IPL Lowlight: Downfall Of The League’s Chief Architect

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - IPL lowlight: Downfall of the league's chief architect. 'I think Lalit's biggest undoing was that he forgot that he was part of a team which had been elected democratically.'

IPL Lowlight: Downfall Of The League’s Chief Architect'I think Lalit's biggest undoing was that he forgot that he was part of a team which had been elected democratically.'

I enjoyed a good working relationship with Lalit, whether it was while organizing the Champions Trophy in 2006, the first T20 International on Indian soil against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium in 2007, or for that matter, the initial stages of the IPL when the staff was yet to be recruited. As chairman of the umpires committee, he extended his full support to the initiatives undertaken by us.

So, where did he go wrong?

I think Lalit's biggest undoing was that he forgot that he was part of a team which had been elected democratically. He would not have encountered the difficulties which he did, had he functioned as part of a ‘system', but that approach did not appeal to him. He often took decisions without consulting his colleagues and forgot that as the vice president, he did not have the same rights as those of the president, secretary, treasurer or joint secretary, all of whom were ultimately answerable to the Board. He took it for granted that as the chairman of IPL, he alone could take decisions regarding the league, which was his creation.

Mr Pawar, who was the Board president when the IPL was launched and staged successfully for the first time, went out of his way to support Lalit. But even he at times found it difficult to comprehend what was going on in his vice president's mind. On most occasions, the president and secretary were not aware of what Lalit was doing. He was officially the ‘chairman' of the IPL Governing Council, but preferred to use the designation ‘Commissioner', which he had coined himself. Having sensed that he may not enjoy the same kind of support from future office-bearers, Lalit started doing everything he could to try and extend his tenure as chairman.

Lalit also got into trouble because he was perceived to be arrogant in dealing with members of the Board and even with eminent members of the public. There were some incidents during the IPL which angered those who were at the receiving end of his temper.

The final of the first IPL season in 2008 was to be played at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. I was shocked to be told by Dr Vijay Patil that his father, who owned the stadium, was denied a seat in the front row of the VIP enclosure and told to sit at the back. I had a word about this with Mr Pawar before the game began and he invited Dr D.Y. Patil and his wife to sit next to him in the front row. During a game at Delhi in 2010, the owner of one of the country's biggest media houses was asked to vacate the seat he was occupying in the first row of the VIP stand, as some VIP guests of Lalit's had to be accommodated. Members of the national selection committee were not amused when they were told to vacate their seats during a game at the Brabourne Stadium in the same season.

Lalit was seen to be very close to Harish Thawani of Nimbus, but relations soured between them in 2009, when Lalit hired James Rego and Dev Shriyan, Nimbus employees both, to handle BCCI's TV Production. Thawani even took up the matter with the Board president and secretary, but neither could do anything.

There was a lot of talk in early 2009 about the possibility of the second season of the IPL clashing with the General Elections in India. We in the Board knew that the only way forward was to consult the central government itself. We were in touch with senior government officials and were waiting for an opportune time to meet them and discuss what could be done. One evening, I received a call from the then home secretary, who told me that the Election Commission was planning to announce the schedule of the elections in the coming week and advised that the BCCI should not announce the IPL schedule before that. I requested him to speak to Mr Srinivasan, the Board secretary, and also spoke to the secretary myself. The other office-bearers were also informed accordingly.

However, Lalit still went ahead and announced the IPL schedule before the dates of the elections were announced. Why he did that, despite being advised to the contrary, no one knew. When he did that, we knew what was coming. Mr Chidambaram, the home minister, was furious. His stand was that the elections were far more important than a cricket tournament and security arrangements, which were controlled by the Election Commission for the duration of the elections, could not be guaranteed for the matches. Mr Pawar tried to intervene, but to no avail. The chief ministers of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh initially offered to help out, but withdrew under pressure from the home ministry. The BCCI was then left with no choice but shift the IPL to either England or South Africa, and after considering all the factors, including the weather and the telecast timings, it was felt that South Africa was a better choice. The franchises were taken into confidence before the official announcement was made.

