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The empire strikes back

The BCCI’s blacklisting of the ICL is only because it fears a challenge to its dominance, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Jun 30, 2007 03:06 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) recently issued a circular to all its affiliated associations, warning against any involvement with the ICL.

There are several other non-first class competitions in the country that use the BCCI's infrastructure and feature Ranji Trophy players. But the BCCI's strict stand on the Indian Cricket League (ICL) issue is not very difficult to understand.

The BCCI circular stated that none of the players or officials with its state associations should get involved with the ICL and that their grounds should not host matches conducted by the 'rebels'. Violation would mean ouster from the state association and, in the case of former players, the pension they get from the board would stop.

The official explanation for not recognising the ICL is that there has been no formal proposal from the organisers. Unofficially, the board is apprehensive that its supremacy in the administration of the game is going to be challenged.

Tournaments like the Sheesh Mahal Trophy (Lucknow), Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup (Hyderabad) and the JP Atrary tournament (Chandigarh) all use BCCI facilties to host their matches and almost all participants in these events are first-class cricketers, with the board's umpires and scorers doing duty.

"The ICL is an unapproved tournament, different from the other ones," said BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty. "We have not been informed of its format, purpose or rules and regulations. We don't know what exactly is going to happen. This is not the case with other tournaments which are all approved by the state associations following the board's guidelines."

That perhaps explains why the BCCI wouldn't recognise the ICL, but it doesn't explain why involvement with it would lead to dire consequences even for retired former players, who are not employed by the board.

"We felt our authority was going to be challenged," admitted a senior member of the BCCI working committee that decided to "blacklist" the ICL at a meeting in New Delhi on June 12. "Somewhere in their way of operations, there are hints of an attempt to have a parallel body. This is objectionable and threatening," he explained, refusing to be identified.

"If they have the money and will to serve Indian cricket, they can join the board or at least work in conjunction with the board. What they are doing instead is trying to create their own identity, taking decisions on their own. Anybody with a fat purse can do it tomorrow, involve a few former stars, give 25 lakhs to some and 10 lakhs to others, according to stature. We must not set a bad example by encouraging such activities," he added.

Zee's involvement in the ICL becomes more interesting, if viewed in the context of its participation in the momentous TV telecast rights race through Zee Sports. Despite coming close to clinching the deal, Zee was pipped at the post twice — complaining of foul play on the first occasion and losing to a higher bidder on the second. The off shore rights deal was hardly compensation enough and it eventually fell through.

The BCCI feels Zee is trying to fulfil its ambition of selling on TV a brand of cricket that attracts viewers and sponsors, which was not quite the case when they beamed matches played in Kuala Lumpur last year. The board doesn't want a rival when it comes to holding the right to sell a product that fetches a fortune.

Those who run the board see other intentions behind the ICL than just "trying to improve the standard of domestic cricket," and maybe other ambitions as well. They are careful and determined to deny the ICL any breakthrough by being strict on those under their control. After all, it's the Board of Control for Cricket in India.