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Suspense in court, backroom ball rolls

Sept. 15: Hold your breath till September 21.

That is the day until when Bombay High Court has adjourned hearing of the dispute between Zee Telefilms and ESPN-STAR Sports over telecast rights for cricket matches played in India for the next four years beginning in October.

Today, it told the Board of Control for Cricket in India to maintain status quo in the process of award of the rights until it settles the case. It means the uncertainty over telecast of the big-ticket Australia series ' the first Test is on October 6 ' continues.

The court order was passed after the BCCI said it could not commit not to ask a third party, other than Zee and ESPN, to telecast the Australia matches if the case was not settled by then. A resolution in time looks more and more suspect as the dispute could roll on to the Supreme Court.

In the morning, the court had asked for such a commitment and the BCCI sought time to come back with its response. The board said it would be breaking its contract with the International Cricket Council if the matches were not telecast, particularly as the third umpire has to be provided live coverage.

This is a point BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya had made yesterday.

An unpublicised contingency exercise appears to be afoot as the BCCI has made informal contact with Doordarshan. An official at Prasar Bharati, which runs DD, said: 'We got a call from a BCCI member today.'

'It seems there is a discussion going on within the BCCI and there is a likelihood of the body getting in touch with us soon,' the official added.

PTI quoted a BCCI source as saying: 'We don't know when this dispute will be resolved. We cannot sit idle till the legal wrangle ends. We have to ensure television coverage.'

The working committee of the BCCI is scheduled to meet tomorrow in Calcutta to decide on its course of action.

In the morning, Zee and ESPN requested the court for a restraint order after a report in The Telegraph about the possibility of a third party being called in to show the Australia series.

After asking the BCCI not to award the rights to a third party, followed by the board's expression of inability to do so, the court referred to a statement earlier made by it. The BCCI had said it had not given the rights to Zee but only declared it the highest bidder. The court's order to maintain status quo means a freeze on this position.

The more the case drags on the more difficult it gets for the channels as their preparation time for telecast shrinks. Zee's problems are greater simply because it is setting up a new sports channel, scheduled for launch on October 2, mainly on the strength of the belief that it is getting the four-year contract. No sports channel could wish for a better starting block than an India-Australia series.

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