SYED MUSHTAQ ALI was a revered cricketer known for his big hitting, and, many past greats aver, would have been a huge success in T20 cricket. To honour his memory, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) named its T20 tournament after him. This year the Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament started on the same day as IPL3. Needless to say, the event, involving mostly talented cricketers who could not land an Indian Premier League contract, turned out to be an eminently unnoticed exercise, lost in the glitz and glamour of the cash-rich IPL.
The IPL may have been conceptualised by Lalit Modi but it had the sanction of the Board. The Boards failure to control it will remain the most glaring setback for the games administration. As former England captain Nasser Hussain observed in his column, The IPL has become a monster. There are too many IPL games, there is too much money involved and, most of all, too much self-importance about the IPL and the creator, Lalit Modi.
In post-Independence India, cricket encountered controversies at various times. The match-fixing scandal dented the image of the game, but cricket survived. The Board reorganised itself and began a new chapter in cricket administration through lucrative television deals that brought in money and security. Players were paid handsome match fees and retired cricketers were handed monthly pensions. The BCCI became the richest sports body in the country.
The Board was functioning smoothly, if not always with transparency, with a new set of officials in charge. Decent performances on the field helped Indian cricket grow in popularity, and there was more money in the Boards coffers. This was the time when the businessman Lalit Modi, an unheard name in cricket, made his entry, thanks to former BCCI president I.S. Bindra.
Not that the Board needed money to survive. Money is always welcome, Board officials would insist, and Modi showed them the way. Modi had nurtured the idea of a cricket league, and the popularity of the T20 brand and his presence in the Board meant encouraging signs for his vision to become a reality. That it did was definitely good for the Board but not essentially for the game, as argued by many former players from India and overseas. To quote Hussain again, I was concerned about the IPL from the start because, to me, the tournament was simply a money-making exercise rather than a legitimate and relevant competition. His views are widely respected in the cricket world, not to forget his impeccable reading of the game as a commentator.
The Boards role in promoting the IPL and Modi was huge. The launch, with the active role of the media, was glamorous. Top cricketers were drafted as icons. Some retired players found a platform to swell their bank balances. The IPL matches were played in packed stadiums and the Board patted itself for the brilliant tournament. As its coffers swelled, the Board relied on Modi alone to carry the IPL forward.
The Board cant shirk its responsibility. How did things come to such a pass when the Board-appointed IPL Governing Council had some of the best officials and cricketers on its list? asked former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar. He was right. The IPL Governing Council was a 14-member committee that included Board president Shashank Manohar and secretary N. Srinivasan, apart from three eminent cricketers, M.A.K. Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri.
When the second edition of the IPL was moved to South Africa, some of the Board members did not approve but chose to remain silent. Modi had the support of some elite members of the Board. But it was not an ideal decision to mock at the government and take the league out of the country, said a Board member. The IPL was shifted citing security concerns.
It took a tweet from Modi for the Board to discover the irregularities in the conduct of the IPL. Once the taxmen came knocking at the doors of the BCCI, the cricket administration woke up to some harsh realities and promptly blamed one man for the misdeeds Modi.
The Board acted swiftly by suspending him. The events of the last few days have thrown up a lot of sad and unfortunate developments. While we rejoice and celebrate the great success of IPL season 3, the alleged acts of individual misdemeanours of Lalit K. Modi, chairman, IPL and vice-president, BCCI, have brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself, said the Board president.
What was the Board doing all the while? It was responsible directly because it is a domestic tournament. The [IPL] Governing Council is equally to be blamed. Did they [the members] not ratify the decisions taken by Modi? The controversy has made Indian cricket the laughing stock of the world. It has tarnished the image of cricket, said Vengsarkar.
Pataudi agreed that it was a sad situation and has graciously owned up responsibility for having failed as part of the IPLs Governing Council. The responsibility was given to one person and we should have asked more serious questions, but we took the answers at face value. I am upset. No doubt, he [Modi] worked very hard but he allowed dirt to be attached. The buck stops with the Board, he said in a TV interview.
The Board had no clue on the financial transactions involved in the IPL. There were allegations of match-fixing and this was an aspect that left the cricket administration a worried lot. Modi was defiant and decided to take on the Board. He was known as a loner in the Board, taking decisions on his own.
Pataudi had a clear opinion on what the Board had to do. In this country nobody is interested in watching Test matches. Even against Pakistan you will get a completely empty stadium. This product [IPL] is very good and it will help cricket, but you must play Test cricket too. Without entertainment, cricket would struggle to survive in India. Cricket has to evolve. He was honest enough to admit that certain decisions were taken even before the IPL Governing Council was constituted.
Much before the controversy began, quite a few former cricketers were aghast at the Board allowing Modi to dictate terms. But, shockingly, the same cricketers did not protest when 1983 World Cup winning team member Sunil Valson was humiliated by IPL CEO Sundar Raman and Modi took away his accreditation. Worse was in store for national selector Narendra Hirwani, who was ordered out of the VIP box in Mumbai by Modi. The player himself chose to remain silent, and it suited the Board, which looked the other way. Now the Board cites Modis behavioural pattern.
The Board took things for granted when dealing with the IPL until the truth dawned on it. Suddenly, there were allegations and counter-allegations. The can of worms had opened and the Board acted drastically and decisively. The subject of conflict of interest, of Modi supporting his friends and family members, saw the rival camp retaliating. The role of the media should be under scrutiny, bemoaned a Modi supporter.
Questions were raised on the Boards wisdom in allowing its secretary N. Srinivasan to become a franchise and also allowing the chairman of the national selection committee, K. Srikkanth, as the brand ambassador of his team.
The franchise bit was cleared since the Boards annual general body meeting had allowed its secretary to buy a team. The united Board, also a self-proclaimed close-knit family, suddenly appeared a divided house. But as it always happens, the administration closed ranks, threw Modi out and promised a clean and better administration for the IPL.
The last word is yet to be heard because investigations are on and nothing has been proved. As Modi said, the game has just begun.