in the Indian cricket board was that the home minister was putting pressure on the state governments to think of only elections after directing the IPL organisers to get their clearance. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) apparently was privy to the communication the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh received from the home ministry, forcing them to rescind the go-ahead given to the IPL.

The key word board chief Shashank Manohar used at his Sunday press conference in Mumbai to announce the shifting of the event was the “attitude” of the government on security, making it clear that the central government was in no mood to allow the IPL to be held as scheduled. Manohar went theatrical to apologise to the Indian fans for moving the tournament out of the country.

Just as Chidambaram kept saying that he cannot provide security to the IPL during election time and at the same time also claiming that cricket is safe in the country, Modi also kept insisting that the event is not going out of the country. Both did not mean what they said and said what they did not mean.

So, last year the IPL was for the Indians and this time it is for the Indian diaspora - and only soap for Indian TV audience. Modi is unwilling to make changes in the tournament dates (April 10-May 24), duration (45 days, 59 matches) or the match timings.

Going by Modi’s assertion, the event will have to be held either in England or in South Africa. If held in England, the match timings will suit the television prime time in India (4 p.m. and 8 p.m.), never mind even if it is inconvenient to the English fans who will have to watch a Twenty20 game at 11 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon instead of enjoying it after sun-down. In the case of South Africa, it is slightly better as the time difference is only three and half hours.

Both Cricket South Africa and the England and Wales Cricket Board say they are in consultations with their Indian counterpart. The high number of Indian expats may eventually tilt it in England’s favour.

Modi clearly also wants to capitalise on the high-profile Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff who will be playing in the IPL for the first time with the franchises sinking a small fortune in auction to buy them.

The franchises are happy that they can make something out of the event this year after Modi promised them to absorb any financial costs. The costs will be notional as the only thing they will not have is gate money and if some sponsorship deals fall through.

Once the IPL governing council agrees to absorb the costs, there will not be much of a financial impact on the franchises. The revenue sharing ratio and other financial commitments are protected, and the franchises will only be too happy to go to any part of the globe to play the matches.

The shift may benefit franchises enormously as most of them have global ambitions. The corporate publicity will give them brand extension and enhance their corporate image.

This IPL will be a novel experiment and cricket has truly gone global now, at least the Indian cricket which has become the game’s mainstay globally.

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