‘IPL is a force for good’

Television loves nothing more than a big captive audience, a fact reflected in the hundreds of millions of dollars the Board of Control for Cricket in India demands for its media rights.

Published: 27th November 2012 04:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2012 04:02 PM   |  A+A-

Tucked away just inside the gates of the Wankhede Stadium is a prosaic five-storey block housing the world’s richest cricket board and the large office of its president, a man who could easily be described as the most powerful figure in the sport.

Narayanaswami Srinivasan is a 67-year-old industrialist, the managing director of India Cement, and head of a cricket board which sits on more than $600 million in reserves thanks to a giant cricket-mad populace.

Television loves nothing more than a big captive audience, a fact reflected in the hundreds of millions of dollars the Board of Control for Cricket in India demands for its media rights. With this huge financial clout comes the power to shape decisions and the direction of the world game.

But how the BCCI administers this influence has attracted criticism from sources as disparate as Wisden and an academic from Stanford University.

The editor of Wisden this year accused the BCCI of being “driven by the self-interest of the few” while Tunku Varadarajan, editor of Newsweek International and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, wrote this week that the Indian board is “vulgar. Ruining Test cricket by inflicting on it death-by-IPL”.

Sitting at the top of this new “imperial power” (Varadarajan again) is Srinivasan, a softly-spoken man with a reputation for driving a hard bargain if you talk to sources at the England and Wales Cricket Board. “I don’t agree with what they [the critics] say,” he tells The Telegraph in a rare interview. “Some of the comments are not fair to BCCI. That the BCCI are bothered only about money I think is incorrect.

“Until the late 1990s the president of the MCC was always president of ICC and I don’t remember people asking ECB and MCC such questions when for decades they were in control. I don’t see the BCCI as being in control. It just so happens that a lot of sponsorship money comes out of India. That doesn’t mean BCCI controls cricket. That is the wrong perception.

“The positive things we have done have not been highlighted. We have not gone and publicised it but we have made changes. First we have improved infrastructure for cricket in this country. We have 22 one-day international venues and with the resources we have got from media rights we have a policy where every association gets a grant up to $10 million to build stadiums.

"We take cricket to rural India. England will play in three new stadiums [Rajkot, Ranchi and Dharamasala] during the one-day series. All these have been created because of the policies of the BCCI.”

The IPL is the cash cow. Only 24 hours before we met, the BCCI had signed a five-year naming rights deal with Pepsi worth $72 million. Srinivasan’s company owns the Chennai Super Kings, but he dismisses accusations of a clash of interests although he will not be drawn on the issue.

It is the IPL which is blamed for the low turnouts at Test matches in India, the reordering of priorities by other nations as they offer up their best players to the Twenty20 league in order not to fall out with India.

“T20 cricket was not invented by us,” says Srinivasan. “The IPL has brought new audience into the game: the housewife and children. It has broadened the viewership base and interest in cricket. But there is still a lot of interest in Test cricket.

“I’m an old-timer. To me Test cricket is number one. That is personally speaking. If you look at cricket we now have three products: Tests ODIs and T20s. If you look at the overall attendances and eyeballs they have gone up. What people are asking is for maximum attendance for all three versions. It might not happen.”

This series is played without the Decision Review System. The BCCI’s doubts over its accuracy remain even though with it in harness they would have finished England off quicker in Ahmedabad last week. Srinivasan dismisses rumours the BCCI’s opposition is based on the fact DRS is disliked by Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni.

“The BCCI position is that we don’t accept the ball tracking system as being accurate,” he says. “The second aspect is that it has been decided that you will only have two referrals. If you believe DRS is absolutely accurate and you want to get every decision right then should you not be referring every appeal? If you are giving a captain only two it is like a lottery.

“All of us grew up with the firm understanding the umpire’s decision is final. This is a very fundamental shift. We are questioning the umpire’s authority with this. If we look at it conceptually on the one hand we say you should not show dissent to umpire’s decision. At the same time we have a parallel system in which you can appeal and refer his decision. There is a fundamental problem. These two things do not reconcile.

“I am not stopping others using DRS if they believe in it. But they have agreed it has to be mutual. Unless we are convinced about ball tracking it will not change.”

Srinivasan leaves office in 2014, and has been tipped for the newly created role of chairman of the ICC but he refuses to be drawn on this. “I don’t look beyond what I am doing now. In the sense I have my hands full at the BCCI.”

He also refuses to answer whether he would support Giles Clarke in any bid for the job but describes the BCCI as having a “very good working relationship” with the ECB. The old and new super powers have learnt to co-exist.

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