The bottomline is money

Days before its second season reprise, the Indian Premier League has shape-shifted from a financial behemoth of substantial clout into a continent-conquering tyrant with its lifeline enclosed in the palm of an arrogant whipcracker. By Kunal Diwan.

The League’s contemptuous move to South Africa, after being sternly negated by the Government of India and receiving a relatively cold shoulder from Old Blighty, has been unprecedented in the history of cricket and, if one discounts the sporadic forays of North American pro-football and baseball into Mexico and South America, in the history of sport itself.

South Africa pipped England, the first replacement venue of choice, for various reasons, the least of which was the lukewarm response Lalit Modi and Co. elicited from English Authorities. Rain threatened to play spoil sport in the British Isles and the largely TV-driven IPL would have collided with other high ticketing ventures such as the FA Cup semifinals and the England-West Indies Test matches. More importantly, the English police were less than keen on undertaking the responsibility for securing the well-being of cricketers and the large expected turnout.

In direct contrast, Modi’s ‘good friend’, Cricket South Africa’s chief executive Gerald Majola, promised complete support of his Board; since the South African domestic season was all but over, grounds were largely free to be let out for some extra pleasant pennies. Another factor that swung things the way of the rainbow nation was that unlike England’s Sky Sports, South Africa’s local broadcaster had no fear of the IPL eating into the TRP of other concurrent sporting events. The Protean option was also way cheaper than the original English plan. Like always, a change of this magnitude has polarized opinion and delineated the ayes from the nays. Mumbai Indians skipper Sachin Tendulkar confessed disappointment over the fact that the charm of the Premier League-styled ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches would be missed.

“It is disappointing that the IPL has been moved out of India. We will certainly miss playing in front of our supporters. It won’t be the same. It was a good concept to play home and away matches. This is something that the teams will miss this time around,” the maestro told media persons.

Shane Warne who led Rajasthan Royals to the Cup last year did not sound too pleased either. “It’ll be nothing like if it was in India, and it’s a shame it can’t be in India. Hopefully the South African public will get behind it and turn up and make it a great spectacle,” Warnie told reporters in Melbourne earlier this week.

Then there was the small matter of attracting a live audience in a country whose fascination for cricket is overshadowed by its frenzy for rugby and soccer. It would be unimaginable to beam back TV pictures home with empty stands minus the frenetic bustle that marked every single match of the IPL last season.

Speaking to Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, Modi, IPL Chairman and Commissioner, indicated that ticket pricing will have to be just right to ensure a steady trickle of fans into stadia. “The prices are going to be very conservative. They’re going to be lower than the international prices that one would pay when going to a South Africa game, and probably just marginally higher than you would pay for a domestic match.”

Durban with its sizable Indian diaspora has been slated to host the maximum number of matches (16); other details of the deal between IPL and Cricket South Africa have been a hush-hush affair. Majola said the terms of the agreement were confidential. “It’s more or less the same sort of arrangement there would be for staging an International Cricket Council event,” he said.

Whispers of stupendous sums of money changing hands notwithstanding, Kwazulu-Natal Cricket Union chief executive Cassim Docrat said he doubted whether his franchise would earn more than Rand One million.

“We’re not doing it for the money,” he said. “It will bring in some nice income for us but when you consider the number of games, it won’t be as much on a daily basis as when we hire out the ground for events such as the Comrades Marathon.” A clash of bloated egos; a twisted game of one-upmanship; a showcase of the fast and furious of cricket; a picture-perfect illustration of Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is Good” tagline; or the perfectly timed pre-election sparring arena for political parties: distilling the essence of the IPL into a single constituent is like trying to sniff out a solitary fragrance in the Garden of Eden; there are just too many distracting variables that add their own flavour to the punch.

Perhaps the most important thing is to know what question to ask. That the Indian Premier League is headed to foreign shores is not a huge surprise. The reader, the viewer, the buff and the cynic would all do well to remember that the entire gamut of activity that comprises the IPL is in motion for one specific reason: profit above all else.

Zinta’s and Shah Rukh’s philanthropy is restricted to the screen, Mallya is a hard-nosed businessman masquerading as a billionaire hippy, Ambani is…well the shrewdest cat this side of the Atlantic, and Modi, God bless his monogrammed soul, is the cracker of the whip.

It isn’t too difficult to understand that the principal driving force here is generation of revenue. If the IPL bigwigs could harbour dreams of conducting the event in India con-currently with the largest democratic exercise in the world (India boasts an electorate of around 700 million), then nothing, not even pitching tents on the Lunar surface can be considered beyond them.

BCCI president Shashank Manohar sounded like a wounded cat when he broke news of the momentous shift. “Because of the attitude of the Government that they are not ready to spare security forces for the cricket tournament... we are forced to take the decision to move the event out of India.”

So ultimately, Sachin is saddened and Chidambaram is adamant and the fans feel let down and Modi vindicated. The fact of the matter is that the IPL will take place in SA — a country dubbed the ‘most unsafe country not at war’ — and no number of hankering fans or lobbying politicians can do anything about it. Hell, not even Sachin Tendulkar can do anything about it (and he can do pretty much everything else).

Like Rajasthan Royals co-owner Shilpa Shetty said: “What cannot be changed has to be endured”; “endured”, here, appears an uncalled for pejorative for a promised ‘carnival of delight’, but the phrase has a nice, fatalistic ring to it. Maybe, Ms. Shetty was talking about one of her movies.