The IPL Mess December 6, 2010

Unexpected reversals leave IPL preparations in disarray

The BCCI has convened a special general body meeting (SGM) in Mumbai on Saturday to discuss the reappointment of the board's disciplinary committee. The tenure of the committee, which is investigating the conduct of former IPL chairman Lalit Modi, expired at September's annual general body meeting. The board, however, failed to reappoint or reconstitute it, technically stripping it of its existence. The BCCI secretary N Srinivasan told PTI news agency that the reappointment of the committee was "a minor thing" which had been pointed out by Modi's lawyer, Mehmood Abdi last month.

The SGM, ostensibly to tackle a "minor" issue, will be held in the backdrop of several major, unexpected reversals for a board that is usually used to getting its own way. One of the BCCI's more serious challenges is the stuttering preparation for IPL 2011.

The past six months have been dogged by the controversial termination of two franchises (Rajasthan Royals and the Kings XI Punjab), and a protracted ownership-pattern dispute over a third, (the new Kochi franchise). As a result of the controversies, the player auction has been delayed by several months and going by the BCCI's legal battles, could well be held in the middle of the 2011 World Cup.

The confusion over the eventual number of teams that will be involved next season affects every component of the world's most lucrative domestic league: its teams/ franchises, its players and its very structure. IPL 2011 now faces several scenarios:

  • If both expelled teams take part in the player auction, it will become much harder to prevent them at a later date from playing in the IPL, as any players who sign with them would then be left without a team.

  • The league is currently slated to have eight teams playing each other home and away, just like in the first three seasons. A ninth team would naturally result in an unbalanced schedule, while 10 teams could increase the overall number of fixtures and once again rake up the issue of player burnout.

  • The board is considering delaying the player auction until March, by which time its legal issues are expected to be resolved, and it will know how many teams will be playing. That would, however, result in the player auction clashing with the World Cup and will prevent teams from being able to use their players in promotions and advertising campaigns, potentially causing them to breach their obligations to their sponsors.

Rajasthan are already back in the league less than two months after being 'terminated' due to an interim stay order from Justice Srikrishna, the arbitor in the case. While the board has appealed against Srikrishna's ruling to the Bombay High Court, legal opinion suggests it will be difficult to overturn his order. There is also believed to be a sentiment within the IPL governing council that the cases of Rajasthan and Punjab are "reasonably strong", and that the BCCI's leadership is going after too many people at the same time.

Srikrishna has restored Rajasthan's rights under the franchise agreement, including the right to take part in the player auction. Srikrishna also stated that the BCCI could not make any rules that would adversely affect Rajasthan, for example changing any of the league's rules, hampering the board's ability to alter its plans as the legal cases unfold. Srikrishna may have stepped down from the Punjab hearing, but it is believed that the stay in favour of Rajasthan could have a bearing on their case when it comes up for hearing.

Punjab accused the board of "deliberately" delaying its proceedings so that the December 6 deadline for the retention of select players in each team would expire, leaving Punjab looking in from the outside. The Bombay High Court ruled in Punjab's favour, and extended the deadline to December 8, handing the BCCI yet another setback, and suggesting Punjab has a case against the board.

The longer the cases drag on, the harder it becomes for the board, and the franchises, to plan for the 2011 tournament.

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo