India start to explore opportunities of wealth
New superpower ready to take on world - and change it
Sunday 19 March 2006
In early December last year, David Collier took a hurried flight to India. The journey may have been the most important of his career. It was the day after the contentious elections to decide who would run Indian cricket, and so who would have the most significant, possibly decisive voice in the direction, operation, funding and state of world cricket.
The chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, accompanied by John Carr, the director of cricket operations, had decided he must meet the new men in charge at the earliest opportunity.
The pair were following the money and the power but that hardly made the decision less wise. They wanted to try to ensure an alliance with perhaps the most dominant sporting authority in the world, the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Shortly afterwards, the potential influence this august but, until then, frequently shambolic body could yield was crystallised by statements indicating what they were and were not prepared to do and who they wanted - and did not want - to play.
Invariably, they emphasised the virtual omnipotence of Indian cricket. The sport makes the front pages every day and is played, watched and mulled over endlessly. The rest, it seemed, could go hang.
A few weeks later, the other reason for the bullishness became apparent. In pretty short order, the new BCCI announced a four-year television deal which netted £325million, a team sponsorship worth £55m and a kit deal of £28.8m, with several more to come. This has given them unrivalled funds and a tendency to start calling the shots.
Collier and Carr have had cause to breathe sighs of relief that they travelled so far, so quickly. India and England are now old chums and Australia have also climbed into the same bed.
The man who has done most of the speaking and threatening in the past 15 weeks is a fast-talking, highly confident but wholly approachable 42-year-old multi-millionaire who was educated at two American universities, called Lalit Kumar Modi. He is one of three vice-presidents in the new regime and head of the commercial operation.
Modi's antics have not endeared him to all, and in the corridors of the International Cricket Council they view with a certain scepticism, allied to a tinge of fear, his threats, claims and apparent mega-deals.
Whatever stance they eventually evoke, there is no doubt that India are now in an unprecedented position. Modi was in characteristically unstoppable form last week in his comfortable, document-strewn office on the third floor of a fairly shabby and unimposing concrete block in a Bombay suburb. In the forest of invective, polemic and demands it still managed to emerge - just - that while Modi fully grasps India's power and is prepared to wield it, he also understands the old but true sporting platitude that to win you need somebody to play.
"I believe the BCCI can be the greatest institution in the world," he said, batting not an eyelid. "I won't be stopping. You have to understand that I wear a commercial hat so I'm coming across as very aggressive, but that's my job. We have a lot of development plans for stadiums, infrastructures, coaching programmes, indoor arenas, but the first stage is money. Without money we have nowhere to go, but in the second stage what you'll hear a lot more about is development. In a month or so I'll be out of the picture."
This was somewhat disingenuous because Modi has made regular threats about what India might do to world cricket, which in short amounts to shafting it if he cannot have his way. He demurred. "We can only be called a bully if we're asking for unfair terms," he said.
"For the first time we're flexing our muscles. We've got to build new markets, in the Gulf, in South Asia, in America, in China. We need to play global events for the prestige but not every year. We should play the World Cup but I personally am against every other tournament."
Modi and India are fundamentally opposed to a Twenty20 World Cup and do not have much time for the biennial Champions' Trophy. It clogs the real fixture list. They are prepared to buy themselves out of their obligations. This is revolutionary, but Collier mentioned that England might also consider it.
That leaves the question of funds for the weaker brethren. "We're very keen to help other countries," said Modi. "We're saying to them that when they play us at home they can make more money and I'm prepared to help them sell the rights. For instance, Bangladesh would tour here for a month and might get paid $200,000 (£139,000), we're going there three times in the next four years and a one-day international is worth $10m. I'm doing the same with Zimbabwe by going there twice instead of once."
But this seeming beneficence is also effectively tearing up the ICC's vaunted Future Tours Programme, which should soon involve all 10 Test countries playing each other home and away at least every six years. India, frankly, have no wish to play some countries at home and are prepared in effect to bribe them. It may well work and the ICC know it.
India is developing rapidly. The team are on course for greatness, they are plucking plentiful players from rural areas for the first time in decades (small village boy and new pace sensation Munaf Patel was discovered through a fast-bowler search). They have unspecific plans to reinvigorate Test cricket, which attracts pathetic crowds. The new board, determined to bury the past, are pursuing through the courts the former power-broker Jagmohan Dalmiya, alleging fraud, if only to make sure he never returns.
In turn, Modi himself is the object of regular attacks - "Dalmiya-inspired," he insists. Last year the old regime accused him of being convicted of cocaine possession, dealing and kidnapping in the USA. Not disarmed by being questioned about this, Modi admitted that 21 years ago he was arrested along with 53 others in a police swoop on his college halls, but he was never subsequently charged. "That was a long time ago and that's all they could get. They must be desperate."
Subsequently, Modi and his team, headed by Sharad Pawar, the cabinet minister who is also now the BCCI's president, won the election. "I don't need money from the game, the Modi family's personal wealth is close to $4m, but we must be transparent." No matter how transparent (and the old board did not answer the phone if they did not feel like it), you would prefer to be his friend. David Collier realised that.
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