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The leafy suburb of Wimbledon in South West London is synonymous the world over with the game of tennis, but it was here that a massive new idea for the sport of cricket was conceived.
In late June last year, while the rain that marked the 2007 English summer was disrupting the famous Championships, two men met in a nearby house to discuss a very different event.
Lalit Modi, Vice-President of the Board of Cricket Control for India, spoke to Andrew Wildblood of the International Management Group (IMG), a company with a vast experience in the whole area of sports management. Modi, who studied in America and had long since wanted to re-energise the Indian domestic game, was seeking a view on whether it would be possible to put together a Twenty20 cricket league based on the model of the franchise system commonplace in the United States.
“Funnily enough, it was similar to an idea we had already kicked around informally within our office,” recalls Wildblood, Senior Corporate Director of IMG India. “I thought that with a combination of BCCI resolve and IMG’s expertise we could find a way.”
A second meeting took place in a London hotel before Modi moved on and it was decided there and then that the vision could become a reality in 2008.
Wildblood smiles at the memory: “I remember going home that night and telling my wife and her saying to me ‘How on earth are you going to do that?’ “
The truth is that the daunting timescale was not lost on either Wildblood or Modi, who knew that they were going to face a formidable race against time to start the whole project from scratch and get it ready in time for April this year.
Most sports leagues grow gradually and organically, but the DLF Indian Premier League has had to emerge from an idea to a fully structured operation in less than nine months. For something of this scale it is, quite simply, unprecedented.
Now, after teams of people both in London and India have worked tirelessly together, often late into the night and through the weekend, the IPL has arrived.
It has involved an enormous creative and logistical effort and action on all the fronts required to put together a major sporting entity, whose franchises ended up being sold collectively for US$723.6 million.
Underpinning it, however, was one particular principle. “We realised from the start that we had to look at the sporting model and get the fundamentals absolutely right,” says Wildblood.
“Sport is about winning and losing and fair competition within a proper context – to start selling something you have got to have all that in place.”
So it was decided that the basis of the league would be eight teams playing each other home and away with semi-finals and final, and from that the commercial model and therefore the investor context, could be built.
Time was of the essence and there has been the constant need to steer around potential potholes. Astute judgement, very thoughtful planning and boundless energy have been the key components, but in September last year there was also some good fortune to help the adventure along its way.
In the slightly unknown quantity that was the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 staged in South Africa, India won, beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final. The whole event was a success and it captured the public imagination all over India.
The game’s most economically powerful nation had been relatively slow to take to the shortest form of the game, but now 76 per cent of the respondents in one poll said that this was the way they preferred their cricket.
“Lalit and I always believed in it anyway and have always kept encouraging each other to go for it, but there is no doubt this was a stroke of luck. Twenty20’s profile suddenly went sky high.”
The franchise tender process began in December and on January 24 came the deadline for the bids to be received.
“I was in Mumbai and sitting next to Lalit while people were coming in and out carrying the envelopes with the bid details and thinking it was incredibly exciting,” continues Wildblood. “There was always the hope that the Mumbai franchise might achieve in excess of one hundred million dollars and it did.”
Among the bidders were some of India’s richest and most powerful names, from industrialists to film stars, which has only added to the event’s lustre.
February saw the frantic player auction, something that has never been remotely witnessed in cricket before as the game’s top stars commanded sums that would have been unthinkable for any cricketer a few years previously.
The player auction created a media frenzy. Camera crews and photographers feasted on the big names in attendance, while the pundits speculated about who had done the best business.
By the end of May, when 59 matches will have been played out, that much will be known. The start date was set at April 18 in Bangalore. It had been a long road, speedily travelled, from Wimbledon to there.
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