Ajay Shankar and Alex Brown are deputy editors of Cricinfo
In a swift turnaround, South Africa has overtaken England as the preferred venue to host the IPL next month. Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, met with Cricket South Africa CEO Gerald Majola in Johannesburg on Tuesday, and the pair will conduct a press conference to discuss the outcome of their meeting at 3pm GMT. Should South Africa be named the host nation, it is unclear whether Modi will continue with his scheduled trip to London on Wednesday.
Weather has turned out to be the principal factor to have swayed the BCCI officials, a bulk of whom had been in favour of England until Monday morning when the realisation occurred that rain could seriously affect "as many as 70% of the matches" in the Twenty20 tournament, which runs from April 10 to May 24.
Another reason for England's chances receding is the assurance from top officials within the South African government and Cricket South Africa that the IPL will receive the full red carpet treatment, well-placed sources said.
"The weather in South Africa seems to have become the deciding factor," the sources said. "Besides, South Africa is working out to be a much cheaper option. The South African government's interest in hosting the event is a major factor, too." However, Modi is also scheduled to leave Johannesburg for London on Tuesday evening to meet ECB officials, who have also expressed interest in hosting the event.
South Africa is also considered a better option when it comes to TV timings in comparison to England. For instance, the IPL wants to start its first match of the day at 4 pm IST, which would mean a 11.30 am start in England. In South Africa it would be a 12.30 pm start. The TV rights scenario is also less complicated in South Africa as Supersport owns the rights both for the IPL and for international cricket played in the country. Additionally, the cost of running the tournament in South Africa would be substantially less than in England. And the fact that the South African domestic season concludes a day before the IPL's scheduled start date should lead to less logistical problems than in England, where the county season will be just underway.
Modi and Majola are known to have a strong personal relationship, especially since the two boards became founding partners of the Twenty20 Champions League last year. It is believed that such a rapport would prove crucial in organising a tournament of this magnitude at such short notice. "This gives both the boards a lot of room for negotiations, adjustments and quick decisions, something that may not be possible with the ECB, which has to go by its board for almost every decision," the sources said.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) summoned their provinces to a teleconference on Monday afternoon, where they were updated on the latest IPL developments. "We have been told to expect a decision by Wednesday morning," said a South African provincial official with knowledge of the conference call. "We have had some early discussions about what we might need to do to prepare for this, but as far as we are aware, no final decisions have been made."
Majola spoke cautiously on Monday evening when asked to assess South Africa's chances of hosting the IPL's second season. "Until I meet with Mr Modi and BCCI officials and know exactly what they want and how they think this should proceed, then I cannot say where we stand," Majola said. "It has been strangely quiet since we were first asked by officials from the BCCI and IPL whether we can assist them, and to the best of my knowledge we remain just one of the options out there. We are interested in assisting, but we have not heard anything further."
Shaun Pollock, the former South African captain and current advisor to the Mumbai Indians, said he would be open to serving as a conduit between his IPL franchise and the KwaZulu-Natal board if approached. Pollock is currently in Durban with eight members of the Mumbai squad for a pre-season training camp.
"I would love the Mumbai Indians to come to Durban," Pollock said. "But, having said that, I don't know who will decide which franchise goes where, or even if (the IPL) will come here. It's hard to know at the moment. One person tells you it's 60-40 in South Africa's favour and another tells you it's 60-40 to England. But if it were to come here, I would be happy to help Mumbai if they were interested in basing themselves in my home area and conditions."
As of Sunday evening, England had 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.
However, that decision was almost entirely dependent on the ECB overcoming considerable obstacles related to costs and logistics and the approval of its stakeholders, including the counties, many of whom fear that their domestic schedule will be affected by the IPL.
Apparently, there is also a certain amount of concern at the ICC level about the state of venues in England for the World Twenty20 starting on June 5. The IPL will run until May 24 alongside the English domestic season starting in April and the West Indies Test series in May. "It's the beginning of the season in England and Wales and there is a lot of Twenty20 cricket being played including the ICC World Twenty20," David Morgan, the ICC president, told BBC Radio 5 Live. "I do think there will be great difficulties in relocating it."