India news February 4, 2012

Warriors management caught off guard

Hours before Sahara announced it was withdrawing from its association with the BCCI, its sponsorship of the Indian team and its ownership of the Pune Warriors IPL team, its cricketing brains trust - Sourav Ganguly, Allan Donald, Praveen Amre, Deep Dasgupta and Paddy Upton - and top Sahara executive Abhijit Sarkar were huddled in Upton's hotel room.

They were up till way past midnight putting together the list of players they wanted in the auction the next morning. Today, one of them, wearing a sullen look, said: "we could have got each and every one of them."

There had been camaraderie and chattiness among the IPL's expats on Friday morning when Donald met Stephen Fleming, Darren Lehmann and Ray Jennings at their Bangalore hotel. Ganguly had flown in from Australia on Friday afternoon, cutting short his television commentary stint, eager to dive into the auction and, his commentary colleagues said, to start playing again. In the evening, the Pune Warrior representatives took part in the franchise owners meeting without a hint of the disturbances to come.

In the management half of the Sahara camp, though, there had been a certain unease about the meetings and discussions that had been taking place between their bosses and senior BCCI officials. At the centre of the latest round of discussions was the Warriors' attempt to get a concession at the auction to compensate for the loss of Yuvraj Singh, their marquee player.

"The whole thing was happening for a while," a franchise official said. "We were trying to find out what options we had ahead of the auction. The BCCI was always going by the book. But we were asking for a concession in the case of Yuvraj, an exceptional case, one that could affect us for the next three years. What we were requesting was to consider it as an exceptional case and help us out."

The IPL would not budge. One of their governing council members said, "They wanted a $3.4m purse at the auction, how could we give them that? Would the other franchises have agreed?"

At his press conference in Mumbai, Sahara chairman Subrata Roy said he had spoken for the first and last time with BCCI president N Srinivasan in an attempt to settle the issue. There are of course two versions of what is a private conversation. The BCCI's version says that one of their biggest sponsors had issued them with an ultimatum. From Sahara's side comes word that their partners in cricket had held their ground and told Roy that, regardless of what Sahara intended to do, they were not going to change their mind.

What Sahara did eventually was to pull off a BCCI-style move on the BCCI itself. Unexpected, sudden, without warning, final. "This is a four-year-old's behaviour," one IPL official remarked angrily. This was actually cut from the BCCI's own cloth. An hour before the auction, Sahara terminated its "association" with the board, the Indian team and the IPL, and stole the headlines.

The lengthy statement that arrived on news desks left everyone in a state of shock - the Pune Warriors cricket staff included. Dasgupta was the man who broke the news to their auction team; Donald left rubbing his eyes in disbelief, Ganguly walked away from the door of the auction room in fury. "I know we were taking a tough stance," one Warriors official said, "but not this way. You are totally alienating yourself from the cricketing world. I do not know where it is going to lead us individually and Sahara as a company."

At the other side of the dispute, surprise is being cushioned by the comfort of paperwork. Or rather the lack of it. The BCCI says it awaits a formal notification from Sahara. IPL CEO Sundar Raman pointed out that it wasn't mandatory for the Pune Warriors to be at the auction. "We have not heard anything official - everything we know is from the media ... until we hear from Sahara, we cannot respond." Another IPL official said talk of new fixtures and an eight-team competition was "hypothetical … tomorrow they could turn up and play the first game". Until there is another turnaround settlement, though, that is as likely as the upcoming IPL season being litigation-free.

"It is out of our hands, whatever happens now," a Warriors official said. "It is not for us to worry about. It is up to the franchise's top brass to deal with it. We can only sit back and watch the developments."

At 11.30am on Saturday the Pune Warriors cricket management team left Bangalore. Donald and Upton met Roy's son Sushanto, who was to be part of the auction team, on the flight to Mumbai. Upton watched the entire Roy press conference standing at the back of the room. When it was over, Sushanto passed Upton on his way out and said: "Bye, Paddy".

A Pune Warriors official said, with a resigned look: "This is done for good. These guys are not coming back."

Nagraj Gollapudi is assistant editor and Sharda Ugra senior editor at ESPNcricinfo