An opportunity for a clean-up
The instinct would be to call this a bleak day for Indian cricket but the optimist would find compelling evidence that in the chaos of the IPL lies the BCCI's best opportunity to fashion a world-class league. If only there were equally compelling signs that the board is actually engaged in that process.
On the face of it, Sunday's decision by the BCCI to summarily end the participation of two franchises in the IPL is a long-overdue step towards cleaning up the IPL. Both franchises have been under a cloud of late, with the Indian government, among others, over issues of ownership and accounting. The links between Lalit Modi, the former IPL chairman, and Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab are well documented; Modi himself has not denied these links, merely pointing out that the facts were known to the BCCI from the start.
This is the end of the IPL as we know it - the end of the friends' club, the inner circle that invested in a friend's dream and turned it into a billion-dollar reality, in the process attracting the world and her boyfriend. For three years we were dazzled - by the stars from Bollywood, by the line of cricketers seeking entry, by the deals that were signed, for ever-increasing sums of money. Not once but twice over: The TV deal, the sale of franchise rights, the player auction; and the renegotiated deal, the second player auction and the second sale of franchise rights. It had to end and it did, in spectacular and dramatic fashion, as the BCCI reclaimed their territory.
The pendulum has now swung to the other extreme, to sobriety bordering on the severe. The IPL is now another subcommittee of the BCCI, the self-styled "commissioner" replaced by a chairman who knows his way around the old school of management. The governing council has been pared down, its term and powers limited, the existing questionable deals subjected to scrutiny. It has even got former cricket stars to work for free. So much has changed since Modi left.
So much has changed and, in a sense, so little. The BCCI is no longer hostage to Modi's whims but is run by the dictates of a committee that moves in equally mysterious and autocratic ways. What else explains the fact that Sunday's decision was preceded by no notice, not even any negotiations between the IPL and two of its major stakeholders, who have already spent tens of millions of dollars building up their franchises, and had committed to much more? In treating the two franchises as if they were mutinous state associations, the board has done them a huge disservice - and revealed a lack of the sophistication and corporate protocol that its size and status demands. As Rajasthan Royals' statement said, "if the only way to achieve this [fair treatment] is through legal recourse, then that is a shame for those that seek to invest in sport in India".
At least the BCCI can say it has swept clean the shadowy conflicts of interest that have dogged the IPL from the start.
Or can it? The elephant in the BCCI's boardroom is its president-elect, the man who a year from today will assume the top-most position in Indian cricket. Sometime later this month the Supreme Court will give its opinion on a case questioning the manner in which the board amended its constitution so that N Srinivasan could be both its secretary - and so help decide on matters relating to the IPL - and the owner of an IPL franchise. The board's position has consistently been that Srinivasan is in the clear because he sought its permission before bidding for the Chennai franchise; it hasn't even bothered to explain how K Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors for the national team, is a brand ambassador for Chennai. The court, while hearing arguments, has already had harsh words for the BCCI and Srinivasan, words that would have prompted any other administrator in a similar position to step down, if only temporarily, till his name is cleared. There has been no such move from Srinivasan.
Those are double standards that strike at the principle of fair play and transparency - but these are mere ideals. The biggest victims of Sunday's events are flesh and blood, the fans of the two franchises - those who went to the ground, having bought tickets (and shirts and other merchandise) and cheered for their teams. They have invested emotion - famously so in the case of Rajasthan - while following their teams through some unremarkable seasons. The IPL was supposed to be a different experience for the Indian fan - and it has been, to some extent - but scrapping these two franchises shows that the BCCI just hasn't got the idea. You can run your domestic season, and even your home international matches, without factoring in the fans, but not a league where the individual franchises depend on those fans. Ask any supporter in Jaipur or Mohali who spent a few thousand rupees each season on a side that now seems to have been airbrushed out of the picture with Stalinist efficiency.
The irony is that the BCCI can run a pretty good tournament when it wants to; witness the Champions League, shorn of Modi's ego and excesses and focusing on the game rather than the name. It's almost everything the IPL is not: a fortnight as against six weeks, streamlined as opposed to bloated; cricket as opposed to entertainment - and, admittedly, at the other end of the TV ratings scale. Whether that is the influence of the two partnering boards, of Australia or South Africa, is a moot point but the biggest stakeholder is the BCCI.
That is the opportunity before the BCCI. With income guaranteed for the next few years, the IPL should be the easiest league to run. Having a clean, transparent and efficient tournament is, however, a whole new ball game.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India