Make no mistake, almost nobody saw this coming. Fines – large ones – were thought to be the stiffest punishment that would be handed out to the owners of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. After all, the BCCI isn’t just the golden goose of political parties across the spectrum, the IPL boasts some of India’s richest and most powerful businessmen as team owners.
That the Lodha Committee took on that combination and scored a technical knock out will fundamentally change the way cricket is run in the country. This is a clear message that the BCCI can no longer hide behind the Chinese wall of being a private body. And with the Lodha committee’s recommendations on BCCI reform still to come, it appears the storming of the bastion has only just begun.
These are good things for Indian cricket. That the board needs a thorough cleansing is obvious to almost everyone. What isn’t obvious is what to do about the two teams in question: CSK and RR.
The committee made it clear that the financial considerations of the players was not material in their decision.
“If cricket is bigger than the individuals who play the game, then the loss is insignificant in our opinion,” Justice Lodha said.
And to be fair, the fate of the players, and even the league, should not have been a concern to the committee. They did their job. But it is of material concern to both the BCCI and the fans.
The great irony here is the CSK is the most popular team in the country. To lose the team, even for two years, will have a ripple affect on the popularity of the league as a whole. And while the Rajasthan Royals do not have the same cross-country appeal as CSK, they have created the image of the loveable underdog that always plays hard (Sreesanth, Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila excepted) and is willing to scrap with the big dogs.
Both teams also possess two icons of Indian cricket in MS Dhoni and Rahul Dravid, who have their own legions of devoted fans.
“If you were to do Test cricket without Australia, this is really how it is,” Sridhar Ramanujam, the ceo of Brand-Comm, a brand consultancy firm, told Firstpost. “In terms of what Australia brings to the table in terms of attitude and so on, that is what CSK brings to the table.
“In terms of Rajasthan, thanks to more than anything else, Rahul Dravid and what he brings, and that so many youngsters have trained there and reached whatever level they have, I would say two very important teams have gone out.
“It is a serious blow.”
To put it plainly, the IPL cannot afford to lose them, not even for a short period of time.
While the BCCI has floated the possibility of bringing back the terminated Kochi and Pune franchises, this only addresses the problem of numbers of teams in the league. Neither Kochi nor Pune have the social cache of CSK and RR. And then there is the moral issue of the board having evicted these teams from the league before and refused to consider a replacement before now. To go with begging bowl in hand at this stage would send a poor message.
Auctioning two new teams would mean new brands would have to be created from scratch and new followings built. Admittedly, the board did it with Deccan Chargers, which is now Sunrisers Hyderabad. But the stakes were not the same.
The most credible solution, though one that it is hard to see the BCCI implementing, is to force India Cements and Jaipur Cricket to sell their teams to buyers who promise to keep them in the same cities.
For precedent, the BCCI can turn to the NBA, which forced Donald Sterling, the owner of the the Los Angeles Clippers, to sell the team last year after he was recorded making racist comments about African-American basketball players. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, moved quickly to establish the facts of the case and then the league got together and the other owners agreed to vote out Sterling out of the league.
Before you feel sorry for Sterling, he sold the team for $2 billion, which is not a bad consolation prize.
There are plenty of industrial houses who want to be part of the IPL, so it won’t be hard to find buyers, especially for teams such as CSK and RR. Besides, having tainted owners in the league ought not to be in the board’s interest.
Given the fallout of the Lodha Committee verdict, this appears to be the least messy way to protect the players, the fans and the league. Of course, given the power dynamics in the board, it is unlikely the BCCI will ever consider it.