Meet the smooth operator really running cricket

IPL chief Rajeev Shukla has a plan to save Tests – just don't tell the players
  • @stephenbrenkley

There is an unmistakeable swagger about Indian cricket. It was barely put out of its stride when its Test and one-day teams were being hammered by England a few weeks ago. In the grand scheme of things, and it is a very grand scheme indeed, the feeling seems to be that it mattered as much as a jot.

"As far as the fans were concerned they were not very happy, but in games, defeat and victory go together, you lose and you win, that happens," said Rajeev Shukla.

In any case, redress is now being sought and so far gained in the return one-day series between the sides which India have so far dominated with, well, a swagger.

Shukla has been elevated to one of the most important roles in this country, as the new chairman of the Indian Premier League. If it frequently seems to be more showbiz than sport, it embodies the sheer heft of Indian cricket.

The IPL is viewed by many as the barbarian at the gate with the underlying fear that its success will eventually cause the demise of Test cricket. India has remained at pains to point out this is far from its intention. Shukla, whose primary mission is to increase the spread of the IPL, said: "The effect IPL is having on Test cricket is also our concern. That is why we are doing our level best to promote Test cricket now.

"We are playing more Test matches, there will be a focus on the Tests. We need to promote all three forms of the game and we are not thinking only from the position of money."

Shukla warmed to his theme. As well as slicker marketing, he forwarded another idea to save the Test game. "We are thinking that we should organise more Test matches in B towns because in the populated metropolises people are always in a hurry, they're busier, they want Twenty20, they want the one-dayer. But in B-grade cities in India where they hardly get any international cricket but still have large populations, if a Test match is organised people will want to watch it."

The IPL ran into scandal last year when its founding commissioner, Lalit Modi, was run out of office for alleged malpractice. Shukla, whose affability may be just the ticket required, has been elected both to sustain the razzmatazz while ensuring probity.

The collapse of one of the 10 franchises, Kochi, has naturally led to suggestions that the competition is not the licence to print money that has been conveyed. Ten teams have been reduced to nine with the number of permitted overseas players increased from 10 to 11.

The tournament has spread cricket, even in India. More people from rural and working-class backgrounds are playing it. And Shukla was quick to stress that money from the tournament is being poured back into the game, much of it to the backwaters, 17 crore rupees, around £2.2m a year.

There seems a resignation about the ubiquity of the IPL now. There seems complete unconcern that neither of the one-day internationals so far between England and India has attracted a capacity crowd.

In the background is football, English Premier League football especially. Among the young it has a clear grip in India. The IPL is part of the fightback.

The perception exists that what the BCCI says goes at the ICC. This has been lent further credence by the recent hoo-ha over the Decision Review System which was ICC policy and now isn't after Indian objections.

"The BCCI is not misusing its position at the ICC," said Shukla. "We are not against the system of DRS, what we were saying was make it more perfect, more correct." No hegemony then but plenty of swagger.