FEATURES/Real Issue | Mar 7, 2012 | 35295 views

Will N Srinivasan Save Indian Cricket?

The richest cricket body in the world can't stop the declining interest in the sport. Can BCCI President N Srinivasan revive it?
Will N Srinivasan Save Indian Cricket?
Image: Dinesh Krishnan
N Srinivasan,President,BCCI


n the face of it, this may sound contrived. But fact is, to understand cricket and the skulduggery that now beleaguers the sport all of us Indians love so hopelessly, you ought to understand a bit of how the cement business operates in this country. This, for one simple reason: N Srinivasan—president of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), head of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, and owner of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the Indian Premier League (IPL)—is also managing director of India Cements.

And it is at India Cements, a company his father founded in 1946, that Srinivasan earned his spurs. He once told a colleague of ours a couple of years ago: “I don’t go looking for fights. Fights come looking for me.” And the man knows to fight hard!

Now cement is what people describe as “smokestack” businesses—a polite way of saying old-world businesses where no corners are given, folks keep their head down, talk little and simply fight tooth and nail for every little penny. It’s a world Srinivasan is intimately familiar with.

For instance, there was this time when Ambuja Cements was a big name in the business.

A rapidly growing company in Western India, the then chairman Narotam Sekhsaria badly wanted a toehold in South India. The only thing holding him back was the cost of transporting cement down there from his plants in the west.

A shrewd Sekhsaria figured he could offset these costs if he used the sea. But even as he was putting a plan into place, environmental lobbies sprung into action, petitioned the courts and argued that this would damage the coast. The courts ruled in favour of the green lobby and Sekhsaria had to shelve his plans. There is no way to corroborate this. But it was then alleged that it was Srinivasan who’d instigated the green lobby. When asked about this, he then said with his trade mark straight face, “I think they just lost interest in the south. I was lucky.”

Call it luck, call it whatever, India Cements soon turned into a profitable business under his hawk-like gaze. But there’s also something disconcerting about the gaze. Though he’s soft spoken, something tells you, you ought not to get on his wrong side. People we tried to connect with, didn’t want to speak ‘on the record’ about the BCCI. “The BCCI is like the Kremlin,” they told us. “Srinivasan is extremely conservative. He was always very efficient and methodical. But he doesn’t delegate much.” It’s the kind of work ethic that helped turn around the cement business.

He’s part of a world that rebuilt a Ganesh temple that had gone to ruin outside the Chepauk stadium in Chennai because he believes it watches over the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. By all accounts, he fits all the text book clichés of the south Indian businessman.

Now, Lalit Modi is the antithesis of all that Srinivasan embodies. He likes the good life, glitz, and glamour, possesses an entrepreneurial zeal that can only be described as mercurial; but most importantly, has as many friends in high places as he has enemies. Put all of these traits together and what you have is the story of a man who created the Indian Premier League (IPL), which lies at the heart of this story.

To put the league together, he needed the blessings of the BCCI—which at least on paper, was created to popularise cricket in the country and is a not-for-profit entity. But in a series of moves that can only be described genius, he subverted the system, appointed himself commissioner of the league and catapulted himself into the limelight.

In doing that, he got monies into cricket that was unheard of. But also committed a series of gaffes and was soon ousted as IPL Commissioner. He now lives in London claiming threats to his life from the underworld. But that is another story altogether. The real story is that in creating the IPL, Modi set into motion a system that has now collided with the more sedate world Srinivasan lives in—so much so that things almost seem to have spiralled out of control and Indian cricket looks like it’s in a morass.

We tried to talk to Modi for his version of the events that have led to the current situation. He sent a detailed reply, but with a caveat—all of what we write had to be cleared by him. We declined because that goes against our editorial policy.

When Lalit Modi rolled the IPL out, it attracted millions of new viewers. But recently, the numbers of people watching the tournament (TVRs) are falling. Last year, there was a legitimate reason. People were tired after watching India win the World Cup and fatigue had set in. “The IPL followed the emotional high of an Indian World Cup win,” says Sundar Raman, IPL CEO.

But fact is cricket hasn’t recovered since then. The IPL was followed by a horror tour of England. Matters got better when India thrashed England on the return leg; but West Indies’ tour of India didn’t get people excited. India’s tour of Australia put viewers off completely and cricket has been on a downward spiral. That is why IPL 5 is so important. The league gets in at least half of BCCI’s revenues. If it doesn’t get ratings to shoot upwards, the BCCI’s two other big properties, the Champions League T20 (CLT20) and international matches played in India will get into a downward spiral as well. The knock-on effect is not felt in the ad rates for the current series but the next one. So, now, advertisers are asking for a minimum guarantee viewership for the next big tournament: IPL.