The South African government and the cricketing establishment in the country went out of its way to help us. IMG, the tournament manager, did a splendid job of shifting the tournament at short notice. Lalit and his team spared no effort to make the second season of the league successful. The IPL also gave a fillip to the economy of South Africa. Ironically, the Board found itself in a soup the following year, when it was slapped with charges of violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) by the Enforcement Directorate.

That he had incurred the wrath of no less an individual than the home minister of the country, made no difference to Lalit. His way of working remained the same. After the conclusion of the 2009 season of the IPL, the TV rights contract with Sony was terminated due to alleged lapses on the part of the network. The office-bearers of the Board were informed about the same through an email. Sony went to court to stay the termination, but Lalit and the legal team convinced the court that the BCCI-IPL had already signed a fresh agreement with World Sport Group (WSG), which was based in Mauritius.

Sony eventually got the rights back, but not directly. They agreed to pay the BCCI around 8,500 crore, which was more than twice the amount they had committed to paying the Board directly when they were awarded the rights in 2008. However, they were to also earn additional advertisement revenue for the ‘strategic timeouts', two per innings.

When this happened, Lalit was congratulated for increasing the Board's revenue. Everybody was happy. The catch in this deal, which came to light later, was the ‘facilitation fee' of around 425 crore that Sony had to pay WSG (Mauritius), over and above what they were paying the BCCI.

These issues notwithstanding, there were some people who were still inclined to give Lalit the benefit of the doubt, considering what he had accomplished in the form of the IPL. But then, they could not do so forever. In early 2010, a month or so before the start of the third season of the league, the Governing Council discussed the addition of two teams to the league in the fourth season in 2011 and called for tenders. Given that the IPL was a tournament of the BCCI's, the Cricket Centre ought to have been involved in this process. However, this wasn't the case. The tender and bid documents were submitted at the office, which Lalit had set up at Hotel Four Seasons at Worli, in central Mumbai. When Shashank, who had succeeded Mr Pawar as the Board president in 2008, called me to check on the status of the bids, I told him that the BCCI office was not involved in the process.

In the days that followed, Shashank received calls from individuals and groups, all of whom claimed that the bidding process was flawed. An eligibility clause, as per which the net worth of a bidder had to be at least 1 billion, appeared to have been arbitrarily added to the document.

Lalit Modi was mailed his suspension order while he was on the dias presenting the IPL 2010 trophy.

Shashank then decided to take matters in his own hands. The documents were to be opened at Hotel Four Seasons at Mumbai, in the presence of the IPL GC and bidders. The two bidders turned up on D-Day with their respective teams. One of the bidders had even got film stars along. They were in for a shock. When the meeting, which had been called to open and announce the bids, got underway, Shashank announced that he was cancelling the bids. He ended the meeting in five minutes flat and left.

When asked about the addition of the clause pertaining to the net worth of 1 billion, Lalit said that he had discussed the same with the office-bearers, but he could not substantiate his claim. IMG's legal team, when confronted, claimed that the addition had been made as per Lalit's instructions. The documents of the two bidders were with Lalit. He then claimed that he had returned them to the bidders after the BCCI president had cancelled the bids.

A re-tendering was announced and Sahara and Rendezvous Sports World ended up winning the bids for the Pune and Kochi franchises, respectively, on 23 March 2010. Lalit was not happy with this development and he started taking on Rendezvous Sports World on social media. One of the individuals he targeted was Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for External Affairs in the central government. Lalit accused Tharoor of misusing his office to acquire shares in the Kochi franchise and the issue snowballed, resulting in the minister's resignation from the Union Cabinet.

A backlash was only to be expected. In mid-April 2010, the ICC's marketing team came to Mumbai to finalize a partner for the ICC CWC 2011. Of all the agencies which had bid for the marketing rights of the tournament, six had been shortlisted and asked to make presentations before the ICC team at the Cricket Centre. The exercise was to last three days, with two of the shortlisted agencies showcasing their credentials on each day, in the conference hall of the Cricket Centre. As the TD, I was in the Chair and my deputies from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were also present, along with the members of the ICC's marketing team.

On the second day, when the presentations were on, I received a message that a team of officers from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had reached the IPL office on the fourth floor to conduct a ‘raid'. I immediately contacted the president and secretary of the Board, both of whom advised me to cooperate with the officers.

