Modi lines up Clarke campaign
The magazine that was once the bastion of cricketing conservatism could become the platform for a campaign against the English cricketing establishment if talks between Lalit Modi and the current owners of The Cricketer bear fruit.
The Cricketer was founded in 1921 and edited for almost four decades by Sir Pelham Warner, the former England captain, selector, tour manager and president of the MCC. For much of its existence, it has been the authoritative voice of the English cricketing establishment. Later editors included the equally traditional EW Swanton.
But now, with Modi considering joining a management team that includes Lord Marland, who unsuccessfully stood against Giles Clarke for chairmanship of the ECB in 2009, and Neil Davidson, the former chairman of Leicestershire whose feud with Clarke stems back several years, the magazine could be set to become a platform for a campaign to end Clarke's spell as ECB chairman.
The attraction for both parties is fairly obvious. Modi, the inventor of the IPL, is currently living in exile in London and resides on the periphery of the cricket world having been banned for life by the BCCI. But he remains vastly wealthy with business interests in tobacco and chemicals and is eager to find a platform from which to broadcast views which most mainstream media remain reluctant to amplify. He also retains ambitions of reclaiming a prominent position within cricket administration.
The Cricketer, meanwhile, is an organisation fighting to remain relevant and stung by recent failed investments. As well as struggling to deal with the issues inherent in being a monthly magazine in the digital age, its foray into broadcasting ended in failure after Test Match Sofa, the on-line commentary service that the ECB believes represents a threat to the value of broadcasting rights, stopped broadcasting after the Ashes tour in February with losses understood to exceed £180,000. Its plans to set-up a website to rival ESPNcricinfo were all but abandoned after heavy losses and the magazine's editorial staff are currently involved in a "consultation process" that has fuelled uncertainly over their futures.
The Cricketer's parent company, Test Match Extra, has also been involved in a long-running legal dispute with the ECB over what it sees as an attempt to ostracise it from the mainstream cricket environment.
Most of all, though, the tie-up would see some of Clarke's most vocal critics united in what might be termed as a manifesto masquerading as a magazine. As well as seeing the removal of Clarke as an objective, many of those involved if the deal goes ahead are known to favour a city-based T20 competition in the UK.
But Modi's primary motivation would appear to be revenge. He clashed with Clarke over an alleged attempt to set-up an IPL-style league in England - Modi denied claims that he was involved in setting up a rebel league and the pair eventually decided to settle their differences out of court - and remains insistent that Clarke should be removed from any position of authority. "Giles Clarke has to be removed from his position and that is all I'm focusing on," Modi said in a recent interview with The Cricketer.
In recent weeks, Modi has waged an aggressive campaign over Twitter designed to goad Clarke in to taking legal action against him. Modi hopes such a process will bring to light documentation that would embarrass Clarke; a scenario that is rejected by the ECB.
"I am challenging them to sue me," Modi told ESPNcricinfo. "People are afraid of libel, but I've never been afraid of libel. Because I am very clearly saying the truth. I know where the truth lies."
The ECB dismissed Modi's comments. "The ECB does not even entertain the claims of a man who has been a fugitive from justice in his own country", ECB spokesman Colin Gibson, told News One TV. "He is banned for life by a BCCI enquiry which was led by respected politician Arun Jaitley."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo