Has the Indian Premier League (IPL) been a blessing for Indian cricket or the beginning of some of its most recent problems? That's the key issue Karan Thapar explored on CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate when he interviewed the chairperson of the IPL, Lalit Modi.
Karan Thapar: There is no denying the fact that the IPL has been a money-spinner for the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). But how do you respond to the view that you have actually ended up damaging the quality of cricket in India and affecting to the detriment the attitude of young cricketers.
Lalit Modi: I have a totally different view to what people are saying currently. What we have done is bringing more people to cricket. What you are saying is by bringing more people we have spoilt the cricketers because they are being paid more, but on the other hand, a cricketer, or any other sportsman has a short life.
They were never paid according to what they were worth. Also, not many sportsmen were becoming cricketers and were going to other fields. But with T20 coming in, it has given them a livelihood.
Karan Thapar: You are saying that you have revived and rejuvenated cricket?
Lalit Modi: Without doubt. Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Let me start with what critics say about you and the first point is the changing attitude of the young cricketers. The Chief Administrative Officer of the BCCI, Ratnakar Shetty says: 'You can see the change in the attitude and focus, which seems to have gone to things other than cricket. They are attracted by the Bollywood style of entertainment that is now part of these events, which is worrisome.' What do you say to him?
Lalit Modi: I think this is taken out of context. I have had a long conversation with everybody. People have just pulled out one of his sentences. But I will address that. At the end of the day, people who have played Test cricket over the years, those are the key cricketers and nobody can take their talent away.
Karan Thapar: But he (Shetty) is talking about the new people who have come in with swollen heads and are not interested in cricket but are enraptured with a good life.
Lalit Modi: But they will have the good life only if they are longed for. Tomorrow, the public will lose interest in them if they decline in terms of their quality or performance.
Karan Thapar: But the problem is long before they become good cricketers, they are spoilt by the good life. It's not just the money that is spoiling them; it is the image and the lifestyle.
For example, IPL teams are owned by Shah Rukh Khan and Priety Zinta, Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan hope to jump the bandwagon soon, Vijay Mallya is already there and so is Shilpa Shetty; they have extravagant launch parties. The focus is no longer on cricket and discipline; it's on the good life.
Lalit Modi: You are absolutely wrong. The quality of cricket that is played in the IPL is by far the best in the cricket matches that I have seen or for that matter anybody else has seen. The entertainment outside the ropes is only an add-on. It's the quality of cricket that creates the viewership, and not the add-on.
Karan Thapar: I am not questioning the viewership, I am questioning its impact on the cricketers. Take Manish Pandey as an example, the Hindustan Times says: 'after scoring a century in South Africa in the IPL, this young cricketer who has not even made it to national status yet, now refers himself as a celebrity, boasts about his lifestyle.'
Lalit Modi: I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I think if somebody has talent, he is being recognised and he is making money out of it or he is getting a celebrity status out of it.
Karan Thapar: How can one become a celebrity after playing just one round. Aren't you getting your values wrong?
Lalit Modi: If he rises fast, the climb is also equally fast. If you are not consistent in your performance day after day, it's going to hurt you very badly when you fall.
Karan Thapar: But in the process, you have changed the attitude of a young cricketer, who if properly nurtured, could have been a great find for the country. Let me quote to you what your own colleagues in the BCCI said to the Telegraph six months ago: 'The IPL has changed their lifestyle so fast, that they aren't even able to cope with it. Perhaps, they aren't looking at a career beyond a couple of seasons of T20.' Is that the kind of attitude you want to generate?
Lalit Modi: It's not the attitude we want to generate at all. We are not looking at people who just want to be there for two seasons. I think people are taking it out of context.
Karan Thapar: Do you mean Ratnakar Shetty does not know what he is talking about?
Lalit Modi: No, Ratnakar knows what he is talking about. He said that within the context of an overall and larger point that he made.
Karan Thapar: He made the point in the context of his concern that the attitude of youngsters, many of whom aren't even qualified to be at the national level, is changing. Let me give you another of his quote. He said: 'Some of these youngsters have become really big. Some of them feel playing in the Ranji Trophy is not as important.'
Lalit Modi: But you have to play the Ranji. It's mandatory to play the Ranji. If you don't play the Ranji, you are not going to be selected in the Indian team. You have to be there grinding it away, slogging it away, spending six hours at the crease, bowling 40-50 overs in a game.
Karan Thapar: Sunil Gavaskar says: 'Many of these cricketers don't really care if they are not selected in the Indian team.'
Lalit Modi: You have to understand that we have a population of a billion people and we have a Indian team that has 16 players. There are many players, who are very talented, but have never made it to the centre-stage and could never make it.
You need to give a playground to these people to go out there and explore other forms of cricket. You can't have everybody playing one form of cricket. So now, from 16 players who were there in the limelight, you have 150 players in the limelight and tomorrow there may be 200.
Karan Thapar: You are talking about exposing them to a form of cricket, but they are not concerned with cricket.
Lalit Modi: No, you are saying that all 150 players who play in the IPL should all play Test cricket.
Karan Thapar: I am talking about the attitude of the young players that is changing long before they have proved themselves as good cricketers. There was news that senior players are calling BCCI officials to complain that these young kids don't care if they lose.
