x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wheels come off the IPL wagon

The Indian Premier League was growing bigger and bigger, until Lalit Modi and Co sent it into chaos.

Lalit Modi's revelations sparked a series of events that have made the future uncertain for the Indian Premier League. Ritam Banerjee / IPL via Getty Images
Lalit Modi's revelations sparked a series of events that have made the future uncertain for the Indian Premier League. Ritam Banerjee / IPL via Getty Images

How different would the history of English football have been without the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels in 1985 that abruptly ended a decade of dominance at club level?

Would West Indies cricket have turned out differently if Courtney Walsh had run out Pakistan's Salim Jaffer to win the World Cup in 1987?

What if Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq had not scooped the ball straight to Shanthakumaran Sreesanth as India went on to win the final of the inaugural World Twenty20?

The history of sport is littered with such moments that mark the end of an era or the start of another. Tipping points, as Malcolm Gladwell, the writer, called them.

After two hugely successful seasons, including one relocated at the last minute to South Africa, and a third that was proving every bit as popular, mid-April saw the Indian Premier League (IPL) well on course to becoming one of the most lucrative sports properties in the world.

Now it faces an uncertain future. Four months away from the start of season four, no one can tell you whether it will feature eight teams or 10, or which franchises all but 12 players will represent.

A series of ill-judged tweets from Lalit Modi, the man behind the concept and growth of the league, proved to be the IPL's tipping point and those entrusted with cleaning up after him are still struggling to sift through the wreckage.

The Indian cricket board did not help matters by pursuing a vendetta against teams with a Modi connection.

The Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were thrown out of the tournament on account of both having changed their ownership patterns before they were allowed to, and it was announced that IPL 2011 would be another eight-team affair with Pune and Kochi, the two new franchises, in taking their place.

At the time, sources within the board said that both the Royals and Kings XI were on such a sticky legal wicket that they could do nothing to stop their expulsion.

The best lawyers in the country had apparently been consulted and the board had been told that the two franchises would not be able to stop the player auction or remain in the tournament.

That school of thought turned out to be based on wishful thinking rather than legal facts, and Bellur Narayanaswamy Srikrishna, a former Supreme Court judge who investigated the Mumbai riots of 1993, reinstated the Royals in his role as independent arbitrator and indicated that they could take part in the auction.

The Bombay High Court stayed Kings XI's expulsion as well, leaving the board with no option but to delay the player auction indefinitely.

While arbitration is an interim solution at best, the board has directed too much venom at the two franchises to be able to back off now.

Until the Supreme Court offers a final solution, it is impossible for the governing council or the teams - whether eight or 10 - to plan ahead for the new season.

The subcontinent hosts the World Cup from February to early April and the prospect of the IPL staging its auction in the middle of that is remote.

Even if they did, there would be no top-class players around to provide positive spin.

While Modi travels around London and the continent, citing security concerns for staying away from the raft of allegations that he has to answer back in India, the sporting edifice that he built is suddenly looking as fragile as a house of cards.

The Sahara group of companies paid US$370 million (Dh1.3billion) for the Pune franchise last April, nearly twice what John Henry and his fellow investors paid to take over Liverpool, the English Premier League football club and the five-time European Cup winners.

For the moment, that looks like fool's gold.

sports@thenational.ae

Timeline

April 2009 Modi takes the IPL to South Africa as India cannot guarantee security.
April 2010 Modi tweets about the dubious ownership structure of the Kochi franchise. A fortnight later, he is served papers and suspended.
October 2010 Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab have franchise agreements terminated.
November 2010 Kochi given a month to sort out ownership.An independent arbitrator stays the expulsion of the Royals and Kings XI.
December 2010 Board sources suggest player auction could be postponed until March. Only 12 players retained by franchises ahead of auction.