As the second leg of IPL 2021 hits its final straps, it appears to be a fitting moment to realise the power and might of the multi-billion-dollar sporting league that has nestled between a packed international cricket schedule, despite facing resistance from romantics of the game. Perhaps, money is the biggest factor but how did IPL come into being and how it became the monster it is today that even the biggest of boards tend to bow down in front of it – the question posits itself.
Lalit Modi and his dream
The stepping-off point would be the introduction of one man named Lalit Modi, whose sky-high ambitions led to the formation of a league that made India the powerhouse and nerve centre of the cricketing world.
Born in 1963, the grandson of pioneering industrialist Rai Bahadur Gujarmal Modi, Lalit Modi inspired by Kerry Packer’s world cricket series had his eyes set on creating a similar cricketing product that would eventually eclipse Packer’s vision and help cricket realise its true potential.
His vision was evident when he remarked, “Players were earning pittance when they could easily earn amounts equal to or more than the English Premier League stars,”
The coup of RCA
However, to make the desired changes, Modi had to start somewhere. Using his family’s name and reach, and a close family friend in Vasundhara Raje, Modi got his ‘foot in the door’ moment. In 2005, he gained control over the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA), overthrowing the hegemony of the Rungta family.
It wasn’t an ordinary coup as the Rungta family had been at the centre of RCA’s affairs for the better part of the last three decades. However, Modi persuaded Raje, who conveniently brought in the Sports Act, which meant that the voting powers to the RCA now rested with the 33 districts and not the individual members of the association. The purge was complete and Modi had finally arrived in the big leagues.
Thus started a rapid accession to the top, which benefitted both Modi and Rajasthan cricket. Swai Mann Singh stadium became an international stadium, the academies were upgraded, high profile coaches were brought on board. As a result, the state team won the Ranji trophy for two consecutive seasons in 2010-11, 2011-12.
Becoming BCCI Vice President
Soon, Modi was catapulted to the post of Vice President in BCCI. His meteoric rise continued and he proved his mettle by swelling BCCIs annual revenue well over the $1 billion marks.
After the success of the Indian Cricket Team in the inaugural T20 World Cup and the rather subdued debacle of rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL), Modi finally got the nod from BCCI to pursue his passion project.
2008 – a revolution is born
It was 2008 and IPL was finally born, amid much fanfare. The eight franchise teams collectively fetched $720 million and BCCI finally had a consistent revenue stream.
Building upon Kerry Packer’s world cricket vision, Modi intertwined cricket with Bollywood. Cricket, the sport became synonymous with the terms glitz and glamour. In the midst, a czar was born, a czar named Lalit Modi.
After the success of the 2008 season, the pressure was on him to make the subsequent season a bigger monolith. However, after the UPA government pulled its hands, citing General elections as the reason for not providing security, Modi was put in a tight spot.
An organisational masterclass– the 2009 IPL
With the time quickly running by, Modi decided to airlift the IPL to foreign shores in the country of South Africa. The logistics were a nightmare but Modi managed to do the unthinkable and the second season truly made the IPL a global event.
The top functionaries and even the government took notice of Modi for good this time and comprehended that the ‘IPL czar’ was not stopping anytime soon.
Dictatorial Modi and increasing animosity within BCCI
The success of IPL had positioned him to the enviable status of being the head of a top-class cricket administration. He brought money and glamour to the game and was basking in the glory of the 2009 edition of the IPL. At the same time, he became increasingly dictatorial. Modi took decisions at whim — ideas were vetoed, mooted, and implemented at his sole discretion.
A kingdom crashing down
BCCI, a closed entity, never worked like this, and thus Modi became a rebel in the club of top obedient board functionaries. Eventually, in 2010, the Rajasthan-based administrator was accused of money laundering and rigging the bidding process and was subsequently expelled from the BCCI.
Shashi Tharoor and his late wife Sunanda Pushkar were also embroiled in cases of corruption, for which the former had to even resign from the government. The mysterious death of Sunanda, in hushed tones, is still referred to as having some connections with Modi and IPL.
A disciplinary committee, headed by BCCI vice president Arun Jaitley, held Lalit Modi guilty of introducing two clauses in the invitation to tender without the approval of the IPL Governing Council. Three years later, the BCCI expelled him for life.
The Enforcement Directorate had also initiated an inquiry into the money laundering case, and Modi was forced to flee the country. Since then, he has been living in exile in London as he faces financial violation charges in India, which he denies to this date.
The administrator had refused to let go of his position in the RCA, however, and it had led to the BCCI banning the association in its entirety.
Modi was a maverick, and it is not to romanticise a fugitive but a person who had the sheer brilliance to bring in a concept that would take the world cricket to dizzying heights it had never seen before. It provided Indian cricket with an enviable cricketing culture that other cricket-playing nations marvel over.
However, if his life trajectory is anything to go by, one can be assured that Lalit Modi is far from done. There is still one last hurrah left in the man.