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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

IPL without Modi's operandi this time

Much as other officials loathed the ousted Indian Premier League commissioner, they could not do without the dynamism or the strength of will that created a financial behemoth from a pipe dream.
This season’s IPL will be without Lalit Modi, who, despite allegations of corruption, had the drive, dynamism and personality to give the league the brand value it has.
This season’s IPL will be without Lalit Modi, who, despite allegations of corruption, had the drive, dynamism and personality to give the league the brand value it has.

What does a World Cup win do for a sport? When England's footballers beat West Germany at Wembley Stadium in 1966, the benefits could be seen in the stands the following season.

In 1965/66, the average First Division crowd had been 26,899. After Bobby Moore and his team lifted the trophy, the figure went up to 30,770. The following season, with the feel-good factor still strong, it was as high as 33,020.

India did not care very much about Twenty20 cricket, initially, playing just one international in South Africa in December 2006 before sending a mix-and-match team to the inaugural World Cup in 2007. Once MS Dhoni's team won it, it was a different story, with spiralling interest in the format undoubtedly creating a favourable atmosphere for the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008.

That first IPL season saw 3.4 million people come through the turnstiles to watch the eight teams.

This year, with new teams in Kochi, where the stadium can seat 60,000, and Pune, where most matches will be played at the 55,000-capacity DY Patil ground in Mumbai, the figure should be even higher.

The challenges that the IPL faces are two-fold.

First, the empire has struck back, and emphatically so. A year ago, reams were being written about the death of 50-over cricket. Interest in most parts of the world had tailed off, and India had not won the World Cup in the format for more than a generation.

In the space of six weeks, though, the doom and gloom has been hit for six. India, the game's biggest captive market, dances to the national team's tune, and their victory in Mumbai less than a week ago has given the 50-over obituary writers a lengthy sabbatical.

It has also queered the pitch for the IPL. Most of the national team's stars, the cornerstones of most IPL marketing campaigns, are exhausted, physically and emotionally spent after scaling one-day cricket's greatest peak.

Another six-week odyssey awaits, only this time there is no global glory at stake. It's a bit like eating at a fast-food joint after the Michelin-rated restaurant.

Fatigue could certainly be a big factor for many franchises. The World Cup format was such that even the teams knocked out early played for a month or more.

However, Stephen Fleming, the coach of the Chennai Super Kings, prefers to see the cup as half full.

"With most of our players being in action during the World Cup, a lack of [Twenty20] match practice will not be an issue," he said.

"Playing the best teams in the world and on our home grounds is the best build-up any player could hope for."

The second issue that the IPL has to confront is one of credibility. The climax to the 2010 season was overshadowed by scandal and the Twitter rant that brought about the downfall of Lalit Modi. Such was the intrigue behind the scenes that the final became almost a supplementary event.

Since then, we have seen Modi's ouster, two teams - Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals - being given termination notices for ownership irregularities and a lengthy spat featuring the owners of the new franchise in Kochi.

It all has lent credibility to the arguments of those who say that the competition is more about the vanity of India's smart set and less about sport.

Rajasthan and Punjab have been reinstated after taking their case to court, and we now have a convoluted, 74-game itinerary with the 10 teams in two conferences, like the National Football League. The missing piece of the jigsaw, and a sizeable one at that, is Modi, once embarrassingly compared to Moses by one of his hand-picked crew of sycophants/commentators.

For many people, Modi was the IPL, with his steel-grey-and-beige suits and pink ties, popping up at every other game as he travelled the country in a private jet.

Much as other officials loathed him, they could not do without the dynamism or the strength of will that created a financial behemoth from a pipe dream. Rules were broken and corners cut, but Modi invariably got what he wanted. And in most cases, what he wanted was what served the IPL best.

Modi will spend this season in his London sanctum, no doubt tweeting away, heartbroken as someone else steers his ship. In his absence the Indian board has to find another individual, or two, with the foresight to keep the show going.

At the player auction in January, the franchise owners - Chennai and the Mumbai Indians, to a lesser extent, were exceptions - also gambled on a complete revamp of their squads. Supporters of teams such as Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils now have next to no local talent to cheer.

Arsenal got away with "English-free" teams in the Premier League because 100 years of tradition trumped parochial instincts. Will IPL teams be similarly lucky?