This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 16 March, 2012
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Comments (9)
Shiv Mar 9, 2012
This article exemplify what ithe ills are in Indian cricket.It has lost focus on the nuances of the game, improving skills,involvement from village level and an enthusiasm to play and watch the sport for the skills,tenacity and determination.What we keep reading is the shenanigans of BCCI of which everyone knows where the skulduggery is practiced on a daily basis.It is pathetic the way independent India has evolved and it will be frightening to think that this shambolic India will take center stage in world affairs.
Arunkumar Mar 7, 2012
Plz save Indian cricket from Mr. Srinivasan.. ahem....
Saumil Mar 7, 2012
An excellent article that really addresses the key issues in front of BCCI. But Will anything change with the way cricket is run in India? The plain answer is "no". Simply put, IPL is a third rate TV programme disguised as cricket. Running a business and making it proftable by corrupt means is quite different to nurturing/developing natural talent in a sport like cricket. The IPL is basically owned and run by corrupt politicians of India, the "big" businessmen from India and the elite class with powerful contacts. Their main objective is to make money and not development of cricket or cricketers. They forget for IPL to succeed in the long run, quality domestic players have to perform and unless cricket is given priority, where will quality players come from. IPL is typical of Indian mentality - make a mess of everything and anything we get involved with!
Anurag Singh Mar 7, 2012
I was just thinking about the three major sponsors of the IPL and things don't look rosy at all.

Citigroup came on board around 2008 same time they required huge bailout from US fed and still continue to underform, undergoing massive restructuring.

Vodafone is involved in a messy legal battle with GOI although it got a reprieve recently when the SC waived off penalty of $2 bill in its favor

DLF is facing all sorts of allegations regarding accounting mis management and its stock is under the cosh for almost an year now.

As things stand now, I get a feeling that unless the franchises break even soon which doesnt look realistic as of now, IPL is going to face major sponsorship issues not too far in the future.
Gaurav Banodha Mar 7, 2012
the revenue can be raised manifolds. but the question is what is cricket getting in return? answer is nothing. its unbelievable how men so selfish, cold hearted, indifferent as bcci admins are able to rape cricket which is the first love of a hundred million people.
Shekhar Mar 7, 2012
Only if he can:
1) make a consistent indian season calendar like england, sa, australia. 6 home test matches a year happening in the same week on the same venue, every year. Make it an event. I know it involves a lot of planning but no reason why it cannot be done.

2) play pakistan on bilateral basis. the indian version of ashes cannot be ignored. But don't go crazy when government allows. stick to a schedule of 4 years apart home and away.

3) Play IPL every other year. You just cannot replicate EPL since cricket it played and enjoyed internationally. In the year you don't have IPL - play IPL qualifiers where bottom 4 teams from previous year IPL play with each other and other small franchises and the top 4 go through next year IPL. In total IPL should be played with just 8 teams on a home and away basis.

4) Since CL T20 has ICC blessing, work with ICC to get rid of ICC champions trophy. You cannot play everything on the planet and expect fans to be interested.

5) Get Test cricket champion ship moving.

6) Give incentives to state associations when their team wins Ranji trophy. Politics may not allow you to hold state accountable but i am sure other incentives can be found to ensure everyone on that state association is looking to win.

7) Never ever have a 7 match bilateral one day series. In fact a triangular or a 4 team one day series with final will give you a lot more eye balls. mix things up for your broadcaster and viewers for one day cricket. We still remember Hero cup and Titan cup from 90's - why don't we do those triangular's anymore in India?

8) Flat pitches don't make interesting cricket. Turning or seaming wickets make best cricket. Fix the pitches. 400 score in a test match and 250 in a one day should be hard earned scores.

9) Improve cricket production. Neo Cricket is the worst ever. What technology and production has world's richest cricket board given to the world?

10) I should be allowed to have a beer sitting in stands and watching test cricket. Fix situation for people who come to stadium - it should be fun and comfortable.

Can he do all of the above? In fact he owes it to cricket and its fans, and if he cannot - he should not be able to sleep.
Anuj Mittal Mar 7, 2012
I feel like pressing the red button on his forehead. lol
Vedagiri Mar 7, 2012
BCCI cares only about Money. Period.
Bharath Raghav Mar 7, 2012
I think he will . As he is holding a top position in BCCI he has to redefine Indian Cricket
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