IPL 2014 May 12, 2014

IPL schedule reveals BCCI home truths

The allotment of venues for IPL matches is predominantly a political game between the BCCI and its associations; the recent shuffle of the playoffs' hosts suggests as much

On Sunday night, Kolkata Knight Riders played an "away" game against Kings XI Punjab in Cuttack. On Wednesday, they will return to the venue for a "home" game. It's just one of those quirks of scheduling that seems to fit right in with the IPL's nomadic format.

Elections, court cases, international politics have all affected the allotment of venues in the tournament, which of late has become a tool for political manoeuvring within the BCCI - most evident in the recent changes to the venues of the IPL playoffs, including the final.

The announcement of the India leg of the original IPL schedule hinted that the venues had been finalised with an eye on the BCCI's September elections. Recent changes, including Saturday's announcement of the moving of the playoff matches and the final, have only firmed up that belief, given that several politically significant state bodies have been showered with multiple IPL games.

For a state body, hosting an IPL match is as financially rewarding as it is prestigious. Each member unit earns approximately Rs 2 crore from the BCCI for staging an IPL game. Add to that the variable sums that are charged for letting out practice facilities to the home teams, and the state bodies' desperation to host IPL matches is understandable.

The original IPL schedule had ensured that two of current BCCI president-in-exile N Srinivasan's most trusted lieutenants from the east zone - Orissa and Jharkhand bosses Ranjib Biswal and Amitabh Choudhary - had been awarded IPL games completely out of turn. Ranchi and Chennai are located in the east and south of the country. Similarly far apart are Chandigarh and Cuttack. Still, Ranchi - home town of Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni - was originally awarded two Super Kings home games, and then got two more when the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association conveyed its inability to host any games this season.

Cuttack's Barabati Stadium, meanwhile, was awarded two of Kings XI Punjab's home matches, and got one more when Kolkata Knight Riders' home game on May 14 had to be moved from Eden Gardens - thus making it perhaps the first ground to act as an adopted "home" to two teams in the same season.

Why are Biswal and Choudhary, and their home grounds, significant? Both are supporters from the east zone of the ruling faction led by Srinivasan, and hold top positions in the BCCI. While Biswal is the IPL chairman, Choudhary heads the powerful BCCI marketing committee.

The key, though, is that it is the east zone's turn this year to nominate a BCCI president for three years from October 2014. The BCCI constitution allows the candidate to be from outside the east zone if he is nominated by an east zone member and seconded by another.

And so matches and venues are used as carrots and sticks. If Cuttack and Ranchi benefited from their proximity to the centre of power, venues under BCCI officials critical of Srinivasan and his tenure were left out in the cold.

Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha had informed the BCCI that there would be no problem in playing IPL matches at their respective venues anytime after the end of the general elections in their territories. However, the BCCI turned a blind eye to Ajay Shirke, the Maharashtra Cricket Association president, who had resigned as BCCI treasurer protesting the handling of the IPL corruption scandal. Also Jyotiraditya Scindia, the MPCA head, who was the first to question Srinivasan after the corruption scandal broke last year. And Shashank Manohar from Vidarbha, who has perhaps been next only to Lalit Modi as a vocal detractor of Srinivasan.

The case of Mumbai, which lost the final to Bangalore, is more complex. In the original schedule, the IPL had followed the set norm of allotting the last two games, including the final, to the home ground of the defending champion. Saturday's announcement of the change offered no explanation, and there has been none provided since. The truth will probably be hard to explain. The main factor has been the prevailing acrimony between the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) and the BCCI hierarchy.

Sharad Pawar's return as the MCA chief last October has made the ruling regime in the BCCI wary of the MCA. To add to that, ever since Pawar's return, Ravi Savant, the MCA and BCCI vice-president, has time and again questioned the BCCI's decisions in public. Pawar's criticism of the suspension of the Rajasthan Cricket Association on May 6 is being considered the key reason that led to the change of the venue for the final.

Mumbai's loss has been Bangalore's gain. But Bangalore hasn't benefited only due to its ostensibly luxurious hospitality boxes. Five months ago, the power centres in the Karnataka State Cricket Association experienced a shift, from Anil Kumble's group to Brijesh Patel's. Since then, the BCCI top brass has been doling out all sorts of favours to the new KSCA regime. The team managers for India's last two overseas assignments - the Asia Cup and the World T20 - were both KSCA representatives, and the allotment of the final is being seen as yet another step by the BCCI top brass, still led by the sidelined N Srinivasan, to keep a key south zone member happy.

Similarly, allotting an IPL playoff game each to the Cricket Club of India's Brabourne Stadium and Eden Gardens are seen as measures to keep two more voting members on the right side ahead of the September elections.

Awarding IPL games to units close to the president isn't new. The DY Patil Sports Stadium, a private ground in Navi Mumbai, hosted two IPL finals, thanks to its owners' close links to Modi, the IPL chairman at the time, and Pawar, who was the BCCI president when the IPL was launched. Similarly, when Deccan Chargers had to play their home games away from Hyderabad in 2010, Nagpur - the home city of then BCCI president Shashank Manohar - was one of the three home venues for the franchise.

Similarly, Kochi Tuskers Kerala played two of their home games in Indore, the cricketing base of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, in their only season. Sanjay Jagdale, currently the most influential figure in MP cricket, was then the BCCI joint-secretary and soon took over as secretary. Before this season, Dharamsala, the home of BCCI joint-secretary Anurag Thakur, was the favoured adopted home of Kings XI Punjab.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo