Seemingly unaffected by the barely suppressed excitement at the official hotel in Hyderabad, the man behind much of the Indian Cricket League's strategy, business head Himanshu Mody, settles into the sofa for a chat with a somewhat tired smile. Ask him how he's feeling after the “positive” meeting with ICC president David Morgan and his legal team in London and the fatigue seems immediately less. While Mody could not speak about that meeting, it is understood that the ICL brass wanted to deliver the message that they were serious about cricket, about developing it, were here to stay and that they were no masala event. And if the ICC statement post that meeting was any indication of the mood, the meeting was positive.
“The mood is definitely upbeat,” says Mody. “It's our third event, a second season is beginning. The nervousness of the beginning, the outside perception that we were attempting something that we would not be able to pull off given the odds… that's all a part of the past.”
Mody says he's particularly happy that advertisers are now beginning to look at the ICL differently. “We were offered about a hundred for the first event. It was something we didn't want to take, didn't want to sell ourselves short. For the second, that same offer was upped to 300, especially after our TRP ratings were thrice that of the first event, but we felt it was still too low. Now though, with some smart marketing and publicity built around it, there's been a perception change and they are talking of amounts 10 times of the original offering.”
So you have to ask the question — if that is so, why does the ICL not have a title sponsor yet? There's a pause and Mody nods. “Yes, we don't, but we do have sponsors offering almost as much as title sponsorship will bring in.” So why do they not want to be title sponsors then? There's a half-smile then. “Well, of course there's the fact that we don't want to undersell ourselves, but then there's the implicit threat from the BCCI."
Promise of Regulation 32
Speak to anyone in the ICL and they would tell you, diplomatically and not so diplomatically, that cricket sponsors are worried that if they show interest in the ICL, the BCCI could cut them out. But Mody believes that slowly but surely, sponsors are coming around. That is where the ICL believes that the ICC board's planned meeting next week, to discuss the ICL issue, could make a difference. “We have a roadmap,” says Mody. “We'll still go ahead with all our plans if the ICC does not agree to give us sanction. If they do, it would be a great start.”
What the ICL is looking for from that meeting is to be recognised as “authorised unofficial cricket” under Regulation 32 of the ICC cricketing manual. Basically this means that while the event/league will be officially recognised, the players’ scores will not be made part of official record.
“From our point of view, we'd like our players not to suffer," said Mody. “This is not just about us and BCCI. In addition to 90-odd Indians, we have about 64 international players, some of who still believe they have a chance to represent their countries.”
Won't bow to dictatorship
But what happens if they do get official sanction from the ICC but the BCCI, despite being a unit of the ICC, refuses to play ball? Mody mulls that one. “I don't know but I assume that under law an ICL player would no longer be banned. Of course, if these players are deliberately not selected despite being good enough, then that's something that needs sorting at the individual level.”
So here's another poser. If everything goes well (given the lessons from the Packer experience), and if the BCCI makes a 180-degree turn in attitude, would the ICL ever consider returning to the fold? “I'm not quite sure what that means,” says Mody, "but I'd like to reiterate that we never wanted a fight per se with the BCCI. We don't mind working together but will not be part of something that is run like a dictatorship.”
He says they aren't panicking over what will happen if things don't work out next week either. “We have no problem. We have plans to increase our cricketing days, a strategy that involves more teams from more countries, there have been players, state units and player associations that have shown interest — after all, the IPL only serves a limited number of foreign players.”
So is a parallel world cricket body on the cards? There's another serious pause and a final, interesting answer. "People are willing to join. If forced to, but only if forced to, we'll spread our wings."