As we gear up for yet another finale of yet another hugely successful IPL (Indian Premier League) season, we may forget what happened one year before the inception of this big, cash-rich tournament. Some of us may have forgotten while some were too young to remember the glorified failure of ICL (Indian Cricket League), also known as the rebel cricket league, as well, they were not supported by BCCI as well as the ICC, who went to great lengths to stop the league which they end up doing successfully.
For the uninitiated ones, ICL was a private cricket league funded by Zee Entertainment Enterprises that operated between 2007 and 2009 in India. Its two seasons included tournaments between four international teams (World XI, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and nine domestic teams notionally located in major Indian cities as well as Lahore, Pakistan and Dhaka Warriors based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The matches were played in the Twenty20 format. This tournament format, which is something we are quite familiar with because of the IPL, was back then, quite revolutionary.
The similarities in the whole structure of the league with the present-day IPL is also quite surprising;
Each team was coached by a former international cricketer and comprised four international, two Indian and eight budding domestic players. The league became active in November 2007 with matches in the Twenty20 format. The nine teams who participated in the domestic format were:
- MUMBAI CHAMPS
- CHENNAI SUPERSTARS
- CHANDIGARH LIONS
- HYDERABAD HEROES
- ROYAL BENGAL TIGERS (KOLKATA)
- DELHI GIANTS
- AHMEDABAD ROCKETS
- LAHORE BADSHAHS
- DHAKA WARRIORS
Each team had a paid mentor, media manager, psychologist and physiotherapist
There was a US$1 million prize for the winning club team
The creation of ICL was not entirely out of the blue. Cricket being the most financially viable sport in South Asia was pretty much restricted to international level and controlled by powerful organizations to maintain their sovereignty.
As a result, while International cricket was gaining in popularity and success, regional cricket was suffering from a huge disparity in terms of pay, infrastructure, and grassroots development. The national team was also indirectly suffering due to lack of bench strength with very few young, emerging players getting the desired platform to showcase their talent.
And, of course, there was a financial angle as well as. The Essel group has expressed a keen desire to help India develop cricketing talent, as well as provide lucrative sports programming for Zee Telefilms, which lost out on the rights to broadcast all BCCI-sanctioned cricket matches in India until 2011.
Essel Group had originally launched Zee Sports earlier with the anticipation of securing at least some of the BCCI telecast rights in 2006. This was followed by Zee acquiring 50 percent in TEN Sports in November 2006 for Rs. 2.57 billion. This gave the company a few international cricket rights – West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Cricket played in India generates Rs. 10 billion in advertising and subscription revenue and Zee has been acutely aware of his company missing out on this lucrative cricket pie.
The BCCI refused to recognize the ICL as a cricket league and criticised Kiran More and Kapil Dev for joining the ICL. Kapil Dev’s association with ICL was seen by the establishment as a conflict of interest as he was also the chairman of National Cricket Academy, a BCCI owned cricket facility.
On 21 August 2007, Kapil Dev was sacked from his NCA post. Subhash Chandra had earlier stated that the ICL will go ahead regardless of the BCCI’s stance. The International Cricket Council gave a statement through its chief executive, Malcolm Speed, that the ICC would not recognize the ICL unless the BCCI chooses to recognize it. The ICC looks at the ICL as an issue to be sorted out by the BCCI.
Faced with the threat of young players joining the ICL, the BCCI jacked up prize money for winners, runners-up and losing semi-finalists across all tournaments. An average domestic cricketer can hope to make around Rs 35,000 per match day from the season of 2007–08: more than double the Rs 16,000 they got in 2005–06.
In August 2007, the ICL filed a petition against the BCCI in the Delhi High Court accusing the BCCI of threatening and intimidating them and other state organizations and asked the court to stop BCCI from interfering with its attempts to sign up players for its tournaments. It also petitioned that the BCCI stop trying to “out-hire” cricket stadiums in India that are owned by the state governments, in anti-competitive attempts to stop the ICL from using them to play matches.
On 27 August 2007, the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of the ICL. In its ruling, the Delhi High Court said that players should not suffer in the battle between corporate giants. The court has issued notices to all corporate sponsors, the state cricket associations & the BCCI against terminating valid contracts of players joining the ICL.
The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) of India had asked its Director-General of Investigation to do an initial investigation into the BCCI’s action against players who had joined the ICL. The investigation was based on media reports of the BCCI giving an open statement that it will ban players who join ICL. It was also reported in the media that all state associations, under direction from the BCCI, have canceled contracts with players.
But the pressure from the BCCI and the ICC prevailed in the end. The players who had signed up for the league risked putting their career in jeopardy because any player that signs up with the ICL, which does not have official status from the International Cricket Council, could lose their registration. The future of ICL became uncertain when BCCI banned ICL players from playing international matches. Since then many ICL players started to return to their national team including famous players like Shane Bond and Abdul Razzaq. The regional players also started to follow suit, fearing a permanent roadblock towards their selection in the national team set-up.
The ICL ended in 2009 after all of its players decided to drop out of the league fearing ban from Cricket governing bodies. Another reason was the offer of amnesty given by the BCCI to the Indian players who choose to leave ICL.
THE BEGINNING OF IPL
With all the controversies surrounding ICL and BCCI and ICC subsequent involvement in the issue, one thing became clear. Regional Cricket in India, if packaged attractively, cannot only reap financial benefits but can also help talent scouting at the regional level. A large pool of talented young Indian players who joined ICL, notably Ambati Rayadu, Rajagopal Sathish, Ali Murtaza, Stuart Binny, Abu Nachem and more, performed immensely well against quality international talent. These players were previously overlooked for the national team, and BCCI did consider that fact. This led to the formation of BCCI’s own 20-20 league, the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April 2008, and the rest, as they say, is history.
While the story of ICL becomes even more of a distant memory after years and years of success of the IPL, this greatest domestic T-20 league may not have been born if not for its failed and controversial twin, the ICL.