The biggest gamble of Lalit Modi’s life turned out to be its biggest success story and biggest controversy! The BCCI found a goose that lays golden eggs. But, he was ultimately banned by the cricket board and had to flee the country under a cloud. However, what he created lives on
BY RUKMA SALUJA
For what will Lalit Modi be remembered?
Boria Majumdar: LM will be remembered for creating cricket’s greatest brand and property. World cricket will never be the same again compared to what it was before April 18, 2008 and there’s no debate that LM will be remembered for giving us the IPL. However much he lost or that he did not govern it in the manner he could have later, the fact is that he was instrumental in creating the IPL and nobody can deny him that credit. Look at where the brand is today. This is his legacy. He will be remembered for having transformed cricket forever.
Can you say that IPL is his legacy?
BM: Absolutely. As the book conclusively proves, on the basis of hundreds of interviews, even the BCCI did not know at that point in time what the IPL meant. It was left to Lalit to deliver. If he failed he failed, if the IPL did not take off, it would be LM’s failure. The BCCI backed him but backed him blindly. And you’ve got to give the man credit. It was Lalit who was taking risks, taking punts, it was Lalit who was making mistakes, it was Lalit who was doing things right, it was Lalit all the way. So the IPL has to be his legacy and there’s no denying that.
What’s the upside of this legacy? And the downside?
BM: The upside is the fact that cricket got its greatest ever brand, that Indian cricket got transformed forever. We are the nerve centre of the world game. India continues to be the financial powerhouse that it is. All of this is owed to Lalit Modi, the cricketing ecosystem owes to him. Look at the number of people that have come to the fore, look at the talent we have now, look at the bench strength, the resurgence of the small town.
The downside, it is unfortunate that he could not stay on, that he could not continue with further innovations, unfortunate that he had to leave the IPL and leave India for good. Whether he will come back to India, we are not sure. He wasn’t able to govern it in the manner that he should have. He created something incredible. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sustain his model of governance for him to run it in the long term.
Lalit Modi comes across as the wronged one in this book….
BM: No, I don’t think he comes across as someone wronged. The book doesn’t take positions and I’m very clear on that. He comes across as someone who created the IPL and was a genius. But was unable to hold on to what he had created. That is why he had to leave. You could question his style of governance while celebrating the way he created it. That’s what the book wants to do.
What could he have done differently?
BM: He could have acted differently, he could have governed it differently, he could have taken the team along, in this case the BCCI. Modi created a billion-dollar enterprise and he could have been more democratic and less autocratic in running it. He could have behaved in a less high-handed manner. And that’s how he could have sustained the brilliance over a period of time.
What was the inside deal between LM and the BCCI?
BM: There was no inside deal. Modi was a functionary of the BCCI and was working for, as a part of and at the behest of the BCCI. If there was a deal, then that’s where it begins to go wrong. Frankly, there was no deal. The BCCI had invested in Lalit Modi to create this property because none of the other officials had a vision of it or was capable of doing it and that’s what sets Modi apart. After that Modi became bigger than perhaps the institution was trying to be. That’s perhaps when things fell apart. He and the BCCI were at loggerheads in no time. That is what happened. If there was an inside deal and if they had cut a deal, then perhaps Modi could have stayed on. That’s not a premise that even needs to be considered.
The book highlights some unknown aspects and behind-the-scenes exchanges that haven’t come out in public earlier, which one baffled you the most?
BM: Several things have baffled me. I would say a lot of things have not come out earlier. The way Modi conducted himself, for example, the whole Kochi saga, the signing saga, the way it was enacted, the way he dealt with his suspension notice, even the night when he was suspended. I would say a lot of it has not come out. What has baffled me is the way he functioned even under that kind of stress, the way he continued to function.
Could he have functioned differently?
BM: Maybe he could have because he’s a maverick. Ego could have played a part. Could he have compromised, could he have done things differently, maybe. That’s what makes Modi so fascinating. Here was a man willing to give it all up rather than change the way he was functioning. That’s what makes Modi one of the most interesting characters in the echelons of the game.
How was the IPL of Lalit Modi different from the IPL of today?
BM: There can be no IPL of Modi and IPL of today. It is Modi’s IPL and the BCCI’s IPL and that’s how it will be for time immemorial. It is the same idea, the same formula, the same format that has been carried forward by the BCCI from day one. Two teams have been added and more money has come in, but that’s only logical progression. To say that it was Modi’s IPL till 2010 and BCCI’s IPL from 2011 is not correct because it’s the same model that has continued and become successful and continues to bring in this kind of money and this kind of traction for the BCCI. That’s what makes him the genius that he is.
This is also the story of a business idea and its success—a cricket start-up, after which several others came into being in other sports. Do you think Lalit Modi’s continuation in the top job would have led to a different scenario?
BM: That is my favourite question. See, this is a business model. That’s why this should be a business school case study: the IPL model. Had Modi continued, I’m sure he would have brought in innovations because that’s what his marketing genius was all about. And maybe he would have replicated the model in other sports. I still believe a model like the IPL’s in other sports can help India become a multi-sporting country. Pullela Gopichand, at my book launch in Dubai, for example, mentioned that the IPL model can be replicated across other sports. I’ve mentioned that you need a maverick like Modi for all the other sports to create successful leagues of their own and that’s where innovation might have come in. The business of sport is at the core of this book and how sport can be monetised, commercialised and made into a successful business proposition. That’s the real takeaway.
The book is being made into a movie, why do you think the story needs to be told through different mediums?
BM: The moment the book is made into a movie more people will see, more people will know, will learn, appreciate, criticise, debate, discuss. Because the IPL story is also a story of India, the story of a resurgent India speaking out to the world. Here’s a man who created perhaps India’s biggest global sports brand of all time, a brand that is robust and recession-free. Now, that story needs to be told and consumed by the maximum number of people. And that is why a movie of the book would make such a difference. Whether it is a podcast, audiobook, a movie, every little thing contributes. And a big-budget Bollywood movie will obviously make the book reach a million times further and that makes me very satisfied and pleased.