Martin Chandler | 6:30am gmt 24 Jul 2011
A young Gulu Ezekiel (right) meets The Greatest
Leading Indian sports journalist Gulu Ezekiel has, like so many of us, strong views on the question of the IPL. Gulu has kindly allowed us to reproduce here a piece that first appeared in The New Indian Express
on 18 March 2010. His ominous warning of Lalit Modi's intentions began to ring true within weeks of the publication of this article.
The Indian Premier League has become the latest chest-thumping vehicle for Indian Netizens both at home and abroad.
Any non-Indian critic of the annual jamboree now into its third year is immediately dubbed a racist. Any Indian critic is branded a traitor. Jingoism has found a new vehicle in India and the rest of the cricket world is told to dance to its tune or take a hike.
How a domestic cricket league with a smattering of international players came to this pass is entirely due to the massive PR machine cranked out by Lalit Kumar Modi and his merry band of Bollywood stars, fat-cat businessmen, ex-players and journalists, all with a vested financial interest in singing from the same hymn sheet.
The clamour for the International Cricket Council to create a "window" free of international cricket for the six weeks of the IPL in summer and the two weeks of the Champions League in winter is growing ever louder. But assuming the ICC succumbs to such pressure and gives Modi what he wants, will he settle for that? That looks increasingly unlikely.
The man who snatched the idea for the Twenty-20 franchise league format from the now-defunct "rebel" Indian Cricket League (ICL)- crushed by the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India, is a businessman with a massive ego, ferocious appetite for power and contempt for nation v. nation cricket which he thinly veils in cleverly released statements.
Make no mistake - Modi and the IPL's ultimate target is not six or eight weeks in the calendar. The recent deals struck by the Rajasthan Royals franchise with teams from England, South Africa and the West Indies is just the first step. The franchise owners will never be satisfied with being in the spotlight for just six to eight weeks a year. Their target, hand-in-glove with Modi is to expand their operations worldwide and year-round. The Board of Control for Cricket in India too is complicit in this scheme of things.
World cricket domination is in Modi's sights and it is the Indian cricket public who will decide whether he gets what he desires or has his ambitious plans thwarted.
But there are bumps on the superhighway and the biggest was revealed in Mumbai where the auction for two new franchises for IPL IV collapsed on Modi like a warm souffle.
Modi's enormous appetite created indigestion for the big bosses of the BCCI who are the IPL's parent body. Bidders stayed away, put off by the ridiculous terms and conditions set by Modi.
The Ravindra Jadeja scandal also proves that the players are helpless, albeit richly paid, pawns. The real power vests with the Commissioner and the owners which in a couple of cases is one and the same.
For the owners, these players, many of them national icons, are the ultimate status symbols. Flaunted much like the latest Gucci handbag or Manolo Blahnik shoes; they have been turned into trophy players for the owners and dutifully walk a few steps behind their new masters.
While 60 matches are being played this year, next year the number jumps to 94 with two new franchises being added. Will the Indian cricket-mad public continue to lap up this TV reality show or will they too suffer from indigestion? If the experiment does indeed succeed, you can be sure more and more franchises will be added over the years. Greed knows no boundaries.
For senior cricketers the IPL is like a gilt-edged Voluntary Retirement Scheme. Why spend the year travelling the cricket world to play for your country when you can take home 10 times the money playing hit-and-giggle cricket for a few weeks? This has led to a spate of retirements from international cricketers who want to conserve their energies for IPL which takes little out of their bodies, but adds plenty to their bank accounts.
For the new generation, the temptations are irresistible. Why slog and sweat it out for the handful of places in the national or even state side when you can make a tidy packet bowling four overs or batting for a few more? The route to riches has never been easier.
Given these choices, one can hardly blame the cricketers. It is the authorities who have created this money-fuelled monster that has upturned a value system going back over a century in a matter of three years.
So what if the IPL is creating a generation of half-baked cricketers who fail at international cricket? If Modi has his way, such cricket will be defunct anyway. And make no mistake, there is no place for both formats in the increasingly crowded cricket calendar.
South Africa in 2008 was just the first step. Canada and the United States beckon. In five years time will international cricket be replaced by IPL-backed franchises travelling round the world with Modi the ringmaster cracking the whip? The toothless ICC can only watch helplessly as it is increasingly rendered irrelevant.
It is the Indian fan alone who will ultimately decide world cricket's fate. Hang on for the ride.
This article has recently been republished in an anthology of Gulu's best writing, culled from various magazines and newspapers that he has written for over the last thirty years. You can read CW's review of "Cricket and Beyond" and details of how to obtain the book here.