Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Subash Chandra's bouncer at the BCCI: Zee launches rebel league

NEW DELHI: Essel Group on Tuesday took the Cricket Board by surprise by announcing a
parallel cricket league in the country, three decades after Australian media baron Kerry Packer had done a similar thing to revolutionise the game worldwide.
The aim of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) would be to create a reserve pool of cricketers who could play for the country, Subhas Chandra, Chariman of the Essel group said.
Chandra, however, said that the league was not in "conflict" with BCCI but would instead "compliment" the Board by providing a rich talent reserve for the national team.
The league, to be held annually, would have its own contracted Indian and international players, apart from a paid selection committee. The league will start with the Twenty20 format, keeping in mind the World Cup of this new version in South Africa later this year.
Six teams will participate in this year's league which would start any time between July and August. The number of teams would be extended to 16 in the coming three years.
Each team would comprise of two national, four international and eight budding players, who would be selected by the talent scouts. The matches will be played both in the ODI and Twenty20 formats with teams playing on a home and away basis.
The league will be supported by cricketing academies across the country having state-of-the-art facilities headed by international and domestic coaches.
"The country where cricket is followed like a religion fares so poorly," Chandra said pointing at the World Cup disaster.
Chandra claimed 40 per cent of Indian viewers had lost interest in cricket after Team India's World Cup debacle and
said if corporate support to the game ceased, it would create a crisis for the game worldwide.
"After all, India pool in major chunk of the money in international cricket," he said.
Chandra was convinced that a professional league was the need of the hour.
"At present there are only 20 players contracted with the Board and there is a restriction that they cannot play for
anybody else. From each state only 25 players can come up as registered players. What about the millions of boys playing cricket in schools and colleges? Do they get a chance?" Chandra said.
"Also there are 15 states who are not members of BCCI. Like ICC has not included many country as Test playing nation and wants them to come up the world standard, similarly BCCI wants them to play and
improve their standard. We will make them members and give them opportunity," Chandra said. He said talent scouts would pick talents from across the country and groom them in academies to provide a pipeline of reserve players.
"Every country has a strong reserve benches but India don't have any," he said.
"Even if the players would be contracted to us, we are not going to stop them if they go on to play in the national team. In fact, that is our aim. If BCCI wants to draw from the talent pool, they are welcome to do so."
Chandra said the group had approached the cricket board and state associations seeking their support
for the initiative.
"We have written to BCCI and every state organisation for support. We have not received BCCI's response but I am sure they will support us."
About the composition of the teams, Chandra said, "they can be from BCCI's
contracted players, those without a contract or even former players."
Refusing to throw more light on the 12 Indian players who would feature in the league,
Chandra said, "We have roped in a few players and are talking to some others."
When specifically asked about the current players, Chandra said, "That's something I cannot comment at the moment but we are looking into everything."
He also refused to equate the league with Kerry Packer's initiative that changed world cricket.
"No, that was a coup. All the players of Australia were signed and he also chose not to get the telecast rights of the Australian Board," he reasoned.
He said that the whole venture would be a "separate entity" and Zee sports would continue to vie for telecast rights from BCCI.
"We are not shying away to tell that this is also a business proposition but at the macro level, this is a passion of the group to promote cricket. Zee Sports will continue to vie for the telecast rights from BCCI."
On the cricketing infrastructure, he said, "The academies will act as a backroom mechanism for fuelling the talent of
ICL. Special importance will be given to sports medicine and research and development initiative will be taken up," he said.
The infrastructure leasing and Finance Services Limited, is also associated with the venture and would
provide the infrastructure needed for the league.
Around Rs 100 cr would be invested in the whole set-up of the league which will have two divisions.
"It will be a corporate set-up within the Essel World. Essel Group and ILFs would make the investment." Chandra said.
"We can invite other corporate houses into it. They can create their own team and own them. Like big club football
tournaments across the world," he said.
He said they are already in the process of formulating the contract but refused to say anything on what kind of contract will be given to players.
"Players have their strength and weaknesses. No company gives the same kind of contract to all its employees," he said.
When asked whether the league will be shown on Zee Sports, Chandra said, "We can have Zee Sports as the partner or we can decide to sell them.

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