Brand IPL can’t be taken for granted: Lalit Modi

"I accept that there may not be one solution to satisfy everybody, but stop tinkering with the golden goose," Modi said.

Former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi with co-owner of Kings XI Punjab Priety Zinta (R) and co-owner of Rajasthan …

Calcutta (The Telegraph):
Lalit Kumar Modi has been tweeting pretty often over the past 22 months, ever since his ouster as the Indian Premier League (IPL)’s chairman and commissioner. On Friday evening, he spoke to The Telegraph at some length from London, his first one-on-one with the print media since the abrupt end of his innings as head of a game-changing T20 league.

While Modi didn’t say so, those close to him believe that he is paying the price for (among other things) his closeness to a top leader of the BJP and for having cocked a snook at Union home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram by shifting IPL-II to South Africa.

For most of the 22 months, Modi has been based in London.

The following are excerpts

Q What’s your take on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)-Sahara deal?

A It’s good that Sahara will continue to sponsor Team India and the Pune Warriors are going to remain in the IPL. Sahara has been a valuable partner of Indian cricket and, so, there’s reason to be happy that their association will continue.

But should an IPL franchise go around trying to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the others? Isn’t it highly unusual?

I agree with you completely… I’m not privy to what transpired between the BCCI and Sahara, but there has been quid pro quo… When the IPL was conceived (2007), we were quite clear that it had to be the Indian Premier League, which is why a restriction on no more than four overseas players in the XI. I can’t understand how the onus is on Sahara to go about seeking the permission of others to field five instead of four.

Could a Pandora’s box be opened after this precedent?

Indeed. Now, what stops the nine franchises from getting NOCs from each other and informing the BCCI that nobody has a problem fielding eight overseas players in the XI? Will the IPL then still remain the Indian Premier League? One way or the other, the issue of a fifth player should have been settled exclusively by the BCCI/the IPL’s governing council by calling a meeting of the franchises instead of leaving it to one.

How would you have handled this situation?

(Laughs) It would never have got to the stage it did… Sahara do have a point in calling for a level-playing field and, I wish to place it on record, that I’d specifically recommended to the IPL’s governing council that the January 2011 auction, after the first three seasons and before the debut of the new franchises, should be an open one with no franchise allowed to retain even a single player. The Chennai Super Kings (CSK), as it turned out, were the only ones to oppose this.

Did the Mumbai Indians agree?

Initially, they did have reservations, but it was okay with them later on… You’ve got to remember that the IPL model is something I’d worked out after studying some of the most successful leagues over a 14-year period. You can never have a situation where everybody is satisfied… But the idea should be to stay away from third-party pressures. The IPL model will not work if the rules governing players keep getting changed from time to time. You can’t have ad-hocism.

Given that you called the shots till your ouster, it’s a little difficult believing that you were actually overruled…

When the governing council met, after a workshop in Bangkok (in October 2009), Mr Srinivasan and Mr Manohar were the only ones who opposed an open auction, which would have ensured a level-playing field.

[Narayanswamy Srinivasan, who is one of the owners of CSK, is now the BCCI president. Shashank Manohar is the immediate past president.]

You were accused of not being transparent, but the recent BCCI-Sahara meetings were held behind firmly closed doors and nobody really knows what was discussed. Even a press conference wasn’t called after the two parties reached a settlement on Thursday. Ironical, isn’t it?

You only have to go back to the time after November 2005, when Mr Sharad Pawar became the BCCI president, to see how we functioned… Press conferences were held regularly and I, at least, took the difficult questions head on… This regime hardly has any interaction with the media, except through press releases. Why? Surely, there’s no harm in putting more things out in the public domain.

Have you, at times, chuckled that the IPL began running into problems after your removal as its Czar?

I didn’t try to play favourites (with the franchises), with all the owners being my friends… I had the interest of the brand at heart and you will be interested to know that, despite supposedly being close to the Rajasthan Royals, I served them a notice when they under-spent in the first auction (February 2008).

Today, what would be your advice to the BCCI/the IPL’s governing council?

Whether it’s the BCCI or the governing council, they’ve got to remember that the IPL was created after plenty of thought and tinkering with the fundamentals will cause heartaches to the franchises and the commercial partners. I accept that there may not be one solution to satisfy everybody, but stop tinkering with the golden goose… I suppose it will continue as long as there is a conflict of interest, with the BCCI president also being one of the owners of a franchise… (After a pause) I’m amazed that the BCCI recently cancelled its contract with Nimbus without encashing the bank guarantee! Surely, Mr Srinivasan should have known better and, in my view, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

This conflict of interest business in not new…

But nobody is doing anything about it, with the issue being brushed under the carpet… Isn’t it
strange that a lot of people connected with the BCCI and the IPL are also employees of India Cements? Will they do anything which adversely affects CSK?

[Srinivasan is the vice-chairman and managing director of India Cements, which runs CSK.]

Do you stand by your startling revelation that the limited auction in February 2009 was rigged to favour CSK?

Absolutely. Mr Srinivasan has said that everything was above board at the auction table. I agree, but the rigging was done back stage. If that hadn’t happened, Andrew Flintoff wouldn’t have gone to CSK.

If it was rigged, then aren’t you as guilty as anybody else?

I accept my guilt… I shouldn’t have allowed it.

In your book, was IPL-IV, the first edition after your ouster, a success?

It was, because the IPL is a strong brand and when we started off, I signed long-term contracts. However, I didn’t see any innovation in IPL-IV and I don’t believe anything innovative is going to be done in IPL-V either. The BCCI must remember that Brand IPL can’t be taken for granted. You’ve got to innovate.

The IPL formula has really caught on, with T20 leagues being held just about everywhere…

It does make me happy… It has caught on because of strong fundamentals… Having said that, if there’s no innovation (going forward), then the IPL maybe threatened by some league which isn’t that big at this point in time.

As we speak, where do you stand vis-à-vis coming back to India?

There are security concerns and everybody is privy to those issues… Then, there’s a witch-hunt by certain people in the (Union) government… Investigations are on and I’m fully co-operating with the authorities… Twenty-two months have passed since my removal, but not one agency has charged me with anything associated with the IPL.

How do you keep yourself busy?

I’m part of the family business and I’m in regular touch with the people I need to be in contact with… There are so many cases… I’m facing a lawsuit filed by Chris Cairns, for not allowing him to play in the IPL… That’s going to come up for hearing in the first week of March… I’ve myself filed a lawsuit against Giles Clarke (the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman), which is going to come up in June… There’s much on my plate.

The last one… Is there something about India that you’ve really missed over the past 22 months?

(Emotionally) India is in my blood, it’s in my DNA… One misses so many things… Once the security issues are resolved, I hope to be back.