| Gentlemen at play at Chepauk on the eve of the first Test against Sri Lanka. (Reuters)
Calcutta, Dec. 1: Zee, which became an outcast in the cricket establishment after waging a bitter legal battle with the Jagmohan Dalmiya regime, is back in the game.
Less than 48 hours after the reins of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) changed hands, Zee Sports has bagged the satellite rights to the three-Test series between India and Sri Lanka, scheduled to start tomorrow in Chennai.
A dramatic turn of events in Delhi High Court this morning set the stage for Zee’s bounceback, almost overshadowing another comeback in Chennai by Sourav Ganguly.
The high court, already hearing a Zee petition challenging the telecast tender process that disqualified the television network, ordered bidding for the Lanka Tests with a rider that a decision should be taken today itself.
Soon after a division bench of Justices M.K. Sharma and R.C. Chopra asked the BCCI to invite bids, the board did so and called a meeting of prospective bidders. Zee, ESPN STAR Sports and Nimbus responded. Ten Sports and Sony, the two other regular contenders, did not bid.
According to sources, Zee Sports paid Rs 19.5 crore for the three Lanka Tests ' the first rights being awarded in Indian cricket after Sharad Pawar ousted the Dalmiya camp and took over as BCCI president. Cricket is vital for the survival of any sport channel in India and Zee had greeted the BCCI change of guard with relief, saying there will be a “level playing field” now.
“Delhi High Court had allowed the earlier board to make telecast arrangements only for the two ODI series featuring South Africa and Sri Lanka. So we had to decide on the Test series,” Lalit Modi, a vice-president of the new board and the president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, said.
A statement issued by Zee said: “In an open and transparent meeting with the BCCI, in which all bidders were present, we managed to secure the rights for the series.” TransWorld International will produce the feed.
ESPN STAR Sports refused comment. According to sources, ESPN’s bid amount was around “Rs 70 lakh” less than Zee’s.
The satellite and terrestrial rights to the Lanka Tests ' along with the two one-day series featuring Sri Lanka and South Africa ' had been awarded to Doordarshan by the earlier board as an “interim” arrangement. The state-run broadcaster had also installed transmission equipment at the venue of tomorrow’s match.
Prasar Bharati counsel Rajiv Sharma informed the high court of the commitment today and showed a letter from former board secretary S.K. Nair. The bench asked Sharma to move a proper application by tomorrow.
“But we are happy with the terrestrial rights for the Tests, which must be given to us as per the Centre’s mandate,” K.S. Sarma, the CEO of Prasar Bharati which manages Doordarshan, told The Telegraph.
Assured of the feed following a cabinet decision, Doordarshan did not bid for the satellite rights for the Test series at today’s proceedings.
Ten Sports and Sony, which had participated in the four-year cricket rights bidding process, were not interested in the Lanka Tests either. “They conveyed to us that due to the short notice they would not be able to participate in the bidding,” Modi said. “However, they have told us they would be present for the next round of bidding.”
According to sources, the bidding process for the four-year rights to cricket played in India could be taken up by the new BCCI board “in the next 10 days”.
The battle for the four-year rights had triggered one of the most explosive controversies in Indian cricket last year.
Zee had emerged the highest bidder but was not awarded the contract on technical grounds, triggering a legal battle and a public outburst by Zee chief Subhas Chandra against Dalmiya. The BCCI cancelled the contract which Zee challenged but the network lost the case.
When the BCCI refloated the tender, it had conditions that made Zee ineligible, prompting the ongoing legal battle.