From insults to hegemon: The rise of BCCI

1983 – the year that transformed cricket in India. June 25, to be exact. Kapil Dev & co lifted India’s maiden World Cup trophy, having beaten the fiery West Indies on British soil.

India would have to wait another 28 years to win the trophy again, this time on home turf.

It’s 2023. And the cricketing world is witnessing a young Indian team as it cements its position at the top in the 50-overs format once more.

But what drove India’s stake in the Britain-born game?

The India-Pak cricket coup

It all began when N.K.P. Salve, the then Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President and Union Minister, was denied two extra passes to the 1983 World Cup final from the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB).

With a bruised ego, Salve pledged to bring the World Cup out of a country which has hosted three editions already, England.

Salve met with his Pakistani counterpart – PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) president Air Marshall Nur Khan, and laid out his plans to host the next 1987 World Cup.

In 1984, the two neighbors joined hands to out-vote England 16–12 at the ICC general body meeting, and in 1987, the World Cup moved to the subcontinent.

This didn’t come cheap to either country though. According to a report by ESPN Cricinfo, to outdo England, India and Pakistan together sought to provide each participant country with a total of 40,000 pounds for the tournament, as against England’s 20,000 pounds.

The format was also shortened to the current 50-overs with days in the East being shorter.

Breaking bank

Two problems fixed, another arose – where was the money?

“Getting money out of the two governments was not easy, but Salve had the Indian prime minister’s ear and strong connections with Indian business,” writes Ayaz Memon, a senior journalist and one of the few to cover the 1983 World Cup.

Salve got Dhirubhai Ambani on board, but the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made the industrialist back out.

It was Rajiv Gandhi who decided to risk it. In the hope that the BCCI would eventually find a sponsor, the Indian government gave 1.8 million pounds.

In the end, a ministerial reshuffle calmed frayed ties and Ambani was brought back on board – sponsoring Rs 6 crore for what would be called the “Reliance World Cup”.

Even though India crashed out of the tournament, losing to England in the semifinals, the nation still emerged victorious.

The tournament was held outside Britain for the first time.

Cricket, a money-making machine

Cricket has come a long way from the days of chasing industrialists for funds. Nowadays, BCCI earns most of its money from selling media rights of matches to the highest bidder.

Viacom 18 is the latest, acquired the Media Rights from September 2023 to March 2028 for a staggering Rs 5,963 crore.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when Jagmohan Dalmiya became the secretary of BCCI that the true monetary potential of the game was unlocked. The marwari businessman and his colleague IS Bindra, in 1993, won a legal battle against Doordarshan, who had monopoly in broadcasting in the country. The BCCI formally acquired the right to broadcast cricket in India as a commodity.

Bindra and Dalmiya sold the telecast rights of the India-England series in 1992-93 to TWI for Rs 18 lakh. This was just the start. According to ESPN Cricinfo, broadcasting rights for the 1996 World Cup, hosted jointly by India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, was sold for $10 million, the title sponsorship was worth $13 million and eventually, the ICC earned a neat $50 million.

Another hegemony broken

Dalmiya had one more dominance to break. He took on the England-Australia duo in the International Cricket Council (ICC). Even though Dalmiya won an election for the chairman’s post in 1996, he was not allowed to head the body as he had fallen short of a two third majority.

However, in 1997, he became the first ICC president from Asia and went on to become one of the most successful yet controversial administrators of all time.

The ICC had only £16,000 in its coffers when he became president in 1997. By the time Dalmiya’s term ended in 2000, the ICC had amassed nearly $15 million, as per a TOI report.

Center of global attention once again

“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years!”

Asia had exploded in the cricket world. 2011 was another year that would add a page to Indian cricket history forever.

The tournament, which was originally to be jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, saw Pakistan’s rights being stripped off following the Lahore terror attacks.

A British group, Hopkins Architects Partnership LLP, was chosen to design two new Indian cricket venues – Chennai and Pune. A media report suggested that Rs 750 crore was spent on the 2011 World Cup, of which a major chunk was spent on improving in-stadia experience and infrastructure.

The event witnessed a tech marvel – covered by at least 27 cameras and aired in high definition for the first time. A cross-platform display, including 3G mobile and web, was envisioned. The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) was used for the first time at an ICC event. The ICC earned about $2 billion for the television rights from ESPN Star Sports and Star Cricket.

Dalmiya and BCCI’s days as cricket greats didn’t last too long after. Indian cricket was marred by accusations of match-fixing and corruption.

BCCI: Wealthiest and most powerful

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has reported combined revenue of Rs 27,411 crore over the past five fiscal years (FY18-FY22), emerging as the richest cricket board in the world.

Its biggest money-making machine, the Indian Premier League, boosted its income in FY22 to Rs 7,606 crore from Rs 2,917 crore in FY18.

BCCI’s fortunes are expected to rise further in FY24 with Rs 48,390-crore IPL deals with Disney Star and Viacom 18 for five years. Latest valuation makes IPL the second-most valuable sporting league in the world, slotting in between America’s National Football League (NFL), valued at $16 billion, and Major League Baseball, valued at $10.7 billion, ET had reported.

It is almost impossible to narrate the story of BCCI in one go. But Salve’s determination to bring the World Cup to India and Dalmiya’s ICC entry changed the fate of Indian cricket.

Roy Walsh

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