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More Modi, more PR, what's not to like?

In which a school is won over with a substantial donation. Ground staff, now that's another matter

Lalit Modi and Preity Zinta present a cheque to the Alexander Sinton High School, Cape Town, 17 April 2009
We come bearing large cheques © AFP

Lalit Modi - sorry, him again - went on a charm offensive yesterday, and quite possibly needed to. The scene was Alexander Sinton High School in Athlone, a half-hour drive from the more affluent parts of Cape Town, which is beginning to feel like the new spiritual home of the Indian Premier League. With his aquiline eye for publicity, Modi had chosen the school - filled almost exclusively by students who during apartheid would unblushingly have been referred to as Cape Coloured - to announce the launch of a 9m rand initiative to help underprivileged schoolkids in South Africa.

What was not to like? Modi and his glittering team - Shane Warne, Kevin Pietersen, Yuvraj Singh, Preity Zinta, Ravi Shastri, Jonty Rhodes, Francois Pienaar and plenty more besides - sat on the stage of the school hall while the pupils ("learners", as they're called here) went wild with excitement. Many of Modi's utterances were lost amid the cacophony, but there was no mistaking the significance of a giant cheque worth 100,000 rand handed over to the school's headmaster, Faziel Parker. Cue pandemonium. Afterwards, the learners swamped the cricketers in search of autographs, stardust and a story to last them a lifetime.

It was an undeniably worthy cause. The event ran like clockwork. Modi took on the air of a modern saint, and the IPL PR machine went into overdrive, triumphantly pointing out that a "perfect morning was rounded off with the 1000-odd children spontaneously singing the country's national anthem, bringing a tear to many an adult's eye".

But while the children of Athlone lapped up the attention - and revelled in the delights of an hour or two away from Science and Home Economics - over in Johannesburg things were not going quite so smoothly. The Wanderers is due to host eight matches, including the final, in the coming weeks - only Durban and Centurion have more games - yet there is considerable ill-feeling at what one member of staff at the venue last night described as the IPL's "attitude".

As the South African journalist Neil Manthorp reports in his Supersport column, the Johannesburg cricket authorities were yesterday considering the possibility of withdrawing their ground from use for the duration of the IPL, so fed up have they become at the demands made of them.

The member of staff mentioned above is quoted as saying: "They can take their tournament somewhere else; they can hold the final somewhere else. Unless they change their attitude then I can't see a way forward. They are renting our facility, not buying it. We have protocols which we respect and expect them to do likewise."

Like we said, Modi quite possibly needed the good publicity yesterday. He milked it - and why not? - but it will take more than a thousand delirious schoolchildren to deflect from the suspicion that the IPL may just be confusing the notions of guest and host.

Lawrence Booth is a cricket correspondent at the Guardian. He writes the acclaimed weekly cricket email The Spin for guardian.co.uk

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