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Lalu plays for league

Aug. 9: Lalu Prasad today threw the rebel Indian Cricket League a lifeline by offering the Railways’ 30 stadiums for its matches.

The move could solve the Zee venture’s biggest logistical problem after the cricket board tried to shut it off the country’s grounds.

The Railways have about 30 stadiums, with the five in Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Guwahati and Rajkot used regularly for Ranji and Duleep Trophy matches. Even the other grounds have enough covered area that the ICL can develop.

“We will charge little money,” Lalu Prasad told reporters at Rail Bhavan.

But the political gains from the railway minister’s unsolicited support could turn out to be even more important.

“It (the league) is a good initiative. It will give rise to competition and good players will be encouraged,” the Bihar strongman said. “This competition will be good for spotting good players.”

In the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Lalu Prasad controls the Railways’ vote and, being Bihar Cricket Association (BCA) chief, that of his home state. As Union minister, he can influence the votes of the Services and Combined Universities.

His opinion on the ICL therefore carries weight, and his apparently impromptu offer may be inspired by a game plan, United Progressive Alliance sources suggested.

They said if board chief Sharad Pawar became International Cricket Council boss next June, Lalu Prasad might bid for BCCI presidency — a job that increasingly looks like the second most important in the country given the attraction it holds for former prime ministerial hopefuls.

Sources say even Pawar has softened after Congress heavyweight Digvijay Singh publicly requested him not to fight the ICL. Pawar, Lalu Prasad and Digvijay are believed to be close to each other.

Many saw Digvijay’s appeal to Pawar to “prevail on” the board’s “hardliners” as a move to strengthen his hand. The hardliners’ leader is said to be Rajasthan’s Lalit Modi, Lalu Prasad’s likely rival for the BCCI top job.

The board’s statement yesterday was rather vague compared with the life ban threat to players issued by secretary Niranjan Shah last week. The board merely denied “benefits” to anyone associating himself with any other organisation.

Shah said he “would like to reserve my comments” on Lalu Prasad’s offer “till the BCCI AGM on August 21”.

ICL vice-president Gaurav Sethi said: “We welcome help from all quarters.”

Lalu Prasad had become BCA chief in 2001, backed by Chennai-based A.C. Mutthiah against Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Dalmiya later disaffiliated the BCA, and the association had to wait four years to gain voting rights.

 

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