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Modi understands the congruence of television and sport
by Partab Ramchand
May 26, 2009
He has had his share of encomiums but this must be the biggest feather in Lalit Modi's much decorated cap. South African president Jacob Zuma thanking the IPL for reviving the country's economy prior to hosting the football World Cup next year must please Modi no end. But then the ambitious IPL commissioner hasn't stopped smiling since the success of the inaugural edition last year. The smile just got wider. Buoyed by the success of IPL II Modi has termed the tournament as a global phenomenon and while the claim might be a touch extravagant there is no doubt that the sport's richest tournament contributed to a change in world cricket's landscape.

You may love him or hate him. But you can't ignore him. Modi would not like that! And whether you are for him or against him one thing has to be admitted. His 'baby' the Indian Premier League known more familiarly by the three magical letters IPL has transformed cricket like nothing since Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket was launched amidst much controversy and acrimony in 1977.

The things that Modi has been called range from megalomaniac dictator to publicity monger to dynamic visionary. Certainly he is admired and reviled in equal measure but there is little doubt that the IPL, a multi million, football style, franchise based domestic league which Modi conceived and executed with spectacular success has hurtled cricket into the fast lane. The inaugural edition held last year confirmed India's position as cricket's economic powerhouse. The shift to South Africa for the second edition in no way denuded this. Indian cricket and Modi are still very much numero uno in their own ways. Indeed the shift to South Africa for reasons everyone knows enhanced Modi's administrative skills besides making the IPL truly international. When one considers the sheer logistics and the prohibitive cost involved with such a move it speaks volumes of Modi's ability to get things done. He certainly created an opportunity out of adversity.

No one can accuse Modi of dilly dallying. He takes decisions quickly and stands by them. Fully aware that the confrontation with the Indian Government on security issues (since the IPL clashed with the elections) wasn't going to solve anything he took the bold move to shift the tournament out of India. It was a gamble to end all gambles and the cynics predicted that IPL II would be a failure. But then Modi has been adventurous all his life. It's easy to say that money talks and this commodity is never going to be a problem for the BCCI or Modi. But it is quite another to show dynamic vision and that is something that Modi has in plenty. Moreover the shift to South Africa made the IPL truly international in more ways than one.

At the conclusion of IPL II it can be said that the cynics were way off the mark with their doomsday predictions. Sure, there is nothing like playing in India where frenzied crowds throng huge stadiums. But the crowds did come to watch the games in South Africa too. The opening weekend in Cape Town, with two double-headers on successive days, was sold out as were the semi-finals, in Centurion and Johannesburg, and the final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. In between, near-capacity crowds attended many of the games, attracted by low prices, the glitz and glamour of the tournament, and the chance to see most of the world's best players in action.

The interest in India too did not diminish one bit from the inaugural edition. The TRP ratings after a predictably slow start zoomed and IPL II scored over election coverage when it came to TV viewership. The discussion in bars and hotels, offices and homes centered round the IPL and there were giant screens everywhere in a bid to attract patrons.

No one can accuse Modi of half measures. He does things in right royal style. He is very keen to showcase Indian cricket for what it is - an adjunct for showbiz. To kick start IPL II he choreographed an elaborate promotional build up with a player parade in Cape Town and a blockbuster tournament-eve party to which the South African business and social elite were invited. His next step is scouting for sponsors to stage an IPL Awards Nite in London. Indian movie stars will jazz up their numbers as the cricketing superstars get their trophies. More than any other cricket official Modi has understood the congruence of television and sport.

It is interesting to note that Modi had given his blueprint for the IPL format first in the early 90s when Madhavrao Scindia was BCCI president. The Board refusing to shed its conservative image was not receptive. Modi bided his time and it was not until 2005 when he became the youngest vice president of the BCCI that he came into prominence. Since then his rise has been stunning. He has become the driving force of the Board's commercial activities and has pushed its considerable revenues further up. His abrasive and confrontational approach didn't win him many friends in international cricket and he even accused the ICC of harbouring a neo colonial bias. Now of course as only to be expected he has many friends outside India! Call it money power or muscle power. Modi has it and flaunts it. In the process his brainchild in two short years has not just changed cricket but has taken over the game.

 
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