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The IPL story: How Kochi team owners gatecrashed Lalit Modi's party
Saturday, 17th April 2010
Under the watchful eye of BCCI, the bidding had been swift and transparent. Modi had little choice but to celebrate the Rs 3,200 crore that the two new franchises brought in, which dwarfed the Rs 2,840 crore cumulatively bid by the eight victorious bidders in the first auction, barely two years ago. Modi, never the most bashful of people, was naturally ecstatic. "As far as IPL is concerned, there is no recession at all," he exulted.

The next day, newspapers front-paged pictures of Modi holding up the hands of the victorious bidders. It seemed that the IPL was welcoming two new members into its already large, happy family. But below the smiles and the photo-ops , intrigue was already simmering.

If the initial bidding aroused suspicions of a "fixed" match, the emergence of the Kochi punters upset all calculations. A team for Kochi may seem incongruous at first glance, given the claims of Nagpur, Rajkot, Indore , Visakhapatanam and Gwalior. But with an international airport, a port ambience, and a well-off population with its strong Gulf links, its prospects are not all that bad. The IPL format, in any case, turns regional loyalties on its head with players, coaches and captains being sourced from all over the country and abroad.

The 2010 bidding was the last chance for new arrivals. Sahara group has a record for cricket sponsorship as well as being a ruthless bidder when it comes to "vanity" projects. As its chairman Subrata Roy said after winning and opting for Pune, it was the prestige of being in IPL that counted above all else. His $370 million bid was aimed at ensuring that no one even came close. Roy's previous persistence in running a lossmaking airline has often been seen as an aspect of his determined and domineering ways.

The Kochi crew was a shock to the system. There was Solapur-based businessman Shailendra Gaekwad, Kerala-based builder Vivek Venugopal, Mehul Shah of Anchor Switches, Rosy Blue Diamond's Harshad Mehta, Parinee Developers' Vipul Shah and education baron Mukesh Mehta.

They may be successful individuals in their own right, but they are hardly the kind of household names that make up the exclusive club of IPL franchise owners . As a matter of fact, it is hard to avoid the feeling that they are a bunch of boxers punching well above their weight. Pretty soon though, they found out what it means to play with the big boys.

According to the Kochi camp, before the bidding began, Modi had advised them to bid $300 million. They ignored his advice, and bagged the franchise. And that's when the real power play began.

Kochi's Venugopal claims they were offered $50 million upfront to vacate their rights. The team's documentation was delayed on the grounds that there had been a change in format. According to the group, when they submitted fresh documents last Saturday, the foot-dragging continued, but the hints became unsubtle. Modi bluntly told them that he would ensure the franchise became unworkable. They would get poor logos, jerseys, bad venues and be denied quality players.
Publication : ToI
TAGS : kerala  sports  ipl  cricket  lalit modi  shashi tharoor  sunanda pushkar  


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