rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Sports » 'India has paid the price of excessive cricket'

'India has paid the price of excessive cricket'

May 11, 2010 12:45 IST
Sanjay Jha, who founded Cricketnext.com in 2000, has been following Indian cricket and the massive changes it has gone through -- in administration as well on the field -- in the past decade. He has put together his observations in Eleven, his forthcoming book that traces Indian cricket from 2003 to 2010.

In this extensive interview with rediff.com's Krishnakumar Padmanabhan, he speaks eloquently about India's imminent exit from the T20 World Cup, the rot in the Indian Premier League, and how to clean up Indian cricket.

Is there a link between India's dismal performance in the two T-20 World Cups, both of which were held immediately after the IPL season?

India's poor showing is very disappointing. I wouldn't say this team is not a talented bunch. But they seem to have paid the price of excessive cricket.

The whole IPL rigmarole over seven weeks seems to have taken its toll. Somewhere down the line, the problem of playing in very different conditions, the lack of time to acclimatise, all seem to have played a role.

The Indian team did not even have a camp before the World Cup nor any warm-up matches. You see teams like Australia, they had camps and warm-up matches. You also have to consider the issue of gelling together as a team.

These players played for different teams. So, the mental fatigue of having played in a seven-week tournament and directly flying to England earlier and now the West Indies, we seem to have paid the price in events held immediately after the IPL.

But players who played in the IPL seem to have an edge...

The way you gotta look at it now is that this Indian team had no time to adjust. Even if one were to look at the other players, they were rested, rotated, a luxury that the Indian players did not have.

Also, with other teams, only a handful were part of the IPL. So it is not a problem for them to fly back and get back with their other teammates in a dynamic manner. Whereas the whole Indian team has been playing the whole tournament.

The whole team looks tired... mentally exhausted.

Switching to the IPL mess, how do you see the English Cricket Board revelations and Lalit Modi's move to buy time?

Lalit Modi is beginning to realise that the whole issue is under a huge public spotlight, and the media is keen to know the outcome.

It is now clear that the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is not making casual allegations. These are serious allegations about which the BCCI seems to know enough. That is why he has employed high-powered lawyers.

The gravity and complexity of this battle seems to have dawned on him.

Regarding the ECB controversy, it is clear that he did have a meeting with the counties. This once again establishes how he has been operating. Here is a meeting that has players from across borders. He did not care to let the IPL governing council or the BCCI know. The ECB was not told.

What is his locus standi to have such a meeting? There might not be documentary evidence to prove any wrongdoing, but this shows how things were conducted.

The ECB chief's intent is to nip this thing in the bud, before it becomes something more complex and explosive.

Going back a little, what was your reading of the IPL governing council's April 26 meeting?

It was on expected lines. The BCCI and the IPL governing council woke up rather too late. There is no rationale behind about how such a big tournament -- and not just a tournament, but what was said to be becoming a global brand on which India's reputation was riding -- was run in this manner.

When Lalit Modi made all these claims, nobody contested it. Everybody rode the wave of commercial success and hype associated with such a high profile tournament. If there are now suddenly skeletons rolling out of the cupboards, then everyone is to be blamed.

These are not ordinary charges, mind you. You are talking about something as great and serious as money laundering, betting and match fixing. When these words get associated with cricket, it is blasphemy.

The question is how could people in the meeting say we will suspend the man without themselves taking collective responsibility?

Either you had complete faith in him, which makes you responsible for the mess he has created, or you were incompetent, for which also you need to take responsibility. In actuality, the governing council should have resigned.

How can somebody as eminent and as respected as Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri say we are part of the governing council only for cricketing matters?

The people involved in this mess seem to be neatly divided into three groups -- the BCCI people in the governing council, the ex-players and Modi -- and Modi seems to be singled out...

I think the most blatant, flagrant, in-the-face thick-skinned conduct of the BCCI is in asking Gavaskar and Shastri along with Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi to continue to guide the governing of the IPL. It's the whole attitude, the hubris and the flouting of norms that is shocking.

Let us see where they were coming from. That Modi had a corporate background and we had misplaced faith in him and that he flouted that faith completely. Even then, the rest are guilty.

This is not just about cricket, India love this game like a religion, it is said. You know what happens when religion becomes sensitive.

Hansie Cronje got caught in India. All the match fixing controversy was in India and Pakistan. The world will say that India is a place where these shady dealings go on.

Has there been a sort of lull in the days that followed the governing council meeting?

This is like another volcanic ash. The media has a much larger stake to ensure that this goes to its logical conclusion. The public of India and the cricketers who are frankly the performers who draw the public are the two vital stakeholders who have gotten ignored in the tamasha.

The tenor and postures Modi has taken is not defiance, it is arrogance. The way he has said that even if these allegations are true, they don't stick till proven shows that he is probably going to take it to the last battle.

There have been some violations by BCCI and the governing council. For example, BCCI Treasurer (N) Srinivasan owns a team and a constitutional amendment was made to enable him buy a team.

Modi will try and come back in the coming days. He will definitely try to spread the onus. Expect some confrontation.

Who are the players on a strong footing, and who are on the backfoot?

I think the principal issue is that (BCCI President) Shashank Manohar can't wash his hands off this. It seems he has been told that as long as the money pours in, he should not be worried. But where does the buck stop?

The IPL is a subsidiary organisation of the BCCI. If Microsoft has a problem in a country, Redmond (where Microsoft is headquartered) has to respond.

