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Interview

Published on: Nov. 3, 2020, 1:25 a.m.
"It keeps going up a notch every year"
  • Cricketer Ravi Shastri

By Aayaz Memon

Q You have a panoramic sweep of the IPL, having been part of the original governing council. What’s the single biggest factor in the league’s success?

A I think the quality of the cricket, and also the package that it brings with it. The IPL attracts people from all fields, faiths, caste, creed, gender, and every strata of society: Bollywood, the advertising industry, broadcasters, fans, what have you. But all this is icing on the cake. Paramount is the exceptional quality of competition and skills people get to see. Think of fielding standards, death overs bowling, batsmen trying to improvise to optimise run scoring. And all this keeps going up a notch every year.

Q In 2008, did you anticipate that the IPL would become one of the most valued sports properties in the world in less than a decade?

A Not in my wildest dreams to start with. But after a year or two, after it captured the imagination of the people, this wasn’t really a surprise. The first indication of that came in 2009 when the IPL went to South Africa. I was apprehensive, but it went on to become an even bigger success than the first year. In many ways, this was the acid test for it to get global recognition and following. The IPL came out with flying colours.

Q Accompanying the success has also been the underbelly of the IPL – cronyism, corruption, etc, which invited not just criticism from several quarters, but also led matters to the Supreme Court of India. How come nobody put checks and balances in place at the start?

A It’s easy to say these things once it happens. But, frankly, who knew what was brewing below the surface? Yes, what emerged was disappointing and unedifying. However, this is not the first time in sport these things have happened. It’s happened all over the world. When I look back, I think that those involved in the clean-up did a wonderful job, which is what is more important at this point in time.

Q What exactly were the roles for you, Gavaskar and Pataudi in the original governing council?

A Our roles involved the cricketing aspect, not the financial and administrative: framing rules for the cricket, for the auction, windows for players to play. That apart, we gave our views on the feasibility of the league in general. Also, since all three of us had experience in the broadcasting industry, we gave our views on the television part in the league as well.

Q When the IPL was launched, the then BCCI Treasurer (later President), N. Srinivasan, was allowed to own a team. Was the propriety of this even discussed in the BCCI and the Governing Council?

A Absolutely. In the BCCI, then, there were Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, Shashank Manohar, among others, and this was discussed and the view was that it should not be an issue. In fact, when the matter came up for discussion, I remember N. Srinivasan recused himself, and even went out of the room.

Q Was it the right thing for an office bearer to own a team in the league? Wasn’t there a conflict of interest? So many from the BCCI spoke up about it later…

A All in hindsight. At the point in time, when the IPL was started, the view within the BCCI was that there was no issue with N. Srinivasan owning a team.

Q You once (in)famously likened Lalit Modi to Moses for the IPL masterplan that he created. But Lalit himself got embroiled in several controversies, leading to charges of corruption. He has been a wanted man since 2014. How do you view that now?

A I think it was unfortunate. There’s no question that it was Lalit’s genius that got the league up and running. I’d also give full marks to Pawar for giving him a free hand to set up the league without hassle. Look, whatever happened subsequently, you can’t ignore the fact that it was a great plan masterminded by Lalit. So many all over the world are still trying to replicate the IPL but without success.

Q Do you think enough safeguards have been put in place to avoid corrupt practices after the 2013 episode, which led to two teams, CSK and Rajasthan, being banned for two years?

A I think they’ve done an excellent job in putting checks and balances in place. The Anti-Corruption Unit has been given more powers and is the more robust for it.

Q Is there anything more you would like to see implemented?

A You will always get soft guards, so that’s a perennial danger, not just to the IPL but every professional sport all over the world. The administration has to keep updating checks and balances, always be alert and sensitive to what is happening in the environment. As they say in cricket, not take your eyes off the ball.

Q On the financial front, is the IPL far too dependent on broadcast rights’ money? That can make it vulnerable too…

A It is. Like other major sports properties like the NFL, NBA, Premier League, etc. I don’t think this leads to vulnerability. As long as demand from fans and sponsors doesn’t wane, a platform – whether TV, digital or in combination – will always be there.

Q The IPL has made Indian cricket rich, of course, but has it also made the sport richer in terms of talent? Was it one of the founding reasons for the league?

A No question. If you look at India’s record over the past six to seven years, the answer’s evident. There has been a big flow of talent from the IPL to the Indian team in different formats. How does that happen? In the eight teams that play the tournament, a minimum of 56 Indian players are on show as seven in a playing side is the mandatory requirement. The actual number of Indian players in the eight squads would double this figure. Where would so many players have got this kind of exposure? Look at some of the big names who got recognition in the IPL and fast-tracked their careers – Ashwin, Jadeja, Raina, Hardik, Bumrah, etc. The IPL has produced stars and will continue to produce stars as it allows so many young Indian players a platform to showcase their talent.

Q So, as chief coach of the Indian team, do you track the IPL for talent scouting?

A Absolutely. Look, the IPL is part of India’s domestic cricket. The format may be different from first-class cricket, but, if the names that do well in the IPL also feature in Ranji/Duleep Trophies or vice-versa, it tells you something about a player’s worth or potential. It’s clearly an index to the talent in the country.

Q How did you see this year’s tournament playing out – without fans, in a foreign country…

A Unfortunately, this year, the IPL got delayed and could not be played in India because of the Covid situation. Yet, to pull off such a complex tournament in such a time was a tremendous effort for which the BCCI and the Governing Council needs a lot of credit. I’d also give full marks to the franchise for being understanding. They’ve been through some hard times in the past too, but are now reaping the rewards for their patience.

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