There’d be no IPL without Sharad Pawar

As Sharad Pawar turns 81, the original IPL Czar Lalit Modi recalls the support he received from ‘Saheb'

There’d be no IPL without Sharad Pawar

Qaiser Mohammad Ali

Had it not been for Sharad Pawar, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from 2005-2008, the Indian Premier League (IPL), a T20 tournament, would not have materialised, says Lalit Modi, who started it all, in a tribute to the Maratha leader who turns 81 on December 12.

“No other BCCI president would have supported me. If not for him, the great revolution of IPL would never have happened,” Lalit Modi tells National Herald in a rare interview from London. “Saheb gave me a free hand; he said ‘here is your chance, go make it happen’.”

Lalit Modi was appointed chairman and commissioner of the IPL Governing Council. The tournament went on to become a major cricket competition and was compared with the likes of National Football League, the Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the Premier League.

“I promised him that the best [players] would play and the benefit for the game in India would be immense. That was enough for him to trust me and let me build what is today the envy of other sports leagues,” recalls Modi.

Apart from Pawar, a former defence and agriculture minister of India, nobody in the BCCI was sure of the IPL’s success, he recalls. “If Pawar Saheb believes in you, he’ll back you to the hilt. He believed in me and he believed in the concept. He immediately saw potential in it; he felt that it would be beneficial for Indian cricket,” says Modi. Paying his tribute to the veteran politician, Modi gushes, “Pawar Saab can think ahead, years ahead instead of shortterm gains. He realises the potential of an idea and then backs it.”

IPL became a roaring success from the very first season in 2008. Billions around the world watched the live telecast. But questions were raised against the working style of Modi and the manner in which the 2009 edition was relocated to South Africa when IPL’s dates clashed with India’s general elections.

Modi admits that before the BCCI suspended him for alleged misdemea-nours at the end of the 2010 IPL, Pawar was among those who had advised him to resign. “I understand why he said that. I always believed that he had my interest and that of the BCCI at heart. Of course, we disagreed, but my respect for him and his affection for me never changed,” he insists.

After suspension Modi flew down to England in May 2010, and has lived there ever since. He continues to argue that he did not break any Indian law while shifting the 2010 IPL to S. Africa. All BCCI office-bearers at the time were equally responsible for the decision to relocate the tournament and opening of the accounts to run IPL in the Rainbow Nation, he points out.

Modi had met Pawar for the first time in 2003, a year before he himself became president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) and then the vice-president of BCCI in 2005.

Modi says he was shocked at the RCA’s state of affairs. “The family monopoly of the Rungtas was hurting cricket in the state. I felt we needed a complete overhaul and that’s when I met Pawar Saheb and got inspired to join cricket administration. We, of course, went on to wrest control of the BCCI from (late) Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya in 2005 and under Pawar saab’s leadership took the value of Indian cricket to unprecedented heights,” he said.

“I briefed Pawar saheb about my plans to launch a 50-over franchise tournament. But that was in a different era. When I met him, the plans changed a bit because the world of cricket had changed. The original proposal was made to Mr. Dalmiya, who turned it down, claiming that he didn’t want a channel to take over Indian cricket,” recalled Modi.

“Let me wish Pawar saab the very best on his birthday. I pray for him to go on to score a century and beyond,” he wishes.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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Published: 11 Dec 2021, 4:00 PM