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IPL move takes shine off India

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Mihir Bose | 15:07 UK time, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

There is a lovely Indian word tamasha which means fun, excitement, high drama often leading to an unexpected conclusion, all rolled into one.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has provided us wonderful tamasha. It has generated the sort of publicity Indian cricket rarely gets. But it has also damaged Indian cricket.

It may be at the centre of world cricket but this week's events have left a huge tear in the Indian cricketing fabric, which no amount of IPL money will easily repair.

IPL boss Lalit Modi and the franchise owners will dispute this and argue that the move from India is not a defeat, let alone shameful for the country, as the Indian opposition claim.

I grant you Modi moved at a frenetic pace in the last few days, exploding the hoary old myth of India being a slow country where change usually comes at a glacial pace.

Observe the quick-changing events:
On Friday, while the public at large is still expecting the IPL to be in India with some schedule changes because of the elections, Modi is in touch with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) asking whether matches could be staged in England.

On Saturday, as the two state governments of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh reverse their decision to provide security, franchise owners are told the tournament has to move out of India.

On the same day the ECB has a board meeting via telephone - chairman Giles Clarke in Australia, chief executive David Collier in Guyana - to explore staging it in England.

On Sunday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) endorses the decision to move IPL out of India and franchise owners are briefed that it is 99% certain it will go to England.

Lalit Modi

The word is a plane is standing by to fly Modi and BCCI secretary and Chennai Super Kings owner N S Srinivasan to England. Collier decides to fly back to London and the expectation is that he will meet Modi and Srinivasan, with whom he gets on well, on Tuesday.

Some English counties are very keen and Surrey Cricket Club is preparing to be the home centre for the holders Rajasthan Royals - conveniently their co-owner Manoj Badale is a British Asian with offices in London - with the opening match featuring the Royals pencilled in for the Oval.

Yet by Monday lunchtime the story has changed dramatically. Not only is no Indian cricket plane coming to England but now the word is the whole thing may have been a bit of Modi brinkmanship to force the Indian government to provide security and keep the tournament in India after all.

In the midst of all this Modi suddenly flies off to South Africa.

Joining him from London is Andrew Wildblood, of IMG, whose company is the event agency IPL uses.

On Tuesday afternoon, just about the time Modi would have met English cricket officials had he come to London, he turns up at the Wanderers Cricket Ground in Johannesburg to announce a deal with South Africa.

Modi will feel he had to play this high-speed poker game to rescue Indian cricket's most valuable property. He is aware of the economic consequences of cancellation - the IPL has a $1.5bn, 10-year television deal.

Modi has cited weather as the reason for not coming to England, there could be others: paucity of floodlit grounds and match scheduling including having the IPL clash with England's Test series against West Indies.

Nevertheless, Modi cannot avoid the charge that he flirted outrageously with England, almost taking them to the altar before jilting them, perhaps using them as bait to entice the South Africans.

In Victorian times a lover so betrayed could have taken the matter to court. This cannot help but have an adverse impact on India-England cricket relations which had been improving following England's decision to return to India after the Mumbai attacks.

The more lasting damage has been inflicted on Indian sport, particularly its desire to be a world player.

Long before the IPL was created I was talking about India having become the economic powerhouse of cricket. Last year's launch of the IPL proved how India can move quickly to fashion a unique cricket product.

But this week's event shows the Indians have a lot to learn as to how to sustain a sporting event that can command worldwide respect. A truly international sports event has to follow certain widely-accepted parameters including location, timing, venues and regularity.

Modi has preserved regularity but not much else.

The athletes' village under construction in Delhi in February 2009

Whatever the IPL organisers may say, the way this event has been handled will have a knock-on effect on the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2011 Cricket World Cup, both to be staged in India.

If India really wants to be a major player in the sporting world it would do well to study how the Chinese went about staging the 2008 Olympics, a western sport format hosted with such skill that the Olympic movement left Beijing saying China had raised the bar - so much so that the International Olympic Committee told London, which stages the 2012 Olympics, that it should take note.

The IPL, from its very inception, has been an Indian cricket product that reaches parts of the world few other Indian products have ever done. And within hours of Modi announcing South Africa was to host the event, franchise owners were on the phone to the republic seeking new commercial partners. Yet more proof of Indian cricket's capacity to seek out money.

But there is more to a successful sporting event than just the money it generates. Indian sports organisers need to realise that.


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