England find backers but face hurdles at home
England's case for hosting the IPL has received a huge boost with the support of an influential lobby within the BCCI and the Indian team management, which feels that such a move would help in preparing for the World Twenty20 in June. Even officials in South Africa, the other possible venue, admit that they are beginning to sense that the "wind has begun blowing England's way".
"It's 70% in favour of England now as per the indications we have got this morning," a South African official told Cricinfo. "We have been told that apparently, England may be a better fit in terms of crowds, the economics for the franchises who have signed up England players, and travel which would mostly be by road."
Indian officials say the final decision - expected within the next 24 hours - is now almost entirely dependent on the ECB overcoming considerable obstacles related to costs and logistics and the approval of its stakeholders, including the counties, many of whom fear that their domestic schedule will be affected by the IPL.
The Indian team management, meanwhile, has made it clear that they would prefer England as the IPL venue. "It would make sense to have the event in England as it would help our cricketers prepare for the Twenty20 World Cup," Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, told PTI in Auckland on Monday. "They could get a good feel of the conditions there."
Prasad's view was privately echoed by a powerful group of Indian officials including Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, and N Srinivasan, the board secretary who also owns the Chennai franchise. In fact, an Indian official told Cricinfo on Sunday night that "at this point of time, it looks 90% that the event is going to happen in England".
"They (Manohar and Srinivasan) believe England is the best option because it gives the Indian players the best chance to prepare for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup," a BCCI official said. "It also means less stress and travel for the players who are currently in New Zealand and will play the World Cup after the IPL. There is also a significant amount of goodwill here towards England for the manner in which they returned to play after the Mumbai attacks."
What has also worked in England's favour is its "multi-racial, multi-cultural cricket crowd" that would ensure a sell-out at most venues during the tournament, which features international stars from across the world. The England move has also received the backing of many IPL franchises, especially those who have signed up English players and hope to leverage that factor in terms of brand and market value.
Yet, there is significant support among officials who actually run the IPL, including its chairman Lalit Modi, for South Africa, which is seen as a more viable option. Modi and Gerald Majola, the Cricket South Africa chief executive, are known to enjoy a good personal relationship, especially after the two boards became founding partners of the Twenty20 Champions League last year. "This gives both the boards a lot of room for negotiations, adjustments and quick decisions, something that may not be possible with the ECB, which has to go by its board for almost every decision," an IPL official said.
South Africa are still holding on to the hope that the logistics, weather and the basic expenditure involved in hosting a multi-team event of this magnitude will work in their favour. "We still feel that South Africa is a better bet for the IPL when it comes to weather, TV timings and logistics," the South African official said. "For instance, to start a match at 4 pm IST, as the IPL wants to, you need to start at 11.30 am [summer time] in England. Who will come to watch a Twenty20 match at that time? The ECB has some serious problems to sort out first."
Besides, the lobby rooting for South Africa claims that England could present a nightmare scenario in terms of expenditure and logistics. "Where are the grounds?" a franchise official said. "The English domestic season is starting around the same time, and then you have the Test series against West Indies in May. Besides, the cost of hotel rooms and television production in England will be exorbitant when compared to South Africa."
Apparently, there is also a certain amount of concern at the ICC level about the state of venues in England for the World Twenty20 starting on June 5 - the IPL will run until May 24 alongside the English domestic season starting in April and the West Indies Test series in May. "It's the beginning of the season in England and Wales and there is a lot of Twenty20 cricket being played including the ICC World Twenty20," David Morgan, the ICC president, told BBC Radio 5 Live. "I do think there will be great difficulties in relocating it."
Some of the English counties have not quite warmed up to the idea, either. Stewart Regan, Yorkshire's chief executive, says any move to host the IPL in England would be risky for county cricket.
"Having discussed it with some of the coaches and players here I think the view of Yorkshire is that it would be very difficult to put together a tournament in England at short notice for several reasons - the main one being the overlap with the English county cricket season," Regan told Sporting Life.
"But equally there are a number of logistical issues such as team security, swapping over advertising boards and certificates and so on that would have to be dealt with. I think there are more logistical issues than possibilities and I think it's unlikely that England could handle this at very short notice."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor, and Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo.