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Crony cricket: The rise and fall of ex-IPL czar Lalit Modi

The story of Lalit Modi is also the story of how cricket couldn’t handle money and fame.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Updated: June 17, 2015 1:37 pm
Lalit Modi, Lalit Modi controversy, Lalit Modi row, ipl chief Lalit Modi, Indian Premier League, IPL matches irregularities,  ipl matches, ipl lalit modi, ipl cricket matches, bcci ipl, ipl cricket lalit modi, Sandeep Dwivedi column, ie column BCCI insiders say that the reason the Lalit Modi chapter ended was because he became too brash and stepped on too many toes.

Though tough to imagine, back in the day, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) lived in a cluttered two BHK apartment. Its South Mumbai address might have impressed those who corresponded with it, but not the postman who climbed those dark, dingy stairs leading to the file-filled rooms with peeling walls. Typical of those wily kinds with old money, they were low-key and conservative. And then Lalit Modi came along. He got the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well as the International Management Group and subsequently, more worrying acronyms — ED, CBI — would follow. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves in this story of how cricket couldn’t handle money and fame.

Those were interesting times, the early days of Modi. The old-timers hated him. He was seen as an upstart. His Twenty20 venture bred mistrust. The maidan cricketers-turned-administrators in safari suits were slowly getting replaced by Armani-clad MBAs. The World Cup veterans of 1987 and 1996 — the ageing administrators who had greased palms, sought countless permissions from governments, worked on shoestring budgets from cubby holes to successfully host cricket’s biggest tournament — were seen as misfits in Modi’s project, IPL season one. They sulked silently. When they spoke, they bad-mouthed Modi. But the whispers would die soon as the IPL brought money, serious money. Franchise teams got sold for $725 million, and the television deal was worth $1 billion.

Not far from its old modest abode, the BCCI was now housed in a sprawling building next to the Wankhede Stadium, called Cricket Centre. When IPL stakeholders would meet Modi at the new headquarters, Bentleys, Mercedes and Rolls Royces sat in the parking area. The team owners had demands, some old, some new. While asking for passes for their celebrity friends and parking tickets for their VIP friends, they would casually inquire if the stadium had a helipad. Many would fly in from SoBo and be air-dropped at the training ground at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai to see the Rajasthan Royals win IPL 1.

Cricket’s good old political takeover, which seemed unshakeably permanent for eternity and beyond, was now threatened by a corporate coup. Power equations, rules, culture and even the BCCI constitution — nothing was untouched by change. Cricket was in a tearing hurry, thanks to the Twenty20 format. The aesthetics of the game were sacrificed on the field. In the BCCI’s corridors, due diligence and institutional ethics were alien words. There was no time to sit and brood. It was time to make quick millions, virtually everyday. Even Modi-baiters were enjoying the new perks. They had plush offices and revised travel allowance/ dearness allowance at the end of business-class travel. That’s when everybody shut their mouths and, sadly for cricket, their eyes too.

The enfant terrible Modi was now the BCCI’s blue-eyed boy. It didn’t check his homework or his pocket money. Maybe he was too well connected to be questioned. That stingy spender, the BCCI, was now a stinking-rich squanderer. It was one big roaring party. Modi invited his friends and family in. There was no one stopping them at the gate, as everyone was part of the party. Old hand N. Srinivasan helped himself to one franchise, of course after the BCCI had collectively erased those all-important three words — conflict of interest. Now, everyone was connected to someone in the incestuous chain. Any indiscretion could be brushed under the carpet by putting in a word or by making a phone call to an uncle, father or father-in-law. And it is also why the Rajasthan Royals team is still part of the IPL, despite the taint on its players and owners. The Chennai Super Kings had an insider-trader in the dugout but still the franchise wasn’t ejected. The rulebook is still ruthless, but the rulers aren’t non-partisan.

