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But as officials of the Indian cricket board started to wax eloquent on Sunday, the argument that they gave for holding the Indian Premier League (IPL) outside India was almost surreal.
There were remarks against the government — some snide, some open — whose hesitancy in providing security had frustrated the board. And now, they said, they’d been forced to take this extreme step, despite its extra cost and logistical difficulties, so that (here it comes) “the Indian cricket fan did not suffer”.
This contention was first put forward by BCCI president Shashank Manohar, then stressed by IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, and finally repeated by several of the franchise owners.
In India, it usually takes that fan about two hours of pushing and abusing to enter a stadium, he’s often denied a seat despite having a valid ticket, and he gets beaten up by policemen every once in a while — sometimes a mild tap of the stick, and sometimes a full-fledged lathi charge. The BCCI has never cared about any of that.
But now the board, which has shown again and again that the last person on its priority list is that nameless, faceless cricket follower who is treated worse than any other sports fan in the world, says it’s taking this financial and organisational burden just for his sake.
Of course, the real reasons behind the IPL being moved abroad are different. As far the IPL franchises were concerned, having the tournament was vital for their commercial well-being. Though they suffered losses in the first season, and were prepared for more losses in the second, a regular event was crucial for building fan-base, for occupying the public’s mind-space, and for eventually reaching a stage where they would start reaping returns on their investments.
This was perhaps more crucial in the second year than it would ever be in the future because only after the success of this edition would the IPL be recognised as an established brand that’s here to stay. A break at this stage, one top franchise official had told me this week, would force them to start “not from scratch but from minus five” in 2010.
While the teams were tussling with these issues, the attitude of IPL commissioner Lalit Modi over the last fortnight was quite peculiar, but not entirely surprising. Even as the league was scampering to revise, re-revise, and re-re-revise the itinerary, he held one categorical media conference after another — once even announcing that the IPL would go ahead in India though the government was still to make a final decision. His rough-edged dealing with the State machinery seemed to belie the image of a seasoned sports administrator.
Having already lost an election in the Rajasthan Cricket Association, the second season of the IPL — which gives him his real clout in the cricket world — is imperative for Modi because a year away from the limelight could not only damaged his immediate authority within the BCCI but also his future prospects as a big player in Indian cricket’s internal politics.
Even on Sunday, during his announcement that the IPL would move overseas, his attitude was combative rather than conciliatory — the long-suffering Indian cricket fan was invoked in an inference that Modi’s IPL cared more about him than the government agencies that were posing roadblocks in the tournament’s path.
And therein lay the hilarious tangent to this latest show of strength.