As seems to be the case every year, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been involved in a controversy even before the first ball is bowled. The decision of the Tamil Nadu government to bar Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials from matches in Chennai has touched a raw nerve across the Palk Straits.
The organisers followed chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s diktat and decided to keep Sri Lankans out of Chennai matches, but it brought the Tamil issue into the lucrative Twenty20 competition.
IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla believes the Indian cricket Board took the right decision in the matter. He said there was no time to take Chennai Super Kings’ home matches out of the city either.
“Our decision was not taken under pressure from Jayalalithaa. We cannot jeopardise the lives of Lankan players. And we can’t change venues at such a short notice.
The most important concern is the safety of Lankan cricketers,” Shukla said.
“We had to take a middle path by protecting Lankan players and also respecting Tamil sentiments. Chief ministers are responsible for the law and order in their states,” said Shukla, who is also a union minister.
However, there have been instances when IPL venues have been changed owing to local factors.
In 2009, the entire tournament was shifted to South Africa within a fortnight. The following year, the semi-finals were moved out of Bangalore just weeks after a blast at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. In the same edition, Hyderabad missed out on matches due to the Telengana agitation taking a violent turn.
But Shukla argued that could not have been done in the latest case, and said even the Sri Lankan Board had agreed to the ground reality.
“We would have needed two months to shift the venue. We need two months to prepare pitches. Hence we cannot shift matches outside Chennai. The situation in Chennai is different. It’s not that people don’t want IPL matches to be held. They only want Lankan players out of Chennai matches. When the Sri Lankan board has accepted the condition, nobody should have a problem. We cannot ignore Tamil sentiment.”
Chennai Super Kings have left out their two Lankan players, Nuwan Kulasekara and Akila Dananjaya, for the entire duration.
But conspiracy theorists believe that having visiting teams devoid of the services of their Lankan players would play into the hands of the team owned by Board president N. Srinivasan and bolster revenue.
But Shukla disagrees.
“If matches are shifted from Chennai to another venue, Ahmedabad, we will get more gate receipts. Chennai Super Kings will in fact make more money.”
Shukla also used the platform to bat for Sachin Tendulkar.
“Nobody has a better record than Tendulkar in the world. You can’t take him lightly and dismiss him unceremoniously,” he said.
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