Rajeev Shukla: Not possible to prepare new IPL venues

"The water controversy has erupted, but as I said during the inauguration, we are all for the farmers and we have full sympathy for them. Shifting matches will be an uphill task. An alternative can be found by which non-potable, sewage water, harvested water or well water is used."

Rajeev Shukla, the IPL chairman, with Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president.   -  Ramesh Sharma

Rajeev Shukla has been a journalist, a central minister and a cricket administrator. He’s now a Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra and the Chairman of the BCCI’s Indian Premier League (IPL). Always a potential BCCI president, the 56-year-old has the knack of being friends with one and all.

The drought situation in Maharashtra and a PIL in the Bombay High Court has given sleepless nights to the BCCI and IPL officials, but a calm and cool Shukla is hopeful of things getting cleared on Tuesday. The Court had given permission to stage the inaugural match on Saturday.

“We will try our level best to convince the Court that it’s very difficult to move the matches to other areas in the eleventh hour and that we will try all other options to make sure that water is not wasted and only non-potable water will be used. Why should I be pessimistic... the matter has to be heard by the learned Judges and I am hopeful they will take note of our point of view. It’s not possible to prepare new venues; even should we have them, it will take 10 or 15 days to prepare (pitch and ground) ... in IPL there is a match played every day,’’ said Shukla in an interview to Sportstar on Sunday.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: Are you satisfied with the way things have gone so far in IPL-9?

Answer: I am fully satisfied. The opening ceremony went off well and thereafter the opening match between Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants and Mumbai Indians... it was exciting. So we have set the ball rolling. But it’s a long IPL season of 51 days and I hope everything goes well.

The water controversy has erupted, but as I said during the inauguration, we are all for the farmers and we have full sympathy for them. Shifting matches will be an uphill task. An alternative can be found by which non-potable, sewage water, harvested water or well water is used. These things would be nice for the IPL, otherwise, taking matches in the eleventh hour to other areas will be very difficult. But let’s see the outcome of this matter in the court. Whatever the government suggests we will definitely consider them.

As everybody is aware, many matches of the ICC World Twenty20 were played in Nagpur as well as here in Mumbai. No one raised the water issue then; it existed then too. So I think the IPL has almost become a punching bag. When the IPL comes, everybody from here and there, starts attacking it. This is one thing we have to face during the entire season.

This year’s IPL is definitely going to be challenging for us because it’s a season of Twenty20. The Asia Cup took place in Bangladesh after which the ICC World Twenty20 was played in India and the IPL is the culmination of the Twenty20 season. And I must say people have not lost interest, in fact it has increased. So that’s going to be good for us. There was virtually a full house at the Wankhede Stadium for the MI v RPS match.

What has the IPL done to make the Anti-Corruption and Security (ACU) unit more dynamic?

On that part we have taken special care and precautions. The ICC-ACU has been entrusted with the task; there is also the BCCI’s ACU in place which is steered by Neeraj Kumar, whose credentials are well known. He was the joint director, CBI, when allegations were made against Hansie Cronje and investigated. He was the Delhi Police Commissioner when the Sreesanth case came up. He’s well versed with all such matters. He is a super cop and he’s in touch with police commissioners where matches are being played. In addition, the BCCI president has asked the Maharashtra CM to provide assistance through the State’s police department. The BCCI is keen to sign an MOU with them. These are the precautions we can take. We have been talking to the Maharashtra government for the last one month; a lot of formalities have to be completed. The track record of the BCCI is that it has not pardoned anyone, even Azharuddin.

What’s the future for the two new teams — Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiants?

It’s been made clear to the two new franchises that they will be there only for two seasons. Right now I cannot say anything more. The BCCI president has said we will review the situation after two years. Earlier we played a league with 10 teams, but the broadcasters say that the season will get prolonged (with 10 teams) and it would be very difficult.

In hindsight would you say that the conflict of interest issue could have been avoided in 2008?

Circumstances developed and the BCCI proceeded accordingly as per the legal advice of the lawyers at that point in time.

A lot of damage has been done to the IPL... Lalit Modi, Sundar Raman, Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals... a former BCCI president (N. Srinivasan), also a couple of owners.... are all out of the League... also a few cricketers have been banned ... the IPL has taken a beating, is it not?

The IPL has been mired with controversies because there is too much media glare on it. The media keeps covering every bit of it. That’s the reason there is too much attention on the IPL. Even small things get highlighted. So when the bigger things come, there is country-wide controversy. IPL is one product which is telecast in 100 plus countries… it’s an international event. We have to face all these situations. We should stick to our principles, commitment and remain transparent. IPL is not entertainment, but serious cricket. It has identified, discovered new talent which is recognised world-wide.

Would you say some headway has been made in the context of improving the image of the BCCI/IPL in the last seven or eight months?

We have already implemented many recommendations made by the Lodha panel on cricket reforms; the BCCI president Shashank Manohar brought into effect many of them even before the recommendations were made.

The IPL will be in its tenth year in 2017... can you pick out the most important aspect that’s seen the most growth?

A lot of things have taken place from a cricketing point of view. The decision to give opportunities to young cricketers has proved beneficial and the IPL has contributed to the development of the game in every nook and corner of the country. In Uttar Pradesh, there are leagues in 74 districts. Everybody’s ambition is to play the IPL. But they cannot get into IPL straightaway; they have to play for the State in junior and senior tournaments including the Ranji Trophy. But the dream is to play in the IPL.

Is money the sole attraction for them?

The IPL is their imagination of success... that they have succeeded in becoming an international player. There is little scope playing for India... because only 15 slots are there. In IPL there are eight teams comprising 240 players and so they believe there is scope.

What’s the status of the mini IPL the BCCI had planned?

There is a proposal for the mini IPL in India as well as an IPL overseas. The ideas are there, but no decision has been taken. Once this IPL gets over, we will think about the other proposals.

Do you hope to get favourable news from the Supreme Court (on Monday, April 11) and Bombay High Court (Tuesday, April 12)?

I am very optimistic.

Even from New Delhi?

Of course. The learned Judges are there and I hope they take note of our request.

The reforms report has been written by the immediate past Chief Justice of India?

We are not refusing (to accept) the suggestions given by the Lodha Committee. There are a lot many which we are more than willing to implement, but there are certain recommendations where we have reservations ...there are five of them like the basic structure of the BCCI, advertising in between overs and other issues.