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Commentary: Sharad Pawar is new BCCI chief; will Subhash Chandra and Pawar make common cause to reopen telecast rights issue?

30-November-2005
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Commentary: Sharad Pawar is new BCCI chief; will Subhash Chandra and Pawar make common cause to reopen telecast rights issue?

After a 15-year-long vice-like grip on the Indian cricket establishment, the wily Jagmohan Dalmiya has finally been humbled. Maratha strongman – and the equally wily – Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, is the new President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

At the 76th AGM of BCCI held in Kolkata on Tuesday morning, Pawar, who is also the Maharashtra Cricket Association chief, won a 20-11 verdict to defeat Ranbir Singh Mahendra, a Dalmiya puppet, who had defeated Pawar last year in highly controversial circumstances amid a flurry of court cases.

The Pawar team on the board will comprise Niranjan Shah, secretary, M P Pandove joint secretary, and N Srinivasan, treasurer.

Soon after his victory, Pawar said that the new team’s “focus will be on developing basic infrastructure for cricket in India. With the collective effort of the BCCI body, we will be able to give justice to the young budding players and the cricket loving people of India.”

And a jubilant Shah said, “Our priority will be to streamline the entire system.”

By implication, the most significant fallout of the end of the Dalmiya era could be revisiting the cricket telecast rights controversy that erupted in August-September last year – what was aptly termed the ‘mother of all programme acquisition battles’.

At stake was the telecast rights for all international cricket matches played in India over the next four years. When the bids were opened, it was found that Zee had put in the highest bid at $260 million, followed by ESPN-STAR at $230 million, Prasar Bharti had offered $150 million, Sony Entertainment $132 million, and Ten Sports $115 million.

Stung by the fact that they had been outbid, specialist sports broadcasters ESPN-STAR Sports (ESS) had immediately put out a press statement claiming that although Zee had offered a larger bid, “they clearly did not qualify as they’ve had no experience of broadcasting or producing live international cricket events as specified in the tender.”

Rebutting ESS’s charge regarding lack of cricket telecast experience, the Zee camp had hit back claiming that “contrary to what ESPN-STAR is claiming, forget two years, Zee has shown cricket internationally for 10 years, from 1995 onwards. So, how can they point fingers at us? ESPN does not have any production facility of its own. They outsource everything. They are nothing but a marketing company.”

As the battle turned hostile with BCCI and Dalmiya playing their own games, Zee Telefilms Chairman, Subhash Chandra, went live on TV, vowing that he was going to fight any malafide decision tooth and nail. Matters went to court – first to the Bombay High Court, and finally to the Supreme Court.

As the stalemate and court battle continued, Doordarshan pitched in to telecast the series with Australia earlier this year.

Considering BCCI’s ham-handed flip-flop on the telecast rights issue, this is one chapter that is bound to come under the scrutiny of the new board. And why not? Sharad Pawar is never a person to forget in a hurry – he was outmanouevred last year in the Cricket Board elections by Dalmiya’s machinations. He came back with a vengeance this year – and won hands down.

And logically speaking, both Subhash Chandra and Sharad Pawar see Dalmiya as a common enemy. They have a grouse to settle in a high stakes game: Rs 1,200 crore is a lot of money.

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