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Gaurav Kalra
Monday , May 14, 2012 at 10 : 10

The inconvenient truth


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I enjoy being on Twitter. It is a medium of engagement and debate. Celebrities and news-makers of all sorts seem to enjoy the forum too, as they can by-pass pesky journalists and communicate directly with their "followers". Without fear of being misquoted! On Sunday, I found myself locked in an unexpected Twitter battle with Lalit Modi (a genuine celebrity of Twitter!). And on revisiting the exchange, I am glad that despite his barbs, I argued only the facts and ignored the diversions.

It began with a question from my colleague and CNN-IBN Chief cricket correspondent Sanjeeb Mukherjea: "Who stopped teams from getting pak players in auction? What was you role, or did you have none?" To which Modi replied: "I had a role. Was asked by bcci pres and sect to ENSURE I told all team owners not to bid for any of them. I said that already. Had no choice. So they were in auction as a sham exercise. I had no choice."

I was intrigued by that answer. Since Modi, as far as I remembered, had never cleared the air on this auction in January 2010, where Pakistani players attracted no bids from any of the franchises. As the reigning World T20 champions, this had created a massive uproar. But more of that later.

So, I asked Modi: "mr modi, this is a major admission that you and the franchises lied about deliberately keeping pak players out". Please notice my tweet: "you and the franchises". Modi flew off the handle, retorting angrily. "Hey @sanjeebcnnibn pls show @gauravcnnibn where I have already said about pak players this live over a year ago. Check Before saying lying."

So I asked Modi to show me where he had. In response to every tardy comment he made, that was my only query. This can be found on my Twitter page. Besides accusing me of being a 'sensationalist' and re-tweeting some silly rants, Modi presented this article as evidence. I urge all of you to read this carefully. Modi claims here that "arm-twisting" by "Senior BCCI officials" had led to the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers. Compare this now to his tweet on Sunday in reply to Sanjeeb's query. "I had a role. Was asked by bcci pres and sect to ENSURE I told all team owners not to bid for any of them. I said that already. Had no choice. So they were in auction as a sham exercise. I had no choice". Note here, that I quote verbatim, both the language and the emphasis.

If you followed the story like I did, the difference in the earlier admission and this one is not just obvious but quite stark. One, from being nameless "senior officials", Modi now claimed it was in fact the top two in the BCCI hierarchy - the then BCCI President and secretary who allegedly gave him these instructions. In a later tweet, he named Shashank Manohar and N Srinivasan - another first. Any cricket journalist will tell you, Modi has previously said little to explain how this alleged "arm-twist" by the BCCI was put into practice.

His tweet on Sunday revealed that he "told the owners not to bid for any of them" and that their presence was a "sham exercise". Now these are new revelations. Modi is effectively saying that once he was instructed by his BCCI bosses, he ensured ALL team owners at the time came to an agreement before the auction began: No one will bid for Pakistan players.

So if this is indeed true, then not just him, but they were ALL party to what is another form of auction rigging. That is a startling revelation. Each team is meant to have an auction strategy and by its very nature, that strategy should be secret. Modi revealed on Sunday that at least when it came to Pakistani players, EVERY franchise had a common strategy. Do not bid. He, along with his owner friends, participated in what, and I quote him here, was a "sham exercise".

Why is this relevant now? More than two years later? Because, to this day, not one of those owners has actually admitted to being party to a "pre-decided" plan to keep the Pakistan players out. In fact, quite the opposite. Most of them went on record denying there was any such decision among them when they were asked the question after that auction. These statements can easily be found with a Google search. I was on air with my colleagues Suhasini and Anubha that evening at 9pm and Modi joined us live from Mumbai. Where he hollered continuously there was "no plan" to keep the Pakistan players out.

On Sunday, he didn't merely concede to his arm being twisted. He alleged collusion between team owners and himself on a pre-ordained outcome. So I asked Modi on twitter: BCCI is sure to deny your claim, but will any franchise owner, who was at that auction, back up what you say? His reply: "I don't really care what BCCI says or thinks". But that was not my question. I asked will any 'franchise owner' back up what he says? His friends. You know the guys he convinced with such charm to buy teams. No reply on that one. Anyway, that's also a job for us as journalists, so we will now go out and ask.

The circumstances behind the snub to Pakistan players in 2010 is one of the unsolved mysteries of the IPL. I remember covering the auction that day with Harsha Bhogle on CNN-IBN. When Shahid Afridi, who was among the first on the block, wasn't bid for despite his obvious T20 pedigree, our antennas went up. Subsequently, every time a Pakistan player came up, each team owner kept their paddles down. The world saw this farce unfold live.

The question was asked to owner after owner and each denied vehemently there was collusion among them. Modi denied it too in interview after interview. I remember writing this after the auction and Modi has now convinced me my instinct was right. Remember, this caused a diplomatic wrangle between the countries and even the Home Minister was forced to comment.

This is important for several other reasons as it throws further light on the inner workings of the IPL. If team owners, as Modi now reveals, are open to either being pressured by the BCCI or hatch plans among themselves before auctions, then what is the sanctity of the process? What else do they agree to among themselves? What else was decided behind closed doors by Modi and his friends and then paraded to the world as an actual occurrence?

If Modi was "arm-twisted" into this and also into "rigging" the Flintoff auction, what kind of IPL chairman was he? Willing to be cowed down to pressure at every step? Bravado to the world gave way to meek acceptance of everything his bosses ordered? Was the "most powerful man in cricket" at the time, "Moses Modi" himself, really so timid behind closed doors? How many more skeletons lie buried? What is the credibility of a league where franchises hoodwink fans by stage-managing auctions? Where the chairman of the operation works in conjunction with a top official to ensure a player goes to a pre-chosen team? These are legitimate questions that I have raised before, and will continue to do so.

I apologise for the length of this post but genuine cricket fans will grant me the leverage I hope. Modi made some amusing and rather bizarre allegations in his Twitter tirade against me on Sunday. Once, hilariously re-tweeting @fakingnews - who anyone on Twitter knows is followed for his sharp wit and sarcasm, to say the BCCI chief and I are "good friends". And he has said that "all along". I would imagine to be "good friends" we should have met socially at least once? In fact, even met? The truth is I have never even shaken hands with Mr Srinivasan, never had a phone conversation with him, never as much as exchanged an SMS with him.

I have always been a critic of the BCCI. A cursory glance at my blogs and also viewers of CNN-IBN's cricket coverage will endorse that. On issues such as DRS, opting out of the Asian Games, paid commentators and team selection, I have been sharply critical of the BCCI. Our reporting too has repeatedly questioned the manner in which this opaque cricket board functions. So for Modi to make a ridiculous sweeping comment of this nature was quite silly.

Let me end this by saying that certificates of journalistic ability from Lalit Modi aren't what I am in this line of work for. I did not call him a liar. I said in the case of this auction he and the "franchises lied about deliberately keeping pak players out". Another phrase for a lie is a "sham exercise" and guess who used that in this testy exchange! I have admired Modi in the past, for his chutzpah and how the IPL was a path-breaking idea. Alas, he is now a bitter man, reduced to lame battles where everything but the facts is fair game. He has blocked me on Twitter, but I will continue to track what he says on that forum. You never know, new revelations of poor, helpless him being "arm-twisted" may be on their way!


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More about Gaurav Kalra

Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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