On a collective basis there is a larger role for everyone. And then again, there are other people within the council members, Gavaskar and Shastri. You are paid a handsome compensation to tell us what duration the strategic timeout should be? Anybody would love that job.

There is a huge conflict of interest there. You are giving commentary as part of the BCCI panel. The people will trust what the ex-cricketers say.

The whole constitution of the IPL is flawed. You have people who have stakes in its success. The BCCI and the IPL should come under an RTI (Right to Information) preview. Any ordinary person should be able to ask questions. Basically this entire thing is a crossmesh, which is a mess. And it is clean up time.

What kind of role is the interim IPL Chairman Chirayu Amin going to play?

He is a low profile man, He has been active in cricket. But being low profile doesn't guarantee performance. He will be measured in the coming weeks. It is a tough job.

His job is not to be just different from Modi. He has to ensure that everything that was wrong is sorted out. He has to put a system in place to ensure that it doesn't happen again. He is an unknown commodity. Because of the reason that we have seen such chaos and mess, only by bringing in some degree of professionalism will people have some faith.

In the long run, I doubt if Mr Amin is the right candidate to do that. What the IPL needs is a CEO and a proper corporate structure.

The people who have running it till now, Mr Manohar says we are honorary people, what do you expect from us? We don't need honorary people to run this business. We need full time professionals, Mr Manohar. Mr Amin is a stop-gap arrangement at best.

What will your roadmap for a clean-up be?

The first thing to be ensured it that everybody who we know as a franchise owner actually is the franchise owner. The bidding process should have been transparent.

Second, all contracts right down to the television rights and hospitality should be made above board and it should be ensured there is no conflict of interest. This should be fundamental to investigations that need to happen.

Third, to take it forward, assuming you are stable then, you need to professionalise your management. One person who represents the players, the ICC (International Cricket Council) and the other boards should be nominated.

Ravinder Jadeja is in the Indian World Cup team. He is not allowed to play in the IPL. It was said that he was seen to be doing a deal of his own. Did the franchise approach him? Why didn't his colleagues support him?

I think the players are the biggest losers. There is nobody to represent them. A franchise can spend any amount on branding, but a Sachin Tendulkar gets only one million? Isn't it unfair? There is a whole structural problem here. Then you need to get the ICC in. And other boards; their players play here.

Once you have players and franchisee representatives, the ICC people and an ombudsman are on board, it will be foolproof. That will be a brand I trust. The ICC may put it in the future tours programme.

So what exactly is the extent of the rot here?

I have a feeling that in the early days, there seemed to be a violation of terms and procedures. If funds of dubious nature has been put into the league, they have a problem. That can trigger something much bigger. That will be the biggest concern.

If there is suspicion about the origin of funding, there is definite trouble for the IPL. That actually makes the League untenable.

Do you believe the kind of numbers that are being thrown as valuations for the franchises?

Not at all. Not a single published figure has ever been seen, the whole model was sold on brand valuations. That is subjective. To find the real value, you need revenue, profitability and a forecast. They kept saying the three cheapest franchises were the most profitable. None of them is profitable, but none of these franchises denied it when speculation began.

So there is also a concern of ethics. You create an image we are all doing roaring business. It assumes cricket can be sold and sold and sold with an infinite source of revenue. In reality the centralised revenue pool is locked. Ten franchises share it now. After a few years, a bulk of it will go to the BCCI and the IPL coffers.

Some with low operative costs and franchise cost may make some money in the next couple of years. I don't think there is a growth in revenue story here. Where is the valuation when there is no growth?

People invest in a valuation story because they believe it will grow exponentially over a certain time. But the IPL is a static story. Within 45 days your growth is capped. These are the fundamental flaws of the IPL financial story. Modi, in particular, must take responsibility.

The marquee franchise, owned by India's biggest businessman, cost $120 million. How did the Kochi and Pune teams go for so much?

Deep pockets and lack of financial wisdom.

I really don't understand what Sahara and the other franchise will do. I don't see what the big story in buying these teams at this kind of value is. They seem to have huge expectations from the property. The belief that cricket can be sold in this country till the cows come home is wrong.

A lot of issues that came up recently were around from the beginning. How was it that everyone was blind to it?

I think the common man obviously wouldn't know. But most of the other people watching it knew. I sounded the warning bells early on. I said it looks extremely over-inflated. It was sold as a stock without having fundamentals.

Many of us were raising it day in and day out. But people believed that maybe these are arrangements that have got the approval of the people involved. Nobody looked a little deeper. The first time the television rights deal was cancelled and renegotiated, I again said something was wrong.

How can you sign a 10-year contract, and cancel it? The issue with doing things unprofessionally is that there would be leakages and that is what happened here.

What does your book have about the IPL?

The book captures the key events in Indian cricket from 2003 to 2010. It finishes just before the Kochi and Pune bids. The book foretells the problem. Right from the very beginning since I am from the corporate world and have an interest in the game, the lack of transparency was glaring. One was obviously concerned.

The IPL was born of fluke circumstance. India had just won a battle against the ICC to not hold T20 matches. But the T20 World Cup win meant they swatted the ICL away and established the IPL.

Had they taken one more year to plan the whole thing, it would have been better. The way it is now, it is a few people came together and said let's do something with our surplus cash... people who knew each other well and formed a well-connected cartel. That is the source of the problem. The book captures some the origin of the problems.

Image: Indian Premier League then Commissioner Lalit Modi addresses a press conference in Mumbai. Photograph: Arun Patil