The Indian Premier League (IPL) has become an emblem of India’s aspiration to be a recognised world power in most, if not, all spheres.
lalit modiIn a country of 1.2 billion people, most of whom are bonkers about cricket, the IPL is a symbol of everything they want India to become – a true global power.
There is something about IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi that suggests a reservoir of pressurised energy waiting to bypass Indian cricket’s myopic administrators, the nepotism, corruption, vested interests, personal fiefdoms and incompetence.
America and China also beckon. All that is needed is the right salesman (him), the right product (the IPL) and a belief in the power of the market.
Modi’s mission is to make cricket enticing and accessible, and hence more lucrative.
In 2008 he introduced cheerleaders to the game, causing a storm among conservatives. This year, he forged a deal with Google and YouTube to broadcast live IPL matches online.
“I see the IPL becoming bigger than the NFL, the NBA, the English Premier League,” he tells The Times with typical grandiloquence.
The idea for the IPL had been gestating ever since Modi was a student in the US, but the real impetus came when he had a cup of tea with a leading sports agent at Wimbledon in July 2007, by which time he was the vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the national governing body.
What followed is testimony to his powers of organisation. By the time the first ball was bowled nine months later, the tournament had generated two billion dollars from the sale of television rights, team franchises and other licences.
In 2004, before Mr Modi battled his way on to the Indian cricket board, which owns the IPL, its annual income was probably less than 15 million dollars.
In the Modi era cricketers can earn – pro rata, at least – sums to rival those of their footballing peers.
Modi says that the IPL is about accruing audiences, not money. Test cricket is not in danger, because the Indian cricket authorities still make more out of Tests and international One-Day games than they do out of the new league.
He does, however, believe that Test cricket must evolve. His vision is for a switch to games starting in the afternoon and continuing into the evening under floodlights.
Indeed, reviewing Modi’s successes so far, it is tempting to assume that the future of the IPL is assured. Certainly India’s standing as cricket’s financial superpower has been confirmed.