South Africa has edged out England to be named host nation of the 2009 IPL. The decision was made after a meeting between the IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, and the Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive, Gerald Majola, in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The IPL also announced that a final schedule for the 59 matches and the host venues for the eight franchises will be released shortly.
Cricinfo understands that the IPL's opening ceremony will be held in Cape Town, and that the defending champions Rajasthan Royals will play the first game. The tournament will commence on April 18, a week later than initially scheduled, and a day after the one-day series between South Africa and Australia ends. Sources said Johannesburg, Durban, Centurion, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town would be the host venues.
However, it's understood that negotiations between the two boards were not as smooth as it was initially expected with England remaining in contention as an active alternative for hosting the IPL during most of Tuesday afternoon's meeting.
South Africa had been considered the favourite to host the IPL's second season after IPL officials voiced concerns over the effect England's springtime weather might have on the tournament. England also faced issues in the form of cost, scheduling and the likelihood of conflict between television rights holders. South Africa's chances were further boosted after the country's government got actively involved in wooing the IPL, throwing in assurances on security and speedy clearance of visas for players and officials.
"A lot of factors were considered by us while evaluating the final choice for the host venue," N Srinivasan, secretary of the Indian board, said. "However, in the final analysis I think it was the South African weather, which prevailed and tilted the balance in favour of the Rainbow Nation."
David Collier, the ECB chief executive, said he understood the hurdles that would have had to be cleared to stage the tournament in England. "We all recognised the difficulties and logistical issues involved in areas such as security when the G20 is meeting in the UK next week and the climatic challenges," he said.
In the event, the IPL's decision to move to South Africa has been greeted with relief by the league's franchises and players. Muttiah Muralitharan, who plays for Chennai Super Kings, said it was the right decision for the league because "the game must go on, else cricket would die".
Vijay Mallya, the owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore, said that though he would have preferred England, the weather had proved a decisive factor. "To be honest, I would have preferred England to South Africa," Mallya said. "You could have taken one good flight from 5-6 places in India to England and it would have been cheaper. Besides, an average Englishman loves his cricket. The stands there would have been full of crowd. I guess weather conditions clinched the issue for South Africa. In England, there were chances that matches would have been rained off. Both teams sharing the point affects the competitiveness of the event."
There had been much speculation as to where the IPL's second season would be based after Cricinfo identified South Africa as a possible destination last Friday. Senior officials from the IPL and CSA denied the report at the time, but had since been locked in intense discussions to finalise the unprecedented switch.
With the decision now made, the real work begins. Security arrangements - which forced the tournament out of India - will need to be arranged, and an estimated 400 players and officials will require visas and accommodation. In all, 59 matches will be held over a five-week period ending on May 24.
With time of the essence, logistical issues delayed the opportunity for a considered response from the ECB, whose chairman, Giles Clarke, and Collier, had been on opposite sides of the world in Australia and Guyana respectively, when contacted by IPL officials on Saturday. The pair reconvened for the first time at Lord's on Tuesday morning, by which stage discussions with CSA were well underway.
"It is very important for world cricket that this tournament is staged, but ultimately it is a matter for the BCCI where it is staged," Clarke told Cricinfo hours before the IPL decided on South Africa. "We're happy to help, but if it's not staged here, we've got a great deal to do this season anyway. That is how we see it. It is not a competitive situation from our point of view, at all. It can be staged here, the government is keen support it, but the most important thing is that this tournament goes ahead, wherever it is staged."
England had initially emerged as the preferred venue to host the tournament after a powerful lobby within the BCCI and the Indian team management felt that such a move would help in preparing for the World Twenty20 in June.