BCCI insiders say that the reason the Modi chapter ended was because he became too brash and stepped on too many toes. There are those who say that he was outfoxed by the more ambitious and masterful vote-manager Srinivasan, combined with the fading power of his mentor, Sharad Pawar. Hardly anyone speaks about his financial misdeeds. This, despite the fact that a disciplinary committee, including senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia and cricket administrator Chirayu Amin, would conclude that Modi rigged bids, arm-twisted certain franchises, signed a scam television contract and favoured his stepson-in-law in an internet deal.

Now consider this — Modi did all this while he was being watched by a high-profile governing council, plus the BCCI’s executive. Not to miss the fact that the governing council had the country’s best legal brains, top politicians and legends of the game. None spotted anything amiss while Modi was minting millions. Clearly, the checks and balances were either not there or were not effective. Later, even the Supreme Court, at the end of the IPL corruption case hearing, had appointed a committee to suggest structural changes and propose election reforms for the BCCI.

Despite the controversy, the IPL remains cricket’s most lucrative brand. And there are many, like the BCCI-contracted commentator Ravi Shastri, who still see Modi as Moses. Till recently, while living in London, the flamboyant cricket administrator would regularly receive invitations from universities and business schools to give lectures. A few years ago, during a casual meeting with us journalists on the tour of England, the one-time IPL chief spoke about enjoying his days away from cricket, watching top European football games from VIP boxes as a guest. For any sporting entrepreneur, brand-builder or start-up dreamer, Modi would remain a role model.

As for the IPL, it has many fans in the cricketing world. Fans outside speak about the IPL enviously. For players around the world, India during the early part of their season is El Dorado. Go to any academy and you will find kids with queries about trials organised by franchise teams. The IPL, without doubt, with Twenty20 perched at the top, has a towering presence over the cricketing world. But, time to read that disclaimer in fine print: It has very weak foundations.

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More From Sandeep Dwivedi
  1. T
    Jun 17, 2015 at 8:47 am
    One has to accept Lalit Modi is not an ordinary mortal. He knows his trade well. he is a high stake gambler who know how much to bet upon the targets. Arun Jaitely cannot pluck out even a single hair of Lalit Modi. Lalit Modi like his boss Srini would have wined and dined anybody whom Lalit saw a potential custodian of gold mine.
    1. A
      Arun Sharma
      Jun 17, 2015 at 12:38 pm
      Money should be used to create more facilities and more opportunities in every district by building stadiums and providing gears at lower cost. Sports training is very difficult in India due to high cost of sports gears and lack of good stadiums and coaching at low cost . India is having 124 caror potion, ten times of Bangladesh and sixty times of Australia and there is only one national team and eight IPL teams. Chances of getting selected in any district team is very low for upcoming young players and then there is all kind of unfairness in selection process etc. Request to all top players and administrators to look into the problems which they must have faced during their journey to top and solve with this money rather than make a few very rich as this also encourage all kind of malpractices as the money at stake is very high.
      1. G
        Jun 17, 2015 at 9:26 am
        Complaining about expensive cars and helipads suggests that the author is on a vendetta. It would have been better if the author had stuck to facts related to wrong doing. He could also agree that BCCI has increased the pority of cricket by promoting other formats more suitable for modern times. But a biased article such as this doesn't even help the cause that the writer wants to highlight that of exposing corruption in BCCI.
        1. Harish Kumar
          Jun 17, 2015 at 12:45 pm
          Cricket is a big business now. Money earned should be used for better purposes like promoting other games etc.
          1. I
            Jun 17, 2015 at 8:57 am
            1. Lalit Modi and BCCI took the easy way to establish the IPL - this is called 'cowboy' behaviour. They should have taken the trouble to work hard and establish rules, regulations with transparency, and avoid nepotism. 2. BCCI was always a 'closeted club' with no accountability and Lalit Modi made it worse. Lalit Modi and ilk killed the competing ICL, manited bids to exclude those they did not favour, applied rules in a completely partisan manner, and flouted financial norms - these are all recipe for disaster. 3. Srinivasan and now Anurag Thakur (the selector who 'selected' himself as a player for his state team !) provide the 'new, improved' versions of Lalit Modi with politicians across the parties enjoying the benefits of the club without any accountability or remorse.
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