The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Enter, board challenger

New Delhi, April 3: Struggling to cope with one Australian, India’s cricket establishment has been stumped by the ghost of another.

Television czar Subhas Chandra today announced plans to launch a cricket league by the end of this year, reviving memories of Australian tycoon Kerry Packer’s epic rebellion that revolutionised the game.

The plan that Chandra unveiled today was short on detail and there was no declaration of war but he got one thing right: timing.

Chandra the possible challenger has struck when the BCCI has its hands full after the World Cup disaster and the leak-a-day circus unfolding around coach Greg Chappell, one of the first to be signed up by compatriot Packer in 1977 to form the breakaway World Series team.

Promoted by the Essel group, Chandra’s event will be named the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Starting with six teams — to be increased to 16 in three years — the ICL will be loosely modelled on English county cricket with a few international players thrown in.

Chandra said around Rs 100 crore would be invested in the league. “We can invite other corporate houses. They can create their own team and own them, like big football clubs.”

Chandra was at pains to point out that he had sought the BCCI’s permission to go ahead with his league, which he said would “complement” the efforts of the board by creating a national talent reserve bench. “It is not in conflict with the BCCI.”

Chandra did drop hints that he had not forgotten the bruising battle with the earlier BCCI regime over telecast rights. Zee had quoted the highest amount but lost the bid on technical grounds — an eerily similar issue had pitted Packer against the then Australian cricket board.

Although Chandra has been on better terms with the current regime that ousted the Jagmohan Dalmiya camp, he said: “The BCCI has faltered in creating a true talent pool in Indian cricket.”

Chandra said he was awaiting the BCCI’s approval — the board received the communication today — but that did not prevent him from referring to plans for what appeared to be a parallel cricket set-up.

“It troubles me that a country with over a billion cricket fans and millions of cricket enthusiasts fares so poorly on the international stage. A professional league is the need of the hour and players should be groomed on competitive pitches, not on placid tracks,” said Chandra, whose channel has perfected the art of talent search in show business.

The BCCI has not given a formal response but vice-president Lalit Modi said the league was not a feasible prospect without the board’s cooperation. Modi said even signing foreign players was not possible without a BCCI and ICC nod.

But if Chandra has the money, little prevents him from approaching senior players who may want to retire and join him. Packer had shown what money can do by cornering the then cream of cricket. Those dropped from the national team will also be prospective catches.

Chandra may or may not go the whole hog. But if he does, it can shake up the way cricket is run in the country and the upheaval may throw up the “best side” that seems to be eluding India now.

A similar experiment had been tried out in hockey by ESPN but it is too early to make an assessment.

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