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IPL - The stakes are high
by Suresh Menon
Mar 23, 2009
By Suresh Menon

India is a country that lives in the eleventh hour, and many believe that the IPL will remain here and that all talk of taking it to England and South Africa is mere brinkmanship. Those who blame the Commissioner for taking the Indian government for granted and not scratching a few backs and shaking a few hands sufficiently in advance are about the same in number as those who think it was the government which brought things to this pass with its power games. Lalit Modi has pleaded against politicizing the issue, but that is inevitable.

Already Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi (no relation) has pointed out that states ruled by the BJP have no problem with the IPL, and has invited the IPL to play the entire tournament in Gujarat, promising security of the highest order.

Some see the IPL as a political tool, with the ruling Congress party using it as a lever against the Board President Sharad Pawar to gently persuade him on the matter of sharing seats in the election to the Indian Parliament.

What is undeniable, however, is that the IPL has become a victim of its own hype, of its own popularity.

Yet, it is to the credit of the Commissioner and the franchisees and most people connected with the tournament that they have, almost unanimously, put a positive spin on the events. This is very good for youngsters who might not otherwise get to play abroad is the least of it. After all, Twenty20 is a television sport, and what does it matter where it is played so long as it is televised live, goes another argument. The important thing is that it will be held at all, agree the franchisees. Everybody is in politically correct mode, and even Kapil Dev, of the rival ICL tournament has only pointed out that the players ought to have been consulted.

But the fact remains that security is a serious concern and it is better to be safe than sorry. Of course, even the security concern is partly political (if one is allowed a dollop of cynicism), because no government can hope to survive an untoward incident.

Unfortunately, Occam's Razor - the principle that the simplest explanation is usually the right one - seldom applies to Indian sport, and the reason for any decision can be found in politics, ego clashes, personal vendetta or discovered under carpets much later. It is perfectly possible that the government's concerns are genuine and human. But in that case, why did it allow the uncertainty to go on for so long? After the Mumbai and Lahore attacks, Indians were emotionally and psychologically on the side of safety anyway, yet other elements were allowed to enter the discussion. In Maharashtra the police chief and the Home Minister spoke in different voices, one guaranteeing safety and the other deciding that it would be unsafe to hold the matches.

England and South Africa have shown a commendable alacrity in rushing to the aid of an Indian Board in distress. Again, one cannot avoid the cynicism inherent in the question: what form will their pound of flesh take?

The stakes are high, and only as the events unfold over the next few months will we be able to find a pattern to decide who won and who lost in the Great IPL Compromise. For a tournament in only its second year, the IPL has already ceased being about cricket alone. It may be recession-free, as happy franchisees told us after the auction. But it cannot be security-free, or politics-free, and that’s something it will have to learn to live with.
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