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Since 1st March, 1999
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Board withdraws cricket tender, Zee claws come out

Mumbai/Calcutta, Sept. 21: It's war ' raw and full-blown.

The Indian cricket board today cancelled the bidding process for telecast rights of matches, igniting an outburst from the original winner against Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Zee Telefilms' chief Subhash Chandra publicly alleged 'collusion and conspiracy' between the cricket boss and rival rights contender ESPN-STAR Sports. Zee is expected to challenge the cancellation, which deprives it of the rights after raising the bid amount to $308 million, in the Supreme Court tomorrow.

The new twist has thickened the cloud of uncertainty shrouding the Australia Test series, scheduled to begin from October 6. The board is now mulling a handful of options to ensure that the tour is not affected.

The fireworks began soon after the BCCI told Bombay High Court that it would cancel the bidding as it had not concluded the process of handing the rights to Zee.

ESPN then withdrew its petition that challenged Zee's eligibility for getting the rights. ESPN said it is taking back the petition 'in the interest of cricket-loving consumers'.

The BCCI had yesterday quoted a letter from the Australian board as saying it would be difficult to play without live telecast. Zee today cast doubts on this claim.

But a Cricket Australia spokesman in Birmingham confirmed that chairman Bob Merriman has voiced his concerns over the impact back home in case the series is not telecast.

Outside the courtroom, Chandra declared war. 'There is a clear collusion and conspiracy between Jagmohan Dalmiya and ESPN,' he said.

In Calcutta, Dalmiya declined to respond to the charge. 'First, I have to receive the court order. It won't be proper for me to react until I receive it,' Dalmiya said.

Chandra also suggested that a BCCI panel, which chose Zee as the winner, is divided on the cancellation. Without listing any names, Chandra said: 'From the very beginning, Dalmiya has been against Zee. I talked to some of the 14 members of the BCCI working committee. Some of them will file an affidavit that the decision has not been taken according to their wishes.'

BCCI told the court that it would split the bids into two ' three series from October 2004 to April 2005 for the first part and the others for the second part. However, others in the race ' almost all the original bidders are padding up again, though only Prasar Bharati said so on record ' pointed out it would be difficult to slice the package into two.

If the contract is broken up into two, three crucial series will be taken out: Australia (Oct-Nov 2004), South Africa (Nov 2004) and Pakistan (possibly early 2005), which would significantly bring down the value of the second phase.

The most likely scenario appears to be the board asking Prasar Bharati's Doordarshan or a private company to telecast the Australia series or organise its own production facilities. But at least one hopeful contender said it expects a fresh tender in 'two to three' days.

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