IPL: How Cricket SA fumbled the sport’s biggest catch
SA was well in the running to host the 2019 Indian Premier League, then suddenly it wasn’t. Why?
SA’s loss to Egypt in the bunfight to host this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals was the country’s big sporting disappointment last week. So much so that news of another major letdown slipped under the radar, even under the boundary.
SA and the United Arab Emirates had been on standby as potential replacement hosts for the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said they had decided to keep the competition at home.
We knew this half an hour before the Afcon blow fell and it meant much less to many fewer South Africans. So it raised barely a blip on the national consciousness.
The BCCI had made a plan B because the IPL, which is scheduled to be played from March 23 to May 12, could coincide with India’s general elections, which are expected to be held between April and May.
Boasting a total of 1.59 million spectators in 2017 and an average of 26,542 per game, the IPL draws more people to its matches than any other cricket competition. Crowds that big need plenty of security, and India’s authorities weren’t confident they could adequately police the elections and the IPL simultaneously.
If this sounds familiar it’s because it happened before the 2009 edition of the tournament, which was moved to SA at short notice and hailed as an organisational triumph by Cricket SA (CSA).
What’s changed 10 years on?
For one thing, India has exponentially more suitable venues than in 2009. The year before that the tournament was played in eight cities around the country. This year matches could be staged at 26 Indian grounds. Rather than the familiar home-and-away structure, in 2019 a proposed caravan format could see all the teams stationed in one city before the circus packs up and moves on.
In India, with its population of 1.34 billion, elections are conducted in stages. So when votes are being cast in the north the cricket caravan could be in the south, and vice versa.
Also, an IPL game has evolved into an extravaganza that is about much more than cricket, a glittering production of Bollywood beyond the boundary that is exponentially more intensely managed and meticulously presented than any event of any kind in SA. Whether even Mzansi’s best stadiums would have been able to meet that standard is open to question.
Indian sources say another reason for keeping the tournament in their backyard was the cost of moving it to and around SA.
The decision doesn’t seem to have been part of the fallout for what apparently resulted after a CSA statement in September quoted chief executive Thabang Moroe as saying the BCCI had accepted “our invitation to make some of their senior administrators, who have extensive experience in running the IPL, available to assist with the smooth running” of what would become the Mzansi Super League (MSL).
Closer to the truth, it would seem, is that former IPL chief operating officer Sundar Raman was indeed in SA on the above mission at or around the same time a BCCI delegation was there to conduct reconnaissance on moving the IPL.
Raman, who was appointed to his IPL job by former supremo Lalit Modi (who has since become BCCI enemy number one) resigned in November 2015 in the wake of a betting and spot-fixing scandal. The BCCI and Raman are thus on conflicting paths.
The upshot, Times Select has learnt, is that Moroe has since apologised to the super-sensitive BCCI for his assertion. CSA did not respond to a request for confirmation that that had happened.
It’s not difficult to understand why Moroe would jump through whatever hoops set for him to restore the relationship between CSA and the BCCI to what it was in 2009. Perhaps it was too strong a bond. Some R4.7m in bonuses paid by India’s grateful suits to their SA counterparts was not properly declared to CSA’s governance committees.
A long and ugly saga led to Gerald Majola being fired as CSA’s chief executive. His successor, Haroon Lorgat, left the organisation in September 2017 in the throes of a power struggle over the MSL, which was played in November and December – a year late, apparently having given away the broadcast rights to the SABC for free, without a title sponsor, and with at least one former franchise owner having launched legal action against CSA.
The made-for-TV cricket duly looked good on television, where it fetched an audience of 3.4m for the four games played on its opening weekend. To put that into perspective, games in the first half of last year’s IPL were watched by an average television audience of 24.4 million. And the MSL looked less like the real thing on the ground, where some venues reported crowds half the size of what they would draw for a regular franchise T20 game.
CSA have said the MSL would make a loss of R40m in its first year, and Times Select has been told they have quietly assured their stakeholders that they are in the process of securing a government bailout of R45m. (Thing is, more objective estimates put the MSL loss closer to R100m.)
So the money earned from hosting the IPL would have come in handy. Bugger. Or, as Lucas Maree sang all those years ago: “Ek sou kon doen met ’n miljoen.”