“I feel that Australian cricket, and probably every other team, over a little period sucked up to India. They were too scared to sledge Kohli or other Indian players because they had to play with them in IPL.”

Those were some strong comments from former Australian skipper Michael Clarke on a radio show recently, that necessitates a conversation around India’s muscle in world cricket.

Clarke went on: “Name a list of ten players and they are bidding for these Australian players to get into their IPL team. The players were like: ‘I’m not going to sledge Kohli, I want him to pick me for Bangalore so I can make my $1 million US for my six weeks’. I feel like that’s where Australia went through that little phase where our cricket became a little bit softer or not as hard as we’re accustomed to seeing.”

It was remarkable to read these words that were uttered by a player of Clarke’s stature because, in this world, nobody gives you power. Clarke was arguably speaking just for himself but even if the perception exists, it shows how the Board of Control for Cricket in India found a way to elevate their status on and off the field.

For a long time, Indian cricket seemed to get the wrong end of the bargain, if they could bargain at all that is. They played by the rules, but they had nothing to do with the making of those rules. They played by a given set of standards, that they didn’t always agree with. And whenever they wanted to change things, they simply didn’t have enough votes on the table.

But the BCCI was united in its endeavour to change things; to right the wrongs (perceived or otherwise) and even though it has taken a while, it is pretty clear that they have got to a point where they can stand their ground without fear. What they do with this power is an altogether different question but there is no denying that cricket without India would be in a very different place right now.

So how did the BCCI go about altering the equation so radically?

The class of 1983

India’s upward climb began with that shock win in 1983. Till then, India were a middling team at best. Some players had earned the respect of the opposition through their sheer class but most others were not good enough. However, the World Cup triumph changed all that. Suddenly, people in India were much more aware of their team and the players were much more aware of what playing cricket could mean from a financial perspective.

“Financially, the team members were to get a fee of, I think, Rs 7,500 for the entire World Cup,” said Madan Lal, one of the stars of that team. “When we came back the BCCI gave Rs 1 lakh to each team member. That was an unheard-of sum in Indian cricket. The board had to request Lata Mangeshkar for a fundraiser to adequately reward the players. That states all about the financial status of cricket before 1983.”

The win, though, was only one part of the puzzle. The other part was television. Colour TV had come to India in 1982 before the Asian Games in Delhi. Suddenly, India watched its champions. They watched a team of Indians become the best in the world. They watched Kapil Dev. They saw things in a very different light. It sparked a hunger for the game. People wanted to watch it and youngsters (including a certain Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar) were inspired to play it.

The next part was of the jig-saw was former BCCI president NKP Salve, who was a Union Minister at the time. Denied passes for the Lord’s final in 1983, where India had unexpectedly qualified, he swore that he would bring the tournament to India. And he did just that.

In 1986, just ahead of the 1987 World Cup, Reliance Industries Ltd paid $1 million for the title sponsorship of the tournament. The tournament wasn’t a commercial success but it was the first one held outside England and more importantly, it gave everyone involved a glimpse of the possibilities.

From 1987 to 1992, the BCCI was in financial turmoil but there was light at the end of the tunnel.

TV to the rescue

In 1992, Doordarshan demanded Rs 5 lakh from the BCCI to telecast cricket matches played on Indian soil. The broadcaster needed to meet the costs of production and it expected the governing body to pay them.

The scenario changed in 1993 when the board sold television rights for the India-England series to Trans World International. Doordarshan, in turn, was forced to pay TWI $1 million for the right to telecast the matches in India. This agreement made the BCCI richer by $600,000 and allowed them to fight their way out of the economic doldrums.

Another