Last February, during a press briefing at Lord's cricket ground in England attended by Shane Warne, the captain and coach of Rajasthan Royals, the franchise announced a partnership with Hampshire, the English county side. Further tie-ups were mooted between the 2008 Indian Premier League (IPL) champions and the Cape Cobras in South Africa, Victoria in Australia and Trinidad and Tobago. Sean Morris, the Royals's chief executive, announced plans to take the team global.
"We will be playing in the UK in July, hopefully at Lord's, and are developing plans to play in South Africa and Australia over the Christmas period and then in 2011 in the Middle East and Jaipur," he said, while Warne enthused about how it would "give players the opportunity to share their knowledge". Yesterday, all those plans were ready to be ripped up, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) kicking the Royals and Kings XI Punjab out of the competition for gross violations of ownership and shareholding norms.
A third franchise, the new one in Kochi that a consortium paid US$330 million (Dh1.21 billion) for last February, has been given 10 days to sort out internal disputes and register a joint-venture company. If they fail to do so, the fourth season scheduled for May to June next year will be thrown into complete and utter disarray. It is no surprise that the two franchises to face the board's wrath had close connections to the now-disgraced former IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi. One of the major shareholders in the Royals is Suresh Chellaram, his brother-in-law, while Mohit Burman, one of the owners of Kings XI, is married to Modi's stepdaughter.
It should also be noted that neither city was among the favourites to get an IPL team, ahead of more established venues like Ahmedabad and Nagpur. The BCCI set up a committee a couple of months ago to look into allegations that Modi's relatives got the franchises on the cheap, and that those who had bid more were denied. It is true there was a vast disparity between what was paid for Punjab ($76m) and Rajasthan ($67m) and what others had to shell out for the teams in Hyderabad ($107m) and Bangalore ($111.6m).
The decision to throw out the two teams also throws the IPL scheduling off course. When a 74-game itinerary was mooted a month ago, it involved 10 teams playing in two groups. A reduction to the original eight teams will mean fewer matches and spark anger from franchise owners who already feel sidelined. Vijay Mallya, the owner of Bangalore Royal Challengers, wondered on Twitter yesterday whether IPL franchisees were seen as serious stakeholders whose investments and participation were respected.
"This is down right ridiculous and raises serious questions on the attitude of the BCCI towards IPL franchisees," he said. The governing council is unlikely to float tenders to replace the two teams, but the planned November auction for players will be under threat if the lawyers get involved. The stage is also set for a fight between the conservative establishment and the new wave represented by the franchise owners, many of them celebrities who loved to hobnob with Modi.
Having been thwarted in their desire to have a lengthier season - IPL 4 was to have 94 games, which equated to more money for each franchise - the owners, with the notable exception of Chennai Super Kings [owned by N Srinivasan, the BCCI's president-elect], are already miffed. The removal of Modi and the concentration of IPL power in trusted BCCI hands only increases their sense of unease. Many in the BCCI were deeply uncomfortable with the IPL's glamour element, especially the notorious parties of last season, but it was only with Modi's departure that the old suits struck back.
Modi loved to talk up his pet project as the greatest show on Earth. Now that he has gone, everyone else is left to clean up an enormous mess. The stench could linger for a while.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo