'Cream of the country' says Kapil Dev
"I'd like to take everyone to where we started some months ago. Then people asked, 'where will you get cricketers from?'," boomed Kapil Dev in his typically theatrical style. "This is the cream of the country," he said, pointing to the group of 44 Indian cricketers assembled at the Indian Cricket League's big launch in Mumbai.
"The courage these people have showed, even I didn't have at that age. We need people like this who want to make their own decisions. They take pride to play for their country, not being pushed or threatened by someone. What we need is to entertain the people in this country." As if that wasn't pushing things a bit far, Kapil added, for good measure, "I will back you till the last day I live."
As the press conference got underway, a note was slipped around mentioning the signing of Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, Abdur Razzaq and Imran Farhat, South Africans Lance Klusener and Nicky Boje, and 44 Indian cricketers.
The manner in which Kapil, the chairman of the ICL's executive board, answered questions, mostly without clarifying anything and alternating between bemusement and thinly veiled anger, achieved one thing: this was completely different from any BCCI press conference. But only in that it was difficult to take it seriously.
When asked what these cricketers would do for the remaining 325 days in the year, while they were not playing the Twenty20 tournament, Kapil said, "In this age we have to give them cricket. Our league is starting this year with Twenty20. This is the first step. We plan to have fifty-over matches and three-day matches in the coming future."
When asked if they had finalised either dates or venues for the proposed Twenty20 series, the answer was equally unenlightening. "We will tell you in the near future," said a spokesperson for Zee.
After several minutes of fencing back and forth, one journalist asked Kapil where the transparency that ICL had been banging on about had gone, and what would happen to these players after three years. "Can you tell me what will happen to your job after two years?" Kapil shot back. "As long as they keep on playing well, they will do well. These are professional people who have to make their own lives."
On the dais, apart from Kapil, were Himanshu Mody, from Zee, Sandeep Patil, Kiran More, EAS Prasanna, Bharat Reddy, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Madan Lal, Rajesh Chauhan and Pranab Roy.
What was equally interesting were the players' responses to the questions put to them. When a journalist asked Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, the young Bengal batsman, a question, there was a flurry as the organisers searched for Jhunjhunwala in the crowd to hand him a microphone. "I thought of all the pros and cons. Playing domestic cricket does not give me a chance to play against international stars," he said. "This gives me very good security."
For Jhunjhunwala it was security, for Dinesh Mongia it was a need to play cricket. "My clear thought is, as a cricketer I want to play cricket. I play club cricket in Chandigarh, in Madras I play in corporate tournaments, I play Ranji Trophy for Punjab, and league cricket in England. Here again I get a chance to play with youngsters who are good, and foreign players."
Mody, the head of the initiative, claimed he knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding Nicky Boje, after announcing his signing. Boje had withdrawn from South Africa's last tour of India because the Delhi police wanted to question him regarding match-fixing allegations in the Hansie Cronje affair. "I suppose Boje has taken all that into consideration when signing the contract," Mody said. "He has signed with us and that's all I know. I'm not aware of these allegations of betting or whatever it is you're speaking of."
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo