Charu Sharma, who was removed as CEO by the Bangalore Royal Challengers on Tuesday, says he did not step down from the job as the IPL franchise said, but was "summarily dismissed". Cricinfo has learned the decision was a result of discontent at the highest level since the team's defeat in the first match of the tournament on April 18.
"I am not a quitter, especially when the chips are down," Sharma said in a statement. "The company has every right to hire and fire personnel. For details of why I was summarily dismissed from my duties, three hours before I was to board a flight to Kolkata for the next match, please contact representatives of the company."
Sharma, whose father died soon after the IPL started, said he'd taken the briefest of breaks at the time. Only the team owners can explain why he was sacked, he said, adding that he could "understand their disappointment at the team not being the fastest off the block".
The choice of Brijesh Patel as CEO was largely motivated by the fact that he is an accomplished cricketer and understands local conditions with the depth that is required, Vijay Mallya, the franchise owner, said in a statement. He also squashed speculation over the future of Venkatesh Prasad, the coach of the side, and said he was fully supportive of his role in the side.
Bangalore, currently at the bottom of the IPL table with two wins from seven games, issued a press release on Tuesday night, which said Sharma "stepped down due to personal reasons" and had been replaced by Brijesh Patel, the former India Test player and secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), which runs the game in the franchise's home city.
Sources close to Sharma confirmed that he was asked to quit on Tuesday afternoon by a senior official from United Spirits Limited (USL), the liquor company that bought the team. USL is owned by Mallya, the Bangalore-based industrialist who also owns Force India, a Formula 1 team.
However, sources in the franchise told Cricinfo that the decision to sack the chief executive was the result of growing discontent at the highest level ever since Bangalore suffered a humiliating defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural IPL match in front of a record television audience and a capacity home crowd, including top ICC and BCCI officials, Bollywood actors and corporate leaders.
"Quite a few harsh words were used that night to describe the team's performance. And ever since then, serious questions were being asked at the top level within the franchise about the team's composition and performance. Things turned nasty as the team continued to lose and there was even talk about whether the players were under-performing, and making a laughing stock of the owner," the sources said.
"In such a scenario, the franchise wanted to send a strong message that it was in control of the situation and the CEO was the obvious target. Sacking the players would have generated a wave of negative publicity, considering their iconic status," the sources said.
Mallya bought the franchise from the IPL council with a bid of US$ 111.6 million and then faced a barrage of criticism after the players' auction where Rahul Dravid took the lead in picking the squad - including South Africa's Jacques Kallis and India's Wasim Jaffer - that has since been tagged as a Test XI.
On Monday night, after the team's fifth loss, Mallya is learnt to have been extremely upset and had a "very serious chat" with Sharma, before the franchise owner was "persuaded" to give the team "a small pep talk" during a party that followed the match against Kings XI Punjab.
"The team was assembled and were told by Mallya he was still backing them. But it was clear that a major decision was around the corner," the sources said. Around 3 pm the next day, Sharma was asked to leave by the franchise.
On Wednesday morning, a senior player told Cricinfo that the team was rattled by the development, which he described as "a knee-jerk reaction" to the defeats with seven matches still left in the tournament. Bangalore take on Kolkata in the eighth of their 14 league matches, at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
"My role, as I saw it, was to constantly motivate, encourage, facilitate and respect the efforts of the cricket professionals in the team. And that is what I tried to do, sincerely, day after day - win or lose - in the true spirit of sportsmanship," Sharma said.