The IPL mess May 8, 2010

Giles Clarke's empire strikes back

The ECB chairman has chosen to mix the business of English cricket with the pleasure of watching Lalit Modi squirm

Could Lalit Modi have been the saviour of English cricket? Such a notion seems as preposterous as Darth Vader turning out to be the hero in Return of the Jedi, but if Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, gets his way, he won't ever get a chance to prove his true intentions. Fuelled by a personal antipathy that is perhaps unmatched at cricket's highest levels, and armed with evidence of a "rebel" plan to "destroy world cricket", Clarke has swung the boot while his nemesis is down, and sought to crush any uprising in its infancy.

The bombastic language in Clarke's email to the BCCI president, Shashank Manohar, and the excitable reaction in the media following the board's subsequent show-cause notice to Modi, would make one assume that the ECB had unearthed a plot so despicable it put all those other charges of fraud and money-laundering firmly in the shade.

All that has happened, however, is that a familiar ECB refrain has been rehashed - the only difference is that the tune is this time being whistled by a national hate-figure. Modi's stunning success in the three-season history of the IPL has left many in English cricket deeply suspicious and fearful of the power he was able to wield, and the speed of his comeuppance has delighted the vast majority of the country's traditionally-minded fans. Clarke, whose popularity isn't exactly sky-high either, has figured that to take on his enemies' enemy is a good means of winning a few extra friends.

Admittedly, that number is unlikely to include the bosses of the nine counties with Test grounds, whose intentions he has once again dangled in the public domain, but that won't bother him in the slightest. Clarke has long been at loggerheads with most of the names on the email circulated by Yorkshire's chief executive, Stewart Regan, in which the minutes of the "secret" meeting in Delhi on March 31 were outlined, because they represent the most progressive elements of a game that Clarke and his cronies on the ECB Board are determined should remain rooted in the 19th century.

Two years ago, this exact same scenario was played out in the English media, when Keith Bradshaw of the MCC and Surrey's David Stewart drew up a "discussion document" outlining a nine-team English Premier League that could, given half a chance, have provided the ECB with a viable rival to the IPL (which had just completed its memorable first season), while at the same time safeguarding the future of county cricket as a whole.

However, Clarke's response on learning of the proposal was to dump the document in the BBC's inbox, and before it had been read the whole idea was up in smoke. Lancashire's Jim Cumbes - another man copied in on the Delhi minutes - reacted to that move by resigning as chairman of the county chief executives, stating that his colleagues had been gripped by "panic and paranoia".

Clarke clearly intends the same to happen again, and in taking his attack not only to Modi but to IMG, the event management company that is "alleged" to have facilitated the Delhi meeting (as if such a meeting is a crime), it is as if he believes that righteous indignation alone will carry the day. But what he fails to accept - because he surely isn't blind to the reality of the situation - is that this issue simply will not go away. It will keep returning to the table, again and again, in whatever form it requires for change to be allowed to take place.

Right now, Modi is being portrayed as the devil incarnate by administrators and media in England and India alike, but for the men who gathered in Delhi in an "educational capacity", he is widely admired as a visionary, and the essence of what he has achieved with the IPL cannot be denied

While the ECB fiddles, the counties are going bust. The England cricket team can do no more to boost the coffers - its schedule is already at breaking point - while the widespread belief among those who were privy to the Delhi meeting is that the bloated and substandard Friends Provident T20, which will be boring cricket fans throughout the prime weeks of June and July, is a cop-out designed to appease the game's have-nots.

What matters most to chief executives of all counties, but most particularly those with the largest stadia and hence the greatest overheads, are bums on seats, and as Bradshaw and Stewart told Cricinfo in February, in the wake of Hampshire's decision to join the Rajasthan Royals franchise, the chance for a sympathetic reform of English cricket has in all likelihood been and gone. India's market has taken off so dramatically in the past two years that any strategy that seeks to exclude it is doomed to failure. But those in the best position to exploit it also happen to be the very same counties with the capacities to attract the biggest and best matches.

Slowly but surely, the have-not counties seem to be coming round to that way of thinking as well. Essex's chief executive, David East, who recently expressed an interest in staging Twenty20 matches at the Olympic Stadium in East London, has joined a working group, chaired by Bradshaw, which intends to take a broad look at the structure and finances of every aspect of the English game, starting with the bidding process for Test and ODI matches, but extending inevitably to the Twenty20 question.

With a bit of forethought, and a shelving of the paranoia, all this could easily translate into a virtuous circle for English cricket. As Regan states in the minutes of the Delhi meeting: "India see England as the PIVOTAL partner in a Northern Hemisphere / Southern Hemisphere deal ... They are absolutely convinced we are sitting on a goldmine!" No other country can provide the venues and the climate to play top-level cricket in the Indian off season, and as the roaring success of last year's World Twenty20 demonstrated, the English time zone is a perfect fit for the Asian market as well.

