As cricket thrives on billionaire and Bollywood connections, Indian Premier League has its own dramas

Published: April 4, 2014

Chairman-designate of the Board of Control of Cricket in India, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, arrives at a temple to offer prayer in Chennai, India, Friday, March 28, 2014. AP Photo/Arun Sankar K

JOHN PYE 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The most powerful sports official in the most cricket-mad country on earth was on the verge of taking global control of the game. Now a corruption scandal could scupper those plans.

Narayanaswami Srinivasan rules the Indian board that generates enough money to keep the game afloat, so it seemed a logical progression — to him — to control the International Cricket Council as well.

But last week, India’s Supreme Court ordered Srinivasan to stand down as president of the national cricket board for the duration of an investigation into corruption in the sport’s most lucrative competition — the multi-million-dollar, revenue-spinning Twenty20 Indian Premier League, which pays players exorbitantly high salaries in a shortened, “disco” form of the game.

So what’s next for Srinivasan, who is due to become chairman of the International Cricket Council in July? He hasn’t commented, although the Indian media is reporting that he will probably attend ICC meetings later this month as planned.

The Supreme Court didn’t make a ruling about Srinivasan’s ICC functions when it appointed high-profile former player Sunil Gavaskar as interim head of the Indian cricket board, which gives him oversight of the IPL — the sport’s undisputed cash cow.

With its 1 billion-plus population and burgeoning economy, India has been wielding increasing influence over cricket. The game-changing IPL — initially a polarizing concept — has been an extraordinary success with elite players from all over the world and with fans since it was launched in 2008. Billions of dollars have flowed from commercial rights and sponsorship.

Srinivasan runs India Cements, which owns IPL club the Chennai Super Kings. His son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, variously described as either a former team principal with the Super Kings or just a “cricket enthusiast,” spent two weeks in jail last year and was indicted in February on charges of betting on the IPL and passing on information to illegal bookmakers.

The controversy was sparked after the arrest of Rajasthan Royals players Shantakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan by Delhi Police, who said they have proof of spot fixing — when players are bribed to perform in a pre-meditated way at a pre-determined time.

At least one owner of another club was also questioned by police.

A two-member BCCI panel initially cleared Meiyappan last year, but the Bombay High Court said the panel was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Srinivasan’s position as BCCI chief has been considered untenable since then, although he refused to budge voluntarily.

Justice A. K. Patnaik last week said the Supreme Court was not expressing any opinion on the merits of the allegations until the investigation is complete.

But former BCCI president Shashank Manohar thinks the 2014 IPL tournament should be suspended “until the faith of the people in the integrity of the game is restored.”

Gavaskar is confident it will proceed. The first half of the season is due to start in the United Arab Emirates on April 16, taken off shore for the second time in five years because Indian authorities can’t guarantee security for the tournament during a federal election period. The playoff series is expected to be held in India.

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