The world's largest and most successful cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, was in turmoil last night after officials expelled two of its most successful teams amid allegations of corruption.
At an emergency meeting in Mumbai, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that the licences of the Rajasthan Royals, captained by Shane Warne, and the Kings XI Punjab had been terminated immediately. Both teams had been mentioned in connection with a flurry of bribery allegations focusing on the IPL's suspended commissioner, Lalit Modi.
"It was unanimously decided that franchise agreements with Punjab and Rajasthan be terminated forthwith based on legal opinions obtained by the BCCI in the matters," said a BCCI statement. It said it had also issued notice to a third team, Kochi, demanding that it resolve its "disputes and form a joint venture company which will hold the IPL franchise rights".
The move by the sport's governing body in India threw fans and officials into dismay. "Just woke up to news that Royals and Kings out of IPL 4, don't know anything yet, flying back to Australia... it's a big shock for Royals, will hopefully get to the bottom of it," Warne said in a series of messages on Twitter. "The Royals gave young unknown Indian players a chance and I as captain backed them and our coaching staff supported them. We were a team... What now for the youngsters? I hope the BCCI come to their senses."
The actress and television personality Shilpa Shetty, who has a stake in the Royals, added: "This is for all those who want my reaction. Honestly too shocked to react, just disheartened... cause it's more than just a team for us!"
The BCCI's decision came after it decided in July to suspend Modi and set up a committee to investigate bribery allegations concerning the awarding of bids for franchises in 2008. Yet the BCCI president, Shashank Manohar, told reporters that the elimination of the two teams was not linked to Modi. "The decision to terminate the contract of Punjab and Rajasthan franchises was taken purely based on legal opinion we received and the breaches committed by these franchises," he said, adding that those offences included unsanctioned changes in shareholding patterns. As a result of such changes, there was a difference between the names of the bidders and those who eventually entered the agreements.
It is understood that those irregularities came to light when the investigations into the allegation surrounding Modi were carried out. Modi has always denied any wrongdoing and has said his running of the highly lucrative tournament was always transparent. He wrote on Twitter: "Instead of concentrating on building IPL... they have chosen a path of vengeance and that will only hurt the game."
The actions of the BCCI has left the fourth series of the IPL in serious doubt. The tournament had been expected to see two new teams, from Kochi and Pune, joining. As it is, it is unclear whether replacements will be sought for the Royals and Kings or what will happen to those players already contracted to play for them.
The Royals have already said it is considering a legal challenge to the BCCI's decision. Raj Kundra, one of the co-owners of the Rajasthan club, said: "I don't see IPL 4 happening if the BCCI treats other teams like this. The termination of the contract by BCCI is shocking. We are seriously thinking of a legal action. We need to see a copy of the termination notice and study it."
Captained by Warne, the Royals won the IPL's inaugural series in 2008. Meanwhile, the Kings, who had been bought for $76m (£47m) in 2008, included Sri Lankans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Australian pace bowler Brett Lee as well as home-grown batsman, India's Yuvraj Singh.
The expelled teams
The Jaipur-based side won the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008, beating Chennai Super Kings by three wickets in the Mumbai final. The side were captained by former Australian bowler Shane Warne, who was joined by Shane Watson, England's Dimitri Mascarenhas, South African Graeme Smith and Pakistan's Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan. Shaun Tait and Damien Martyn joined in the following seasons.
Kings XI Punjab
They began their first campaign slowly before recovering to reach the semi-finals. Among their roster were Sri Lankans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Australians Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh and Simon Katich and West Indian Ramnaresh Sarwan, along with home favourite Sreesanth. England's Ravi Bopara joined for 2009 before Sangakkara replaced Yuvraj Singh as captain for this year's competition – when they finished bottom.