It was not the most auspicious opening for IPL's players auction
in Bangalore this morning. Before the first bid could come came a press release from Sahara India Parivar announcing its decision to give up its franchise, Sahara Pune Warriors. The bigger blow, though, could be the other decision in the statement, that Sahara would also withdraw from its sponsorship
of the Indian cricket team.
Many times in the past, especially when the Indian team has done badly, reports have appeared that cricket's fortunes are on the wane. So also this time, as the team capitulated to a second consecutive whitewash in an overseas Test series. But this time there is a big difference.
Almost each time in the past, Sahara came to the rescue of Indian cricket
, mainly through a renewal of the team sponsorship deal with a hefty increase in the sponsorship money. This time, cricket's epitaphs get underlined by Sahara.
The press release, issued in the name of Sushanto Roy, Managing Director of Sahara Adventure Sports Ltd, said: "We can now say with surety that cricket has become very rich. Many rich people are there to support cricket with a strong will to do so. So with an absolute peace of mind, we can exit from cricket under BCCI."
Is there a hint of sarcasm there? You never can tell. Roy is the son of Subrata, the Chief Managing Worker of Sahara India, who is known to be as enigmatic as his designation.
Sahara's problems with BCCI started in 2008, when its entry into IPL was thwarted on the ground of technical glitches. Sahara entered IPL last year based on information that 94 matches would be played by 10 teams. The bid price was accordingly calculated. However, only 74 matches were played. "We are still pursuing continuously with the BCCI to refund the extra bid money proportionately. It has been denied on the basis of strict rules," Roy's statement said.
The immediate trigger appears to be the unavailability of Yuvraj Singh, bought by Pune Warriors last year for $1.8 million, due to a lung tumour. Sahara wanted to add Singh's price to its auction purse today, since the team had only one marquee player. "Again, we have been denied on the basis of the rule book," said Roy.
Sahara will continue to pay sponsorship money for a few more months, until BCCI finds another sponsor.
With today's developments, BCCI's efforts to expand the lucrative IPL have come a cropper. Kochi Tuskers Kerala, the other new franchise, is already disqualified and said yesterday that it would take BCCI to court for terminating its contract.
Do not forget that these are the times when sponsors and media buyers are on the lookout of alternatives to cricket
Perhaps aware of that, the Sahara statement also mentions its intention to "reinvest in setting up of 20 sports promotion centres with an international standard sports academy". So, all sports, except BCCI's. It is not a bad thing that the cricket board is headed by a businessman of proven ability.