BCCI cries foul

Sharad Pawar, the BCCI chief. The body that controls cricket in India looks upon the ICL as a rival.-G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

The Indian Cricket League has set up shop and the BCCI is frowning on it. But the cricketers’ lot has improved. An analysis by Vijay Lokapally.

For Sarabjit Singh, it hardly matters if the cricket he plays is official or not. It gives him and his family an opportunity to lead a decent life. For most cricketers, who signed up with the Indian Cricket League, the offer came as a boon. For some it was a means of shaping their future, while for some others it gave an opportunity to relive their past.

When Kapil Dev decided to support the ICL, he had these things in mind. “I wanted to help cricketers who were needy. I wanted to work for the cricketers who were good, but were being denied opportunities because of various reasons. The ICL gave me the platform and it was not a difficult decision to make,” he said even as the inaugural tournament took off at Panchkula in a big way. Kapil was supported by three members from his 1983 World Cup winning team — Sandeep Patil, Madan Lal and Balwinder Sandhu.

“I saw merit in promoting the ICL because the intention was to help cricketers. At no point did we consider it as a platform to confront the BCCI. The BCCI has been in the business of promoting cricket for 75 years. So where was the competition?” remarked Patil.

For someone like Kiran More too it was not a tough decision to take. “The ICL was fresh and it was different. It was never going to be a parallel league because it was never intended to be one. All we were doing was organising a tournament for some players who were not getting opportunities in their respective states. Sadly, the BCCI felt insecure and created a confrontation of its own making,” said More.

The BCCI, for reasons known only to itself, was never interested in discussing the matter across the table. The Board adopted a tough posture right from the beginning, compelling a legend like Kapil to sever links with official cricket. The Board had the support of other Test playing nations too.

The point of contention was not the league but the mastermind behind it. The Board could not accept that Mr. Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited and promoter of the Essel Group of Companies, could conduct a tournament of his own. Denied the television rights for matches in India, Mr. Chandra was obviously keen to take on the Board, even if it meant launching an ambitious project with a budget of more than Rs. 200 crore.

The fallout of the ICL-BCCI clash was bitter. The BCCI was quick to take punitive action against those who joined the ICL. The pension of players was stopped and this step was rightly condemned by many former stars. Ajit Wadekar, Erapalli Prasanna and Ashok Malhotra could not believe that the BCCI could be so “mean” when dealing with former players.

The Board privately asked players not to join the ICL. The threat was not open but a ban was in place. “They have not issued us any letter but then they would not pick us,” said Dinesh Mongia, who was part of the one-day squad for the series against Bangladesh in May, 2007.

The Board acted just the way the Australian Cricket Board did 30 years ago when it fought the invasion by Kerry Packer, who owned Channel Nine, a popular television network. Mr. Packer had wanted to secure exclusive broadcast rights for Australian cricket. And when that was denied he launched his rebel league.The aim was also to pay cricketers more money than what the ACB did.

The BCCI lost no time in getting into action. It ensured that the ICL did not get grounds and it was only through Kapil’s effort that the Haryana Government loaned a ground in Panchkula on lease for 10 years.

The field was set up in less than a month and the ICL finally took off even as the BCCI expressed its doubts over the ability of some former cricketers to organise an event on such a scale.

The ICL has roped in legends like Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq apart from quite a few foreign stars, some current and some past. It was quite similar to what the late Madhavrao Scindia had planned a decade ago. He was keen to launch an inter-city league with the participation of some foreign stars, but the idea did not find support from the BCCI.

The divide between the BCCI and the ICL is clear, but the cricketing fraternity is happy. “Thanks to the ICL, at least the cricketers are being paid more money now and this financial security is what we all had been praying for,” said Malhotra.

To counter the ICL, the BCCI announced the launch of a similar competition to be named the Indian Professional League. The BCCI also hiked the players’ fee for domestic cricket.

The confrontation has worked well for the cricketers. Now, players like Sarabjit can expect a secure future if they work hard. The ICL, meanwhile, wants more cricketers from the next season, when it plans to launch a 50 overs competition in addition to the Twenty20.