x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Sahara stance may see domino effect among IPL franchisees

Despite all the upheaval, no one has seriously tried to rock the BCCI boat. Sahara, though, are not unknowns like most of the Kochi stakeholders.

On the weekend that one of the stars of India's limited-overs sides revealed that he had been undergoing treatment for cancer in the United States, another left-armer with aspirations to reach such heights on the field was the centre of attention at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Bangalore.

Yuvraj Singh's medical condition was the flutter of butterfly wings that set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the Sahara Group, sponsors of the national team for more than a decade and owners of the Pune Warriors franchise, rethinking its association with the game.

But while they stayed away from the auction, Ravindra Jadeja, whose biggest headline as an international cricketer was related to his involvement in an alleged brawl in St Lucia during the World Twenty20 in 2010, was contemplating the sort of payday that only the world's elite athletes can dream of.

Jadeja is no Peyton Manning or LeBron James. He is not even half as good as Yuvraj.

Though much improved from the time when Indian fans booed him during the World T20 in England (2009), he remains a limited batsman and a push-it-through bowler who focuses on economy rate rather than wickets. Yuvraj-like would be a good description for the player that he is now.

The Chennai Super Kings, whose all-rounder contingent already includes Dwayne Bravo, Albie Morkel, Scott Styris and Faf du Plessis, saw it fit to invest more than US$2 million (Dh7.34m) in him.

With the amount paid during the auction tiebreaker shrouded in secrecy, there is a real possibility that Jadeja was the most expensive signing in the league's history, beating the $2.4m the Kolkata Knight Riders paid for Gautam Gambhir.

Jadeja will make close to $300,000 per week, a reminder of the absurd premium placed on local talent in the IPL.

With franchises limited to four foreign players in the playing XI and not enough Indian talent to fill the other slots, even half decent players can name their price.

Sahara, a ubiquitous presence in Indian sport for well over a decade, decided at the same time that the league was not providing enough bang for their buck.

Having spent an astonishing $370m to buy the Pune franchise, they fell out with league officials once their request to have their auction purse enhanced with the $1.8m that they had paid for Yuvraj was denied.

That disappointment was just the trigger as they withdrew as sponsors of both the Indian cricket team and Pune.

Sahara and other franchises are still seething about what happened last year, when a season that was supposed to last 94 games was pruned to 74.

Teams that had budgeted for nine home games had to be content with seven. The reduction in the number of games did not, however, mean a discount on what each franchise had to pay the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

So far, disgruntled team owners have generally refrained from saying anything too critical of the Indian board.

There were court cases involving the Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals last year - both were reinstated after being expelled - and the owners of the erstwhile Kochi franchise are currently seeking legal redress after being suspended. Despite all the upheaval, no one has seriously tried to rock the BCCI boat.

Sahara, though, are not unknowns like most of the Kochi stakeholders. They claim to have invested as much as seven billion rupees (Dh528.9mn) on Indian cricket, with the sponsorship of the national team worth 33.4m rupees per game.

Given the disastrous downturn in fortunes since last April's World Cup win, finding someone else willing to dole out such largesse could be difficult.

Having taken a decisive step instead of merely complaining behind the scenes, Sahara have set a precedent for other franchises to follow.

After four seasons of obeying board dictates, do not be surprised if a few powerful business folk-turned-mice suddenly roar.