Sunday, March 22, 2009

'Indian' has been knocked out of the IPL

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the second edition of the Indian Premier League in recent times, right from whether the tournament would be held to the revising of the schedules by the IPL organisers because of the clash of dates with the general elections in the country.

IPL Chairman and Commissioner Lalit Modi had said after releasing the initial schedule that he is apprehensive that the dates of the tournament may clash with those of the elections. And, his worst fears were confirmed when the Election Commission released the schedule of the five-phase general elections in India. From that point onwards, there have been constant meetings between Home Ministry officials and IPL organisers, with the latter sending two-three revised schedules both to the Ministry officials as well as to the police departments of the eight states where its franchisees are based.

There were two options that I thought would eventually take place -- a truncated IPL tournament or its cancellation for 2009. I didn't think for one moment that the BCCI and IPL Working Committees would actually decide to move the second edition of the league outside India (South Africa or England). It is a domestic tournament and at least for me the 'Indian' has been knocked out of the IPL, even when it returns to India in 2010. I understand and appreciate that economic compulsions have ruled the roost here and dictated the shifting of venue, but it is disappointing that only in its second edition, the IPL has ceased to be a domestic tournament, as far as I am concerned. It also doesn't reflect too well on Modi as only recently he had scoffed all media speculation of the IPL being held outside India, and had insisted that the league "is and will always be a domestic tournament".

I am happy for the organisers and franchisees that the second edition of the IPL is being held, but I would have preferred the tournament, even if it were a shortened edition, to be held in India. To set things in perspective, the English Premier League will never be moved out of England nor would the National Basketball Association consider holding a season anywhere except the US. This is a disappointing turn of events, but what is more upsetting is BCCI President Shashank Manohar's statement that the change has been forced because of the government's unhelpful attitude towards the tournament.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth as Home Minister P Chidambaram had made it clear that the Centre's first priority to allot security would be to the general elections, and it was up to the concerned States to decide whether they had enough security to cover both the polls as well as the high-profile IPL tournament. Most of the states agreed with Chidambaram's view and gave the IPL organisers optional dates on when the tournament can be held in that particular State. It would have been a frustrating exercise for the IPL organisers to work and re-work on the schedules, but Modi had said only a couple of days back that "we have schedules ready for all possibilities".

As frustrating as the experience of re-jigging the IPL schedule would have been, the organisers should have appreciated the fact that the Home Ministry hadn't vetoed holding of the tournament, but had only expressed in open terms that it can't stretch and allocate security for two high-profile events at the same time -- a point endorsed by most States who did offer a compromise solution to Modi and his team. Let's not forget that these aren't the best of times in the sub-continent and incidents like the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and the general civic unrest in Pakistan and Bangladesh, have made people edgy and the onus of the security of its people is on the government of the day.

I am not hinting for one second that India is not a safe place to play cricket -- it definitely is, and the best endorsement of that fact came from the England cricket team when they returned a couple of weeks after 26/11 to play the Test series here. India is not Pakistan either, but in a high-alert security situation and with two important events coinciding, it would have been a logistical nightmare for State and security authorities, but most of them were prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that the IPL-2 is held.

Economic compulsions, in the end, have won the battle, but it is yet to be seen as to how the IPL organisers would manage the logistical changes in managing the tournament. The costs would definitely increase and the revenue-sharing model would have to be worked out afresh between the IPL organisers and the franchisees, but that's their headache! I am sure I am one of the millions who are disappointed that the much-vaunted and high-profile Indian Premier League has ceased to be a domestic tournament.

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