I rushed upstairs to meet the officers. I also received a call from the chief commissioner of the DRI, who advised me to tell his men what I knew. He assured me that I would not be ‘harassed'. The officers then settled in the conference room of the IPL office and told me to take the seat opposite them. They then started ‘interrogating' me. It did not seem to have crossed their mind that I was least likely to have any idea of alleged financial irregularities in the IPL. I told them that the IPL season was on and the entire IPL secretariat was operating from Four Seasons in Worli. They conveyed the same to their superiors and within no time, teams from the DRI reached Four Seasons as well as Lalit's office at Nirlon House.

I responded to the questions as best as I could. The point I made was that my involvement with the IPL had not gone beyond issuing tenders and collecting the bid documents. I had attended meetings of the Governing Council in my capacity as the CAO of the Board, but had no role to play in the planning and conduct of the league whatsoever. In fact, there was not a single sheet of paper related to the IPL in what was supposed to be the IPL office! The officers had come prepared to copy the hard disks of the desktops, but even there, they found nothing.

What the officers strangely did not get along was a laptop or recorder. Three senior officers were asking me questions, and a fourth-their junior-was writing down the questions which I was being asked, and my answers, in a notebook, in longhand. I found that odd. As was only to be expected, both his seniors and I were too fast for him, and he would invariably ask us to repeat what we had said. This happened several times during the ‘interrogation'. At one point, one of the senior officers received a call from a colleague of theirs. It turned out that he was downstairs and wanted to join them, but was finding it difficult to enter the building because of the mediapersons, who had rushed to the Cricket Centre after hearing about the ‘raid' and had blocked the entrance for all practical purposes. The junior officer, who was writing down the questions asked by his seniors, as well as my answers, was ordered to go downstairs, wade his way through the sea of humanity and escort the senior officer upstairs. The interrogation was thus halted. It resumed some 10 minutes later, after the junior officer did what he was told.

The interrogation had to be paused again a little later, because the junior officer received a call. That call was followed by another, and then another. You did not have to be a genius to figure out what had happened. He had been caught on camera by the representatives of the news channels outside the Cricket Centre, and footage of his escorting his senior colleague into the Cricket Centre was being flashed on television. I noticed the junior officer blushing while talking to all the callers, who had called him after seeing him on screen! He then started looking for the remote of the TV set in the conference room, as he wanted to see what his friends and relatives had seen. The remote was found and he then frantically surfed the channels, until he saw himself on the screen and beamed. Yes, even the interrogation had its share of lighter moments!

The DRI officers then ordered dinner, for which they picked up the tab. By the time they recorded the details and finished the ‘panchnama', it was close to 2.00 a.m. The BCCI staffers who stayed back with me that evening were Devendra Prabhudesai, Devendra Bhuvad and Nilesh Dhulap.

The next few days were eventful. Shashank spent over a week at the Cricket Centre, scrutinizing every document related to the IPL and questioning the members of Lalit's team. Lalit was absent. He tried to outsmart the office-bearers by informing them on 25 April 2010, just a few hours before the start of the IPL final, that he would preside over an IPL Governing Council meeting at the Cricket Centre, the following morning. By then, the office-bearers, led by the Board president, had decided to suspend Lalit. They chose to skip the final, which was to be played between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at the D.Y. Patil Stadium at Navi Mumbai, that evening. The suspension was to be announced only after the conclusion of the game.

I returned to the Cricket Centre at around 9:00 p.m. that day. With me were Devendra Prabhudesai, our manager (Media Relations and Corporate Affairs), Devendra Bhuvad, who handled IT, and a couple of members of Mr Srinivasan's team. We had with us, the soft copy of the letter of suspension of Lalit and a media release announcing the suspension, both of which had been drafted by the Board president himself. We watched the final on television and then waited for the presentation ceremony to conclude. The moment the IPL trophy was presented to Dhoni, the winning captain, we sent the mail to Lalit, who was still on the dais. The media release was sent out a little later.

On Board: Test. Trial. Triumph. My years in BCCI by Ratnakar Shetty is a tell-all book from Rupa Publications India on the inner workings of the BCCI. The book is available for order on Amazon India and other major portals.

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