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India confident of deflecting rebel threat

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Mihir Bose | 14:09 UK time, Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Soon after the Indian rebel cricket league announced on Monday that they had signed up some major Pakistani players - led by their former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq - I spoke to a member of the Indian cricket board.

He was remarkably confident that, while the league might attract players who are coming to the end of their careers, or have already retired - Brian Lara has joined, Glenn McGrath might - they are not likely to attract players who still have a long international career ahead of them.

His optimism was based on the fact that - unlike in 1977 when Australian TV magnate Kerry Packer shocked the cricket world by spiriting away the cream of world talent - players now are very well paid.

And they are paid best in India, reflecting the riches generated by the country’s cricket - 70% of the sport’s global income.

Current Indian Test cricketers are on salaries of around $2m, with endorsements on top of that.

And when you get to the level of Sachin Tendulkar then you are talking about one of the world's best-paid sportsmen, with annual earnings estimated at around $25m.

Tendulkar may be coming to the end of his great career but even so it is hard to see him or many of his current international colleagues being tempted by the league – aside from their already huge salaries, they would not want to be classed as rebels in India.

The organiser of the league has not disclosed how much it is paying, saying only that it is "more than enough to make the players happy".

It will certainly make fringe players happy - players such as Dinesh Mongia, who despite several attempts, has never established himself in the Indian team.

Mongia was one of the 44 cricketers paraded by the league on Monday and, of course, it is immensely attractive to players who feel their international careers are over.

Packer's revolutionary World Series shook cricket up in a way it had not been for more than a century and, in many ways, ushered in the international form of the game we now have. But in many ways this league reminds me more of Jack Kramer’s tennis circuit - the one that used to prevail before tennis went professional.

In those days, when tennis was amateur, the moment a player won a Grand Slam tournament such as Wimbledon - for which he got nothing but a token to be used at Lillywhites - he joined Kramer's circuit playing for money at centres which were more like the tennis equivalent of the old dance halls.

This is what the great Rod Laver, arguably one of the greatest players in history, did after he completed the Grand Slam in 1962, only to return when tennis went professional and complete the Grand Slam again in 1969.

What Kramer's circuit did was force the authorities to finally make tennis professional.

Even so, the Indian cricket authorities are confident they will not have to make any fundamental changes to the way they operate.

But even as the Indian and other cricket authorities in the subcontinent claim to be indifferent to the league, it is interesting to see how they have reacted.

Then Indian board has wavered between talking of banning the players, and merely excluding them from selection (which could amount to the same thing), but its latest actions against Kapil Dev, who was heavily involved in the rebel league, suggest it is taking a tougher line.

On top of that, the Indian board has announced a 20% wage hike for its players. And while it says that is not related to the rebel league, the board clearly recognises the need to make sure the money is right so no player is tempted.

On a wider front, it is hard to say what the rebel league will achieve. But what it emphasises is the power of television. Packer became a rebel when he failed to get the rights to the Ashes when it was the most important series in cricket.

Now India is the economic hub of the game and this rebel league has been prompted by Indian cable broadcaster Zee's failure to secure domestic TV rights.

And whatever impact this rebel league has, the battle for the Indian rights when they come up for renewal promises to be just as fascinating.

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