Days of fervent speculation came to an end today with the Indian Cricket League announcing its roster of players, which included Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf and an assortment of Indians - former internationals, domestic veterans and greenhorns. However, the organisers failed to shed any light on the details of the tournament.
Prominent in the list of 50 released at the press conference were Dinesh Mongia, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Deep Dasgupta, JP Yadav, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and T Kumaran, all former Indian cricketers. And apart from Inzamam and Yousuf, the ICL announced the names of Abdul Razzaq and Imran Farhat from Pakistan, who have signed on with Lance Klusener and Nicky Boje of South Africa.
Last month the ICL had announced the signing of Brian Lara, the former West Indies captain, and he remains the biggest name to join till date.
However, the organisers could not yet reveal where or when the proposed 40-day Twenty20 tournament would take place. It is believed that the tournament will be held in October. However, at the same time Australia will be in India to play a series of seven ODIs. Soon after that Pakistan tour India, another marquee series, while India tour Australia straight after. The organisers do not have a window in which to stage this tournament, without it clashing with the Indian team's itinerary, and perhaps that explained why they could not come up with dates.
Kapil Dev, the chairman of the executive board of the ICL, pointed to the assembled group of cricketers, calling them "the cream of talent" in the country, as one-by-one, the 44 cricketers from domestic cricket walked up and took their places on a podium alongside the dais where officials of the ICL were seated.
The most severely hit association was Hyderabad with eight of its players joining the ICL. Bengal and Punjab have also had their Ranji teams eroded, with the likes of Deep Dasgupta, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Subhomoy Das, Subhojit Paul and Shibsagar Singh from Bengal, and Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Ishan Malhotra from Punjab. Railways and Uttar Pradesh were two other teams also badly hit.
The ICL organisers were also tightlipped about the kind of money people were being offered. They refused to either confirm or deny the kind of numbers doing the rounds in the media. It is speculated that players from Indian domestic cricket - not international stars like Inzamam and Yousuf - were being paid in the region of Rs 30 lakh ($72,600) a year.
When it was put to Kapil that the contract period of ICL was three years, and that it was likely that players who signed on with ICL would lose their regular jobs - most players are employed to represent their companies in leagues and tournaments conducted under the auspices of the BCCI and its affiliates, and will be unable to do so if a ban were imposed - he responded, "Can you tell me what will happen to your job after two years?" Kapil shot back. "As long as they keep on playing well, they will do well. These are professional people who have to make their own lives."
Kapil was seated alongside the other officials of the ICL - Himanshu Mody, the project head of ICL, Sandeep Patil, Kiran More, EAS Prasanna, Bharat Reddy, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Madan Lal, Rajesh Chauhan and Pranab Roy.
Kapil was at his emotional best, exhorting his players to do well, and congratulating them on showing the bravery they had in joining the ICL. "I'd like to take everyone to where we started some months ago. At that time people asked, 'Where will you get cricketers from?' This is the cream of the country," he said, pointing to the group of 44 Indian cricketers. "The courage these people have showed, even I didn't have at that age. We need people like this who want to make their own decisions. They take pride to play for their country, not being pushed by someone or threatened by someone. What we need is to entertain the people in this country. I will back you till the last day I live."
In their turn the players who had joined the ICL spoke of their reasons for doing so. "I thought of all the pros and cons. Playing domestic cricket does not give me a chance to play against international stars," said Abhishek Jhunjhunwala. "This gives me very good security."
Mongia, who is believed to be one of the big-ticket signings, said, "My clear thought is, as a cricketer I want to play cricket. I play club cricket in Chandigarh, in Madras I play in corporate tournaments, I play Ranji Trophy for Punjab, and league cricket in England. Here again I get a chance to play with youngsters who are good, and foreign players."
Interestingly, Mody, the head of the initiative, claimed he knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding Boje, after announcing his signing. Boje had withdrawn from South Africa's last tour of India, with the Delhi police wanting to question him regarding matchfixing allegations surrounding an existing case in the Hansie Cronje affair from years ago. "I suppose Boje has taken all that into consideration when signing the contract," he said. "He has signed with us and that's all I know. I'm not aware of these allegations of betting or whatever it is you're speaking of."
Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Imran Farhat, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje
Hyderabad : Ambati Rayudu, Alfred Absolem, Inder Shekar Reddy, Ibrahim Khaleel, Shashank Nag, D Vinay Kumar, Kaushik Reddy, Anirudh Singh
Bengal: Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Deep Dasgupta, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Shibsagar Singh, Subhomoy Das, Subhojit Paul, Syed Akhlakh Ahmed.
Punjab: Dinesh Mongia, Ishan Malhotra, Reetinder Sodhi, Manish Sharma, Sarabjit Singh, Rajesh Sharma, Sumit Kalia
Tamil Nadu: V Devendran, J Hariesh, R Sathish, Dakshinamoorthy Kumaran, Thirunavukarasu Kumaran, Hemanth Kumar, G Vignesh
Uttar Pradesh: Shalabh Srivastava, Ali Murtaza, Avinash Yadav
Maharashtra: Dheeraj Jadhav, Ranjit Khirid, Sridharan Sriram
Madhya Pradesh: Syed Abbas Ali Khan, Sachin Dholpure, Mohnish Mishra,T Surendra
Railways: Jai Prakash Yadav, Shreyas Khanolkar
Baroda: Kiran Powar
Andhra: Syed Sahabuddin
Mumbai: Robin Morris
Services: Yashpal Singh
Non first-class players: Abhishek T (Chattisgarh), Raviraj Patil and Puskaraj Mohan Joshi (both Maharashtra)