Monday, April 26, 2010

Cricket circus - IPL Controversy - Not too long ago

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

Not too long ago, the BCCI was still mired in medieval times. Political party representatives bickering over trivial issues, selectors earning loose change for selection favours, local boards sitting over match ticket scams, and smalltime siphoning-off of equipment money was the norm.

At a time when the world was yet to wake up to Lehman Brothers and Satyam, it was embarrassing for Indian cricket to be so Old World. It was in such a scenario that the greatest game changer came along. He came with a BlackBerry. And a laptop with a PowerPoint presentation.

He came with an unnatural glint in the eye and a pathological problem of involuntarily drooling at the scent of money. But, most importantly, he came with the key to a chamber with unbelievable riches. It was this vision of the proverbial pot of gold that made me notice him for the first time. It was back in 2005 when I heard some people talk about his first press conference during which he described Indian cricket as a ‘goldmine worth billions of dollars’.

He thought the game was big enough for cricketers to be paid at par with top basketball and football players. From the kind of words being attributed to him, it seemed he didn’t even consider Indian Rupees a legitimate currency. To be honest, people laughed at him.

To most, even within the BCCI, he appeared to be nothing more than a rich man’s spoilt brat, all gas and no poop. And boy, were they wrong. It took a special kind of man to spot this special talent. The man, who’s dutifully conducting the BCCI with the sweetest tooth in India because every morsel on his plate is tainted with sweet, was also the man who saw in Lalit Modi the ability to create money out of thin air.

And the IPL was born with Lalit Modi reincarnate as its father, mother, aunt, uncle, wet nurse, aayah as well as a toy. The world may think that running a successful IPL has been Modi’s greatest achievement. I disagree. For me, his greatest achievement has been the unification of a fractious cricket board.

A system once plagued by political arguments, ideological differences, vote bank politics, squabbles over seats was suddenly transformed into one well-oiled machine (pun, as always, intended). Where yesterday there were the BJP, Congress, NCP and the likes, suddenly there were just well wishers of Indian cricket. Where yesterday there was a barren land, today there is a stadium.

Which meant building contracts, contractors, materials, payments etc. And which certainly did not mean kickbacks and favours. Money which was busy sunning itself in non-descript virgin beaches and islands returned to the economy. The BCCI’s coffers filled up and they started diligently spending it for the betterment of the sport. Which, again, meant contracts, contractors, materials, payments etc.

So well spread was the feast that everyone was busy stuffing their mouths with little time or inclination to argue. It’s sad that the man single-handedly responsible for ushering in the most peaceful era in Indian cricket is now being vilified. Modi’s skills at bringing people together didn’t end there. He handpicked a group of like-minded people, a freemason-like society, who bought the first set of franchises.

To be part of the group, the minimum qualification was a certain amount of wealth followed by a certain kind of lifestyle, the kind of people they hang out with, the kind of places they holiday at, the way they party, the places they hold bank accounts at etc. Some exceptions were made here and there, but by and large, it was an ‘invite only’ club.

All members had money-related problems, the kind of problems where you have too much money and don’t know what to do with it. And our man had a solution for every such problem. The incestuous nature of this club was quite noticeable but, like many others, I found nothing suspicious in it then. Aren’t all rich and famous folks supposed to hang out together?

Modi also ensured that the money came from a select closed-group, circulated in the system, inflated in value and was redistributed amongst the same closedgroup. Even the Creator would have been proud to have created such a self-fulfilling eco system.

But then, the Creator has one thing that Lalit Modi doesn’t, a sense of humour. While creating a man with such obvious talents, God added one little flaw. The tendency of being in love with himself. It’s a flaw that has brought down greater men. And to those who were following Lalit Modi, his fall was a matter of when, rather than if.

The rumblings really began in 2009 when Lalit Modi travelled around South Africa waving his BlackBerry-toting hand, signing autographs, grinning on TV and generally walking around with the air of a head of state. Members of the BCCI, senior to him in age and position, secretly grudged his larger than life persona. But what they found hardest to digest was how Modi treated them like irritating flies, tongue-lashing them at times, but mostly brushing them aside with disdain.

The fact that the ‘honorary’ official was quite literally living up to his title of the ‘Commissioner’ was common knowledge. That his commission was far greater than many others’ wasn’t quite as common. This was at the root of the IMG payment row at the end of the IPL 2009. Unfortunately for Modi, he won that battle which lulled him into a false sense of complacency and gave his adversaries an idea of the kind of man they were up against.

The next time they crossed swords, they would come prepared to fight not just Modi but also his powerful friends. For me, the countdown to Modi’s ouster began the day Sharad Pawar refused to attend the opening ceremony of IPL 3. Unhappiness over invitations was the official reason given. But, official reasons are very rarely the real reasons. Unhappiness over green-coloured paper of the crispy kinds seems more believable of the BCCI.

Modi should have known better than to pee on the lap he was sitting on. But, he didn’t and the writing was on the wall from that day onwards. I expected the seasoned politician to bide his time and strike when the iron was cold. And he would probably have done that had Modi not tripped over his tweet and brought about his own downfall.

The government is now acting tough, more out of indignance than anything else. The witch hunt is on with a mercenary zeal not usually associated with them. For them, this is a golden opportunity to lay their hands on the filthy secrets of all politicians involved with the BCCI.

The non-politicos with their fingers in the pie are admitting to feeling ambushed. For them, it’s almost like the party’s ended just because someone puked on the carpet. But, they should fear not. In moments such as this, the resilience of the human spirit usually comes to the fore.

The web of deceit is so wide that it cuts across all political and professional lines involved with the IPL. It won’t take long for them to realise that if the sheets are taken off they will all step out naked. It’s a situation nobody wants. Experienced politicians and businessmen will put their heads together and arrive at the new Nash Equilibrium, after taking into account Lalit Modi’s threat to take everyone down with him.

The government agencies would get to the bottom of the scam and hand their report to the government. The ruling party will keep the truth close to its chest with the intention of using them as threats in future political negotiations with the NCP, BJP and others.

Some token gestures will follow. There will be a few fall guys, Lalit Modi likely to be one of them. Eventually, it will be back to business as usual. Greed often stays alive even when everything else is over and it’s set to live a long and healthy life in Indian cricket.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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