Flashback: How the Indian Premier League Started in 2008

How did it all begin? Whose idea was it to start such a big league?

Updated
Cricket
5 min read
File photo of Lalit Modi.
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The Indian Premier League is all set to get into its eleventh edition on 7 April this year. The cash-rich league has dazzled one and all with its colour, flair and energy.

Players such as Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, among others, have used the platform to showcase their talent and have gone on to build brilliant international careers.

So how did it all begin? Who’s idea was it to start such a big league?

Idea Envisaged in 1996

At that time, Modi Entertainment Network had entered into a joint venture with ESPN. The BCCI sold the rights to broadcast India’s matches to ESPN.

Lalit Modi had thought about starting a professional league after understanding the way American professional sports was run during his college days at Duke University, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

In 1996, Modi decided to put his dream in place. He drew out a league called Indian Cricket League. The competition was set to be among eight city-based teams in a 50-over tournament.

He decided that the teams would be sold as franchises and ESPN would broadcast the matches, paying an annual royalty to the BCCI.

The BCCI, who agreed to provide grounds and access to players from the Indian team, gave its approval for the league. Thereafter, Modi spent huge sums of money to get the required players on board.

However, during that time, an honorary officer from the BCCI asked for a bribe for one of the procedures and Modi denied it. This incident closed all doors for the Indian Cricket League, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

Every door was shut, and the league was scuttled before a single game could be played. As I learned about the game of cricket, I found that there was more beneath the soil than one could see. Only a few people were making the money, and then for their own personal selves, at the cost of the entire country. It was a closed club: nobody could enter it.
Lalit Modi as quoted by Columbia Business School
File photo of Lalit Modi.
File photo of Lalit Modi.
(Photo: Reuters)

Rebirth at Wimbledon

By the year 2007, cricket had changed dramatically. A new format called Twenty20 had taken the cricketing world by storm.

Modi tweaked his original idea a little bit. He decided to start a Twenty20 league called the Indian Premier League.

Now, as the vice president of the BCCI, he travelled to England, to meet the senior vice president at IMG World Andrew Wildblood. They met during the Wimbledon final in July 2007, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

He and I were just kicking around a few thoughts about how in India you have international cricket played by the Indian first eleven (players) that is worth whatever it’s worth in dollars per game. And you have no other cricket product that’s worth anything at all. So you have the Ranji Trophy worth nothing at all. Nobody goes. You have Duleep Trophy worth nothing.
Andrew Wildblood told Columbia Business School
Chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Lalit Modi (C) and and former cricketer Ravi Shastri (R) wave to crowds during a street parade by teams competing in the IPL in Cape Town in 2009.
Chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Lalit Modi (C) and and former cricketer Ravi Shastri (R) wave to crowds during a street parade by teams competing in the IPL in Cape Town in 2009.
(Photo: Reuters)

Modi Receives $25 Million From BCCI Chairman

On 10 September 2007, the then BCCI chairman Sharad Pawar handed a cheque of $25 million to Lalit Modi to acquire the required players for the Indian Premier League. The money was given to Modi on the conditions that he would have to control all the proceedings for the league from his personal office in Mumbai. He wasn’t given any salary for it and had to finance all of his personal expenses, which incurred for work related to the Indian Premier League, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

And in return, Modi wanted the BCCI to stay away from the working of the IPL and allow Modi to select IPL’s Board of Governors, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

On 12 September 2007, Modi formally launched the Indian Premier League during a ceremony in New Delhi. Players such as Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Glenn McGrath, and Stephen Fleming attended the launch.

During the launch, Modi explained how the tournament is going to be played – number of franchises, number of matches, number of foreign players in a team and so on.

Interestingly, Modi launched the IPL without formally arranging players, franchisees, sponsors and broadcasters.

Players and Cricket Boards in the Bag

Fortunately for Modi, the first edition of the World T20 was set to begin in South Africa in September 2007. He divided the top 100 players in the world at that time into four categories, according to their earnings and skill set. The four categories were put under four different salary slabs – $100,000, $200,000, $300,000, and $400,000. These salaries were the base price set for the players at the first IPL auction.

During the World T20, Modi met the players and told them about their salaries they will receive and other benefits of the IPL. The players were on board, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

Modi knew that the various cricket boards around the world had to allow their players to travel to India for almost two months in a year. So, the then BCCI vice-president met with the administrators of the various cricket boards.

All administrators were on board except for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), who started the format T20 in 2003.

Indian industrialists Vijay Mallya (L), Ness Wadia (R), IPL official Lalit Modi (2nd L) and actors Shah Rukh Khan (C) and Preity Zinta pose during a news conference after the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) player auction in Mumbai on 20 February 2008.
Indian industrialists Vijay Mallya (L), Ness Wadia (R), IPL official Lalit Modi (2nd L) and actors Shah Rukh Khan (C) and Preity Zinta pose during a news conference after the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) player auction in Mumbai on 20 February 2008.
(Photo: Reuters)

Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta Become Team Owners

To set the ball rolling as far as the franchises are concerned, Modi contacted his school friend Shah Rukh Khan and asked him if he is interested in buying a franchise, according to a report by Columbia Business School.

Later, Modi travelled to Thailand to meet with Preity Zinta, who was holidaying in Phuket with her boyfriend, Ness Wadia. All three of them went on to become team owners.

Once Lalit Modi worked out a plan for broadcasters, he and his team were ready to start a league that would change Indian cricket forever.

The first-ever IPL match was played between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders on 18 April 2008.

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