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Guest Times: Of horses, derby and a game called Cricket

Ashish Kaul, who was a member of the Zee team that scripted the effort to build the ICL some seven-eight years ago, argues that the only way to stop spot-fixing and match-fixing in cricket is to legalise cricket betting

May 20, 2013

Ashish Kaul

March 2005 was not the usual tough year in my life; having to battle the likes of BCCI and ESPN in the high-ceiling court rooms of Bombay High court was sleep depriving to say the least. Being denied the rights despite making winning bids was a huge letdown. Far from these worries, I did have another battle deep within raring to tear me apart. The cricketing battles had brought back the memories of a cricketer in me who died in Kashmir alongside the mass exodus in the wake of terrorism. For days and weeks I wondered in disbelief at the state of the game which we used to swear by. Way back then, cricket was not just a game but a way of life for most of us, to the extent that our games reflected the characters we held.

It was one of those days when I left early from Mumbai’s Worli at 9.30 PM only to get stuck at the chaos near Shivaji Maidan. For a while, I felt a strong urge to get out and get wet with the kids in the evening lights and relive my life again for I had given up cricket post a dazzling county session and selection in Ranji team. Our exodus from Kashmir changed all that and I could never ever muster the courage to play again as it would bring back the haunting memories of an era gone by.

Nonetheless, being a corporate corporal – I was with Zee Network then – is an equally tough job and the job at hand demanded that we find ways of keeping the cricketing kingdom intact without having the national side by us.

Though I didn’t have the courage to get out of the car, I did manage to turn around to Worli office at 11.30 PM and by 3 AM the erstwhile Zee India squad (rechristened Indian Cricket League) was born on March 5, 2005; nearly two years before the first official ball was thrown in ICL and nearly three years prior to the birth of IPL. However, the concept was reoriented by the management and the ICL was eventually launched without some key elements that I believed would make the big difference:

  • Democratic selection of players for each Indian city and town using modern technology alongside traditional system like post cards and letters
  • Every team to play regional league and eventually create two teams; a domestic team and an international team India. The domestic team would act as a feeder for the International team which would play international fixtures
  • The domestic team would participate in a derby as a challenger thus throwing up gifted players constantly.

The objective of the domestic team was to develop a pool of talent which goes up by popular choice alongside an expert panel led by Kapil Dev. I also wanted Dilip Vengsarkar and Sunil Gavaskar but they never agreed to meet due to their own commitments and a possible rub off with BCCI.

Eventually, I realised that modern technology could be used to create transparent departures from the traditional game and channel the strong urge for people to illegally gamble on cricket in a transparent way, thus not only generating profits for the enterprise but also supporting the government exchequer by the way of taxes and also to develop a fund for creating scholarships for deserving cricketers. It is with this thought I developed a format called Indian Cricket Derby which would be a 10-over format with six players each and people would bet on the players, teams, runs, wickets and everything that wanted by registering themselves in-person or online. I had an opportunity to discuss this with the then Sports Minister, Late Sunil Dutt, who was quite excited about the idea as I was never averse to having this done under the ages of the Government of India in a transparent manner.

Eventually I shared my plans with officials in Goa as that state had a tradition of casinos and the tremendous footfall of leisure travellers would have loved the Cricket Derby. Of course I wanted to have it in Mumbai but I didn’t considering that the ways of the political establishment that allows betting on horses but bans the ever popular dance clubs of Mumbai. In fact, I also had an invitation from Kerala to start this model.

I guess my visions were far too threatening to people in my own backyard. Regulating betting in a controlled environment, let us say in one stadium to begin with, will contribute in a big way in curbing illegal money laundering in cricket. I have no doubt in my mind that many states in India will come forward to allow this considering the tremendous boost it can provide to local tourism and the economy.

I have always believed that human nature is like water; if you throw in resistance it will find a new way. Years ago it was the same thought that I championed at various industry forums like FICCI Frames: that adult content, in the context of Kavita Nethani vs various TV channels, cannot be banned and neither is there a way to stop access to it. Adult content in one way or the other will find a way to reach our homes either through illegal DVDs/magazines sold on the streets, internet and surrogate advertisements in almost all newspapers posing as penfriend clubs and masseurs. So why is it not possible to regulate it by the way of technology and ensure that immature heads are restricted? Credit cards, mobile phones, prepaid mechanism, etc., are just some of the ways by which an age-verification is achieved.

Similarly, there is no way to stop people betting in cricket unless someone has a magic potion to stop people from personal betting. One way or other, if people want to bet, they will. So, is it not ideal to regulate it in a transparent manner?  Let’s just look at the Middle East, how efficiently they have controlled internet. Having worked there for a few years I know that they have the toughest mechanism to block content that their government deems unfit. We in India just enjoy the rhetoric and never get down to taking tough decisions and always forget that is its is tough decisions that have always altered the course of destiny. If Subhashji (Zee Chairman Subhash Chandra) would not have made up his mind to beam into India even if it was from the high seas, then would we be having over 500 channels beaming into India today?

(Ashish Kaul has over 19 years’ experience in managing brands and businesses that are diverse, transnational and multi-cultural. Over the years, he has been widely recognised as a turnaround man, having been a key member of some of the most pioneering start-ups in recent times. Kaul has served in various top management positions in diverse transnational organizations: Executive Director & Business Head, Credence International; Country Manager & Business Head, Bajaj Group - International FMCG Business; and Executive VP, Essel Group and Zee Network. He was a Business Adviser to Level IX Brand Advisory and also launched India’s largest Bollywood trade magazine called Blockbuster. Currently, he is Group Vice-President for Hinduja Group. Kaul is also Chairman, PirpAnchal, a prominent NGO that works with various worldwide governments for restoration of monuments of importance to Indians and operates the first community FM radio station known as Radio Sharda in Jammu & Kashmir.) 

(The views expressed in this article are my personal views and not necessarily subscribed to by my previous or current organizations.)

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