India news February 6, 2012

BCCI extends hand, Sahara plans a date

ESPNcricinfo staff

The dispute between the BCCI and Sahara India appears to be reaching a resolution with senior officials of the Indian board saying it was open to dialogue with one of its oldest business partners and Sahara's owner indicating that there would be talks by the weekend. ESPNcricinfo understands a meeting between the principals will take place in Mumbai after February 9.

The simmering dispute came to a head on Saturday when Sahara announced its decision to pull out of its sponsorship of the Indian team and ownership of the Pune Warriors IPL franchise. The announcement, made an hour before the start of the annual IPL auction in Bangalore and shortly after Sahara's representatives had left the city, caught IPL and BCCI officials by surprise.

It also sparked concern among Indian cricket's stakeholders and on Monday N Srinivasan, the BCCI president, made the first conciliatory gesture. "We will reach out to Sahara and we will contact them to find out what the issues are," he told Times Now, an Indian news channel. "The BCCI is open to dialogue, we recognise the long relationship we have had with Sahara, we have no problems facing this… we had an excellent relationship with Sahara for the last 12 years."

A few hours later, Sahara chairman Subrata Roy told the same channel that a meeting was being planned between the sponsors and the BCCI for February 12. He also said he'd been in talks with with IPL governing council Chairman Rajeev Shukla and BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke. "I would like to believe both of them [Shukla and Roy] would have spoken about a date but we hope to have some exchange of calls tomorrow [Tuesday]," a Sahara official told ESPNcricinfo.

Roy said there had been a "chain of displeasures" between the sponsors and the BCCI over the last few years and that, he did not know what would come out of the meeting but, "I and my team will sit with open and talk with open mind." He said that his two most important priorities in the discussion were going to be, "that my players play in this season and that secondly, there should be matches in Pune…" Sahara are known to have signed a deal worth Rs 207 crore with the Maharashtra Cricket Association for the naming rights of their new stadium outside Pune.

When asked whether sorting out IPL disagreements would lead to a resumption of the Indian team sponsorship, Roy said he did not think the BCCI would have any difficulty in finding a new sponsor. Sahara, he added, had allocated funds to "social causes." "We are committed to huge social work, now we can't come back from that. Cricket has become very rich in India and they are many good people enthusiastic about supporting the Indian team, this sponsorship will be taken care of by some big company."

Roy's statements masked the sense of dismay among his colleagues that the BCCI did not go the extra bit to prevent Sahara from walking out - in particular, not postponing the auction. Sources in Sahara say the BCCI top brass was well aware of Sahara's impending decision and had in fact received an ultimatum on Friday evening. "Sahara had given a cut off time of 9 am on Saturday, asking the BCCI to accept some of their requests. But no one responded to that," a Sahara source told ESPNcricinfo.

"The auction was starting at 11 am. Being aware of the situation and that Sahara were going to leave after 9 am, at least they could have called the Sahara people to see if they could sit and re-negotiate," the source said. "It is question of the IPL as a tournament. Pune Warriors is only one of the franchises. Why could they not try one more time?"

Srinivasan, who appeared on several television news programmes in a rare effort at PR, seemed to address that sense of hurt by stressing on the BCCI's willingness to negotiate with Sahara. "We can't prejudge what issues will be discussed when BCCI and Sahara meet, but we recognise the relationship with them and are sure of sorting out the issue. They might have felt aggrieved and did not get what they wanted from the IPL."

Asked if he was sending out a message of reconciliation, Srinivasan said, "Personally, yes. I am open to dialogue and BCCI is open to dialogue. We recognise there were grievances on their part but there was no reason to break suddenly."

One point of dispute was around Yuvraj Singh, who is currently being treated for cancer and is not expected to play this season. Sahara had wanted his $1.8 million salary added to the Pune Warriors' purse in the auction held in Bangalore, a request it said was denied by the BCCI. Asked about this, Srinivasan said, "Decisions related to IPL are taken by the Governing Council. The auction is over now. We can't pre-judge what the BCCI and Sahara will discuss. There should be an element of secrecy in that. We should sit down and see how things can be sorted out."

Srinivasan, who was not in Bangalore for the auction, said Sahara's decision had taken him by surprise . "I was surprised when I came to know (about Sahara ending sponsorship). There was a brief conversation the night before the auction. He (Subrata Roy, the Sahara chief) said he was hurt. It was a bit late in the evening and I did not expect they would pull out the next morning.

"It has been an up and down relationship but I hope most of the issues will be resolved when we meet. There is an opportunity to sit across the table with Sahara. All issues will be discussed but it will be premature to speak about the issues now."

Earlier in the day Rajiv Shukla, a BCCI vice-president and the IPL chairman, spoke on a similar theme. "We are open to discussions, open for dialogue because they have been our partner for 11 years. We don't want anything to be decided in haste. So far they [Sahara Pune Warriors] are still an IPL franchise, unless we get anything in writing from them. We are extremely positive."

Any rapprochement will most benefit the franchise, though it has already lost out on the auction process. "Most of the players we wanted in the auction are gone, but we still have one of the best sides in the tournament," a franchise official said. "We would have liked a [Ravindra] Jadeja or a [Brendon] McCullum but one player is not going to win you a tournament."

"We wanted a change in regulations before the auction. Now even if they do it the only option we have is to avail of replacement players." The key, though, as Roy repeatedly said, is that the Warriors should play and that the IPL should return to Pune.