In 1996, months after the 50-over world cup, Lalit Modi proposed a inter-city 50-over tournament with overseas players and ‘catchment areas’ to feed local players for different city teams.
But BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya shot down the idea and in the words of professor Ratnakar Shetty, in his book ‘On Board my years in BCCI’, Modi “bore a grudge against Dalmiya ever since”.
In 1999 Modi paid a ‘donation’ of 25 lakhs to the HPCA, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, to be nominated as its representative at that year’s AGM. The initial Modi years were spent growing closer to the BCCI official IS Bindra. Soon, he settled on Rajasthan cricket association to launch himself into higher echelons of power in BCCI. It came to fruition in 2004, after Vasundhara Raje Scindia became the chief minister of the state. Next year was the elections to the cricket association and Kishore Rungta was still the man to beat in Rajasthan.
What did Modi do?
Each of the 32 districts of the state had a vote in the RCA elections and additionally there were 66 individual voters as well. Shetty writes about the Modi way: “Lalit pulled off a coup on the eve of the RCA elections in 2005 by getting the state government to pass the Rajasthan Sports Act, which deprived the 66 individuals of their voting rights”. Modi defeated Rungta by one vote for the president’s vote and soon was elected as the vice president from the central zone at the BCCI AGM.
Not long after he realised T20 was getting popular and it would suit his city-cricket model a lot better than the 50-over. It also helped that Pakistan’s Misbah ul Haq chose to paddle scoop a dolly into Sreesanth’s hands in the 2007 T20 world cup final. What if India had lost then; would the format have still been popular?
By then he was successfully selling the million-dollar dreams to his colleagues in the BCCI. Shetty writes about how Modi started “putting out tenders for an apparel sponsor, a media rights holder, a team sponsor and a series sponsor.”
Modi also wanted to sell in-stadia advertisement rights for all the venues centrally but the state associations objected then.
The BCCI signed up Nike as the official apparel sponsor for the Indian team, a five-year deal worth $45 million, and clinched a fresh sponsorship with Sahara, valued at Rs 313 crore. In 2006, for the final ODI in the India-Pakistan series, Modi flew all the BCCI members on a chartered flight to Karachi. He also tapped markets such as Abu Dhabi, Ireland and Scotland for off-shore ODIs involving India.
When Modi sealed the Nike deal, a senior board member is said to have remarked, “Ek tick maarla shambhar koti aala (One tick [Nike’s logo] and he got 50 lakh).” In 2006, Nimbus won the TV rights for four years for a record $612 million, which was equivalent to about `2,500 crore.
On September 13 2007, Modi, then the IPL convenor, officially launched the League along with the Champions League T20. A day later, at Johannesburg, India defeated Pakistan in a bowl-out in a league game of the T20 World Cup. In the final, when India beat Pakistan again for its first T20 World Cup, it also acted as a great promotion for the new format. A delirious Modi ran onto the field, disregarding ICC officials who tried to stop him because he didn’t have the accreditation to enter the arena.
Ten years for this epic clash!#StumpMic#Repost @icc
❌ Afridi #OnThisDay in 2007 India v Pakistan at #WT20 finished in a tie… and India won the bowl-out!#cricket #india #pakistan #history #twenty20 #t20 #T20I #ISRO pic.twitter.com/aqqZu1OjeH
— StumpMic Cricket (@stumpmic_) September 14, 2018
Modi’s fall has been well documented, but let’s end with the moment where IPL’s launch success was almost guaranteed: That Misbah’s decision to paddle scoop and Sreesanth’s catch. Watching it on the field was Robin Uthappa and this is what he had to say.
— Abhishek Singh Rajput (@itsASR18) March 9, 2022
“I remember running in from long-on with my heart in my mouth as the ball seemed to hang for an eternity before it dropped into Sreesanth’s palms. I knew that Sreesanth had astigmatism (imperfection in the eye’s curvature), and had issues with his eyesight. I was screaming internally, “oh god, please let him catch it, let him catch it” and I think I had almost reached mid-on when the ball settled safely into his hands. We were the world champions!
It’s a feeling that no language can describe. Not English, not my mother tongue, nothing. At the moment it was like, ‘what have we done here!’ Even MS Dhoni was quite expressive as you would recall. He would soon settle down but I didn’t sleep for the next three nights. I was 21, living a dream, and knew I was part of something special but what it exactly was, I couldn’t tell. I remember Ajit Agarkar telling us repeatedly, “Do you guys know what we have done?! The enormity of it?” It was not just the world cup they had won, they had triggered Dhoni’s era in Indian cricket and the successful arrival of the IPL.