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Zee raises cricket pitch
Subhash Chandra

Calcutta, Sept. 4: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is committed to awarding the telecast rights for the next four years “on merit,” but Zee chairman Subhash Chandra’s threat of moving court if his network doesn’t get the contract may not go down too well with the people who matter.

While Zee has bid the highest ($260 million) for the October 1, 2004 till September 30, 2008 tie-up, the BCCI isn’t obliged to ink a deal with that network as the tender document has a provision for “negotiations.”

Incidentally, the second highest bid ($230 million) has come from ESPN-STAR Sports.

Chandra made the threat at a press conference in Chennai today, after a nearly two-hour interaction with the BCCI’s tender committee. The No. 2 bidder, too, was called for a meeting on the home turf of the finance committee chairman, N.Srinivasan.

Both bidders have been asked to furnish “written clarifications” by 9.00 am tomorrow.

Chandra said: “We have presented our case completely and squarely… I only hope the transparency shown by the BCCI so far is maintained till a decision is arrived at… It is a matter of law and not for me to judge, but we will fight a fierce battle in court if the telecast rights are not extended to us.”

[Back in the summer of 2000, Zee had failed to clinch a seven-year contract with the International Cricket Council.]

Reacting, a well-placed source maintained: “We wish to be absolutely fair, but threats and pressure tactics are unlikely to… In any case, as the bidders know, the BCCI is under no obligation to just look at the amount on offer.”

Apparently, nobody on the tender committee — president Jagmohan Dalmiya, treasurer Jyoti Bajpai, immediate past treasurer Kishore Rungta and Srinivasan — has internally questioned Zee’s “eligibility” — as is being done in some quarters — but Chandra’s threat could well figure in the marketing committee’s deliberations tomorrow.

All the tender committee members have a seat on the marketing one as well. One absentee is secretary S.K. Nair, who is overseas.

It’s the powerful marketing committee which is going to “study” the clarifications —ranging from the bidders’ “partners” to their plans for domestic cricket to the payment schedule.

Unless there’s a last-minute move to defer this most awaited selection, an announcement will be made in Chennai not many hours from now.

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