In fairness to Clarke, he seemed to have recognised the value of his product when he refused to accept anything less than a 25% share in the negotiations over the Champions League. However, the fact that Modi refused to play hard-ball says more about the poisonous nature of their relationship than anything else, because as Regan adds in his minutes, that very contract remains unsigned and the offer is still on the table.

Right now, Modi is being portrayed as the devil incarnate by administrators and media in England and India alike, but for the men who gathered in Delhi in an "educational capacity", he is widely admired as a visionary - and whether or not any of the myriad charges against him are proven, the essence of what he has achieved with the IPL cannot be denied.

Clarke, however, has chosen to mix the business of English cricket with the pleasure of watching his foe squirm. By using the counties' fact-finding as yet more mud to sling in Modi's eye, he's hoping to discredit both in one well-aimed shy. He might well have helped to take out the man, but the plan is sure to endure. For the sake of English cricket, it has to.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Colin on May 15, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    Those (like it would seem our esteemed editor) who are in favour of franchise cricket should take a visit to Chelmsford this summer for an Essex T20 game and take note of the high proportion of youngsters in the packed crowd, most of whom will have benefited from subsided membership and cheap tickets. Some will have walked to the ground or cycled and many will have come without their parents. These kids will not traipse up to Lords or the Oval to watch the London Mets or whatever abomination Bradshaw creates (even if they can afford the travel or a ticket). Cricket needs not just money to survive it needs future players and fans. Denying top class T20 cricket to the youngsters of Chelmsford, Canterbury, Taunton and elsewhere will drive cricket even further towards the margins of the English sporting landscape.

  • Wanderer on May 14, 2010, 23:46 GMT

    Lalit Modi killed my hamster.

  • nishantha on May 10, 2010, 21:53 GMT

    Clarke's behavior is both laughable and hypocritical and its a case of the pot calling the kettle black as he - himself was known to be hobnobbing closely with the disgraced Allan Stanford who's underhand dealings makes Modi look look like an angel !!!

  • Dummy4 on May 10, 2010, 1:52 GMT

    Rightly said and a very well written article, Andrew. Whatever Modi did maybe wrong, but what Giles did reeks of bad blood. Nevertheless, it is saddening seeing cricket being reduced to underhand games. Back then in '99 it was players' greed- now cricket fights the administrators' greed. Can't say which is worse.

  • Jayant on May 10, 2010, 0:06 GMT

    Mediocrities always have and always will bring down a man of genius. It is why they get out of bed in the morning. They soak in the comfort of status quo perhaps forgetting that they owe even that to someone in the past who dared to dream.

  • Jason on May 9, 2010, 19:34 GMT

    THe only issue i have with what is happening is that 80% of the revenue would disappear out of the UK and line another countires coffers. Why not simply creat our own league and have 100% of the revenue remaining in the UK. These country chairmen are simply short termists looking at the carrot of $1.5 USD (£1 million) and not looking at the other £40 million they could make if they held thier nerves and talked trhe idea over with Giles.

  • Arron on May 9, 2010, 15:03 GMT

    PS Everything about the tone of Stewart Regan's e-mail was repulsive, but "They have launched the word CRICKETAINMENT, which I think is really innovative" virtually justifies a boycott of Headingley on its own.

  • Arron on May 9, 2010, 14:50 GMT

    I'd prefer a cricket world with neither Clarke nor Modi, to be honest. Not sure why we're implicitly asked to regard an English rival for the IPL as an unequivocal good for the English game, either. All the really forward-thinking brains seem to work in an advisory capacity only for the ICC, or write books and articles. So, whilst these brains recommend a World Test Championship, the lover of proper cricket gets stuck between the rock of bureaucracy (ICC) and the hard place of avarice (Modi, Clarke and the 'we'll ruin the county season and the first-class game, but please don't take away our Sky money' ECB).

  • SRINI on May 9, 2010, 14:17 GMT

    Once ICL got going, it was just time before all cricket boards embraced the idea. BCCI jumped in where the money is first. The reaction of ECB, which has suffered from the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome always, was on predictable lines. After the docking of Modi by BCCI it was always on the cards that he will take his execution skills elsewhere. Compared to what it takes to make a living and 'arrive' in other fields, T20 provides an easier access to these goals for young men and cricketers in particular. As long as the Indians remain cricket crazy, this boom will survive and men like Modi who have the pulse of the market and are market savvy will encash it (pun accidental) and Giles Clarke can whinge as much as he pleases.

  • Mukesh on May 9, 2010, 14:16 GMT

    Great article Andrew. English Cricket the inventors of 2020 cricket have thrown away a massive opportunity and no amount of posturing by the ECB will bring it back unilaterally. ECB needs BCCI's help and that's a fact. India like it or not has the largest audience for cricket. Witness the full capacity crowds when India play in England. Incidentally why are there so few cricketers of Indian origin playing county cricket?

  • No featured comments at the moment.