Saturday, May 13, 2006

More on Modi

Besides the goldmine of insights and information in that Modi profile done by Rahul (that Prem pointed to, yesterday), here's now the complete interview of the man. This too comes with its fair share of revelations of the eyes-wide-open variety. And, more importantly, it addresses almost all the contentious issues that we often discuss here, related to the BCCI.

For example, here's the vision Modi had of promoting domestic cricket, how it got thwarted, and what's in store now, when he's got the power to do it.

Personally, my interest in cricket started developing at that point in time because we saw the value in it. Thereafter we ran into roadblocks because we wanted to expand the game. One of my key projects in those days was to launch the inter-city cricket league. I spent a lot of money on it. I spent close to seven million dollars of my own cash. In those days, in developing the concept, we had the New Delhi Panthers vs the Mumbai Stallions and so on. We had signed up all the sponsors. We had approval from the board to own, stage, and run the tournament and we were going to pay a fee to the board. It was under the aegis of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket association under the chairmanship of Madhavrao Scindia. We had gone out and signed probably the top 120 players in the world, including in India, to play a domestic league, under lights, on a home-and-away basis. There was no concentration on domestic at that time. People told us we were foolish and wasting our money on domestic cricket as there was no interest. Yes, the point is correct but unless you build the property, the interest, and make people want to go to the stadium, how do you do that? That was a challenge. If you did it with regular players, it was a losing proposition. You have to fill up stadiums with 20,000 people, 30,000 people. They have to come and support their city. You have to pay the players well, and build things around it. Anyway, they killed that. We lost a lot of money. The reason they killed it was that one gentleman in the board at that point suwggested that we give the marketing rights of the tournament to an agent and then we buy it buy it back from the agent. I told them we were the broadcaster, and were ready to fund the money going forward, we’re paying the boards for it. Why do we have to take those rights of ours, give them to an agent, and buy them back? So [they said] “we will not allow any foreign players to play in your league”. I was like “that doesn’t make any sense because we have their approval.” “Okay, so we will not allow any Indian players to play in your league.” You are arm-twisted from time to time to do these things. So it died a natural death because we got fed up of it. We had already paid advances to the players. It was a sunk cost for us

Now to cricket. Do you see it eventually moving away from its nation-based structure to something like football, where the real interest lies in club rivalries?

Oh yes. It’s gonna happen. The intercity cricket league is going to happen. My next big project which I’m going to announce. I’m still not ready for it because the game has evolved since the last time I developed it. It will be a home-and away concept. We hope to launch that by the end of the year.

Another pet peeve, for us here in spare time, against the BCCI is the inadequate focus on infrastructure in the country, and here's Modi's take on it

Over the last few weeks you’ve been hearing more about development, about infrastructure, about the world cup. See, when we didn’t have the money, we didn’t have anything to talk about. So how were we going to change those things? A campaign went out in the Times of India, saying how bad the infrastructure was, and asking what the BCCI was doing with all this money. You’ve got to understand, the money is just signed on a piece of paper now. The money hasn’t even come into our bank. The rest of the money is going to come over the next few years. Infrastructure doesn’t happen overnight. It needs thought. We need to bring the architects in. We need to have municipal corporation permission. We are getting all that into place. Once the marketing deals are done, they are done. We needed to project those numbers. It also helps me get more numbers in.

Paid professionals and accountability can be the solution to almost all the publicly played problems of the BCCI (e.g. the media management issues that caused a furore recently) and here's what he says
Will the board move forward until it has paid professionals who are held accountable?

I agree with you 100%. Right now we are accountable. That is why, when I decided to take on the job, I had to give it time, otherwise I wouldn’t do it justice. I give 14 hours a day to cricket. I’ve decided that for a year, a year and a half, my life is cricket. In the meantime we’re hiring people to take the game forward. Once the basic infrastructure is in place, thereafter the game will ride on its own. It won’t happen overnight. Change is on the one hand good, on the other hand painful, and on the third, it takes a lot to implement it. We need to change our constitution, put all that in place, and we’re doing all that. Until then, we need to be involved. If we leave it half-way, it’ll all return to where it was.

But do you agree that to move forward you need those paid professionals?

We have professionals under interview right now. They will be the implementers. So we will be like the board of directors. We will give them guidelines and they will go out and implement them on a day-to-day basis. And that will have to filter down to the state level and then the district level going forward. And that will happen.

On the question of twenty20 and BCCI's aversion to it, we know the obvious reasons - India doesn't really need it, for the popularity of longer versions is still satisfactorily high, unlike the case in the countries trying to promote twenty20.

Why is the BCCI averse to Twenty20?

Why not 25-25? Why not 30-30. The issue right now is that the countries advocating it are only England and Australia. They have a drop in stadium levels so they are advocating it. We fill our stadiums. We have enough crowds coming in. We’re just getting into the game now. First they want to play a world cup of 20-20. They’re not even talking about going and promoting twenty-20 in countries first, play it for five-ten years, build the basis of 20-20.They’re saying lets go straight to the world cup!

But if the ICC says that, would you be interested in playing Twenty20?

They are saying that. We’re not interested in playing Twenty20. If the ICC mandates us to do it, and we’re the only people left, I think we’ll have no choice. But in my view, I think we must have a domestic calendar for it first. It’s a totally new game. It’s a batsman’s game…

And that’s why the Indian public will warm to it…

That may be so but we need to do it at the domestic level first! I’m not saying no. I’m saying we have to do it at the domestic level first.

Will playing Twenty20 hurt the board commercially?

I don’t think so. It could be a different team altogether. We have to understand it. It’s totally new. Where you might lose a little bit, you could also game a little bit somewhere else.
Although here, I do feel that Modi, and the BCCI, can do better. If they do know that, whether they want it or not, twenty20 is going to be a reality in international cricket soon, then why not act on it immediately. When Modi already realises that there has to be a domestic structure in place for it, why not give it a kickstart already. Why not announce a few domestic twenty20 competitions right away?

Anyway, both this pieces by Rahul were tremendously revealing, not only in terms of working of the mind of Modi, but also about the new BCCI - that its not just about making more money, which indeed they are, but also about realising the potential in all aspects of the sport.

What I do feel, though, is that while Modi is one strong pillar of the new BCCI organisation - giving strength to the business wing of the structure - it needs atleast one equally strong administrative pillar for looking after the cricketing aspects of the organisation. That is not to say that those aspects are ignored today - we do hear positive moves like extending the term of office of selectors - it's just that one doesn't see as strong a driving force behind those moves as we see on display when Modi drives the money. But then, maybe he's an exceptional talent, and its unfair to expect similar involvement from everyone.


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