Lalit Modi: This has been taken out of context. If you think people don't care about winning or losing, it is totally untrue. I have seen the passion in the dressing room.
Karan Thapar: Then why is your Chief Administrative Officer saying this and he has not denied it.
Lalit Modi: You have to understand the BCCI is always the punching bag and whatever is said is taken out of context.
Karan Thapar: Have you become the punching bag? Is Shetty jealous of you? Is this politics?
Lalit Modi: No, absolutely not. Anything that the BCCI officials say is taken out of context. And I have no issues with it.
Karan Thapar: You have no issues with it. Are you happy to be criticised?
Lalit Modi: We are very happy to be criticised.
Karan Thapar: Let's turn to the allegation that the IPL has had a detrimental affect on Indian cricket. Three weeks ago, Tiger Patuadi said on this programme that today you have young players playing the game who have not even mastered the fundamentals of the game.
And these same young men behave as if they know everything when they play the IPL. This is the sort of impact on the quality that your IPL has produced.
Lalit Modi: We have over 100 of the world's best cricketers participating in the IPL. The young Indians are getting a platform. There is a requirement that a certain number of Indians must be a part of the team.
They are getting the experience of playing with the world's best that they will normally not get in their entire lifetime. They can build on that and take it forward. There is a whole set of people that have said how this (IPL) has uplifted the game.
Karan Thapar: Uplifted the game of cricket only in terms of giving it glamour and making the young people think themselves as celebrities. They don't even want to play Ranji Trophy?
Lalit Modi: I absolutely disagree with that. We have so much talent that we never knew about. They were never spotted but now there are people spotting them and they are performing. Hopefully, they will be able to perform at the international level because the India cap is the ultimate cap.
Karan Thapar: But they are not interested in the India cap. They don't want to play the Ranji Trophy.
Lalit Modi: They have to play the Ranji Trophy if they have to play for India. May be the 100 per cent may not be interested but you have to understand that a large number is going to be interested but I cannot guarantee 100 per cent.
Karan Thapar: ‘The Hindustan Times’ says: 'What the IPL has done is create a generation of half-baked players with faulty techniques, they strut around as superstars based on their dubious performances in the IPL. They are living in a fool's paradise but they are only fooling themselves.'
Lalit Modi: If they are fooling themselves, they will fall down. You have to understand that we have eight to ten owners out there, who have very little tolerance for somebody not being able to perform. So, they will just replace him and go forward with somebody else. If a person wants to be in the team then he needs to be consistent.
Karan Thapar:So these players are fodder for you. You are building them dreams and then casting them aside.
Lalit Modi: You may call it fodder but for us, it is giving them platform to showcase themselves, be consistent and prove themselves. You call it fodder, but we don't call it fodder. We call it a great stage to play with the world's best.
Karan Thapar: I have been quoting senior players like Sunil Gavaskar and Tiger Pataudi. I have quoted your own colleague from the BCCI and you are just dismissing their claims. Do you want to say that they are wrong and you are right?
Lalit Modi: No, I am not. All these three people you have named are part of the Governing Council of the IPL. I interact with them on a daily basis. And when you are saying they are disillusioned, I am saying you are wrong. They are very proud of what we have been able to achieve.
Karan Thapar: Let us talk about a different set of criticism of the IPL. People say that the scheduling of the IPL has a damaging impact on the national players because you don't give them time to rest or recover.
Gary Kirtsen made this point earlier this year when many Indian players came to the World Cup with IPL injuries. It's again going to happen next year. The T20 World Cup starts just five days after the IPL ends. Why can't you listen to people like Gary Kirsten and avoid such scheduling conflicts?
Lalit Modi: We have put our schedule after the Indian season ends. When we conceived it, it was decided that we will play the IPL after the Indian season ends. The Indian season ends in March. So April to September are not cricket seasons in India. The ICC scheduled their programme after us and they could have scheduled it much later. They have the window of the whole year.
Karan Thapar: So the ICC should change their schedule so that the IPL stands?
Lalit Modi: No, but April-May is our time.
Karan Thapar: So IPL stands and to hell with the Indian team?
Lalit Modi: No, that's not true. We think that this is the perfect training ground.
Karan Thapar: But many people say that the IPL format itself aggravates injuries because more the players play, the more they earn. So, there is a tendency to overlook injuries and as a result it becomes worse.
Lalit Modi: A player can only play in the IPL only if he gets a NOC from his home team, his board and his physiotherapist. Once he plays in the IPL and gets injured, he can take rest and still he will get paid. Even if he stops playing, he gets paid. This is a wrong perception that if he sits on the bench, he is not going to get paid. At the end of the day, the player should not pretend he is all right if he is injured.
Karan Thapar: But the system encourages him to hide an injury.
Lalit Modi: No, we have a system where 10 foreign players can be a part of the team and only four can play at a time. The reason is very clear that we have taken into account that there are going to be injuries and all these players are not going to be available all the time.
Karan Thapar: On everything I have asked, you have been dismissive. Are you saying that these criticisms are of no consequence?
Lalit Modi: They are of no consequence because at the end of the day we are building the game. And this is not arrogance because we are building the game, we have brought more people into it, we have brought more fans into it. More cricketers have been highlighted, they are being paid more and that is what counts.