When the Indian domestic T20 league was first played in 2008, it was termed as a new beginning in Indian cricket. As India miraculously triumphed in the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa, the nation was swept by an unrivalled frenzy.
That was also the time when the Indian Cricket League, a Zee venture in a T20 format, was contemptuously snuffed out using BCCI’s formidable bulldozing power.
These two events -- one a proud moment in Indian cricket, it was after all the first time since Kapil’s Devils in 1983 that India had triumphed at world stage and the second, the growing popularity of the ICL and the T20 format — resulted in the birth of BCCI’s own league.
In short, the league came into existence in a hasty manner, arguably with a lack of vision. Now embattled in controversies over the last six years, it is quickly becoming an unwanted child.
The extent of damage spot-fixing and owners’ alleged involvement in betting has caused, can shake the foundations of even the most robust of entities.
Can the league weather this storm? The question is torturing the cricket community as it sifts through the muck that is surfacing everyday. Controversies' favorite child
“Nothing has been more devastating for Indian cricket than the T20 league. I have been saying this since the first edition, it should have been nipped in the bud. Now it has gone beyond any help with so many controversies. Once the net of corruption is spread it is very hard to curb it. With so many matches, the whole league is very vulnerable. Fixing is nothing new, it has always been going on and the league is also prey to it,” says former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi, one of the few in Indian cricket who still retains the courage to speak his mind.
The current mess has endangered the future of the event. For, if the Board administrators strictly play by the rule book, two of the teams — Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings — might have to go. It will leave them with six teams, now that Pune Warriors are gone.
Will there be takers?
Will there be takers if new tenders are invited? From the looks of it, the Board will struggle. When Deccan Chargers was scrapped, the BCCI had only two bidders for a new team.
It shows the tepid interest among the big corporate houses to associate with the event. Mainly, due to the fear of the controversy it might attract.
“You can’t exactly say to what extent it (the controversy) has had an impact. But, it will take some time for public confidence to be restored. Things are slowly settling down. A tournament like Champions Trophy will be crucial in helping cricket regain centrestage and it is up to the media as well,” says another former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar.
Flawed from start
President N Srinivasan has stepped aside. But is it enough to get rid of the tainted tag the league is carrying?
It’s no surprise that both the teams engulfed in controversy, are ones where ownership came into question. Chennai Super Kings for conflict of interest because of Srinivasan’s position in the Board and it forced him to project his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan as an owner.
There was a similar issue with Rajasthan Royals. The then T20 league chairman Lalit Modi’s relative Suresh Chellaram holding majority stakes.
Up to the BCCI
Unless, the BCCI sets the rules right, corporate buyers are likely to stay away. There is also the need for a cultural overhaul. Not once during the emergency working committee meeting in Chennai last week did the BCCI members talk about cleaning the corruption.
The two-hour sitting was all about the power game, with Srinivasan not willing to step down and merely 'stepped aside', as the others scrupulously plotted his downfall.
The T20 league has the potential to add tremendous value to the game if managed properly. However, the implementation has been poor and negatives have outweighed the gains.
Rahul Dravid, the Rajasthan Royals skipper, who saw three of his teammates arrested for spot-fixing, rightly acknowledged only getting to the root of the entire saga will return the faith of the Indian cricket fan.
“I don’t know, the truth always sets you free, that’s what I believe,” Dravid had said. “I really hope that in anything, we just need to find out the truth and get to the bottom of it, whatever it is and however painful it may be.”
Dravid had also emphatically stated that shutting down the league was not a solution. "There is no point – if you completely throw away the tournament, it is like throwing away the baby with the bathwater. It’s just a question of correcting some of the challenges it continuously faces, like any tournament," Dravid pointed out.
As pointed out by former skipper and coach, Ajit Wadekar, overhauling the system is essential. “The problem is too deep-rooted to be solved overnight.
The need of the hour is transparency. BCCI doesn't have its house in order. BCCI should be brought under the RTI (Right to Information) Act at the earliest. Only then can we hope to see this game regain its grandeur," says Wadekar.
The league since inception has been swamped in public mudslinging, legal wrangles, ownership disputes, spot-fixing sagas and conflict of interests. But even then it had its rewards. It has provided better lives to some of the lesser-known players.
It has also acted as a bridge to bring nations together and more importantly it gives fans a perfect summer holiday.
It's not necessarily the big money that is the problem, but the governance. It's only time that the system needed an overhaul.
(With inputs from MVL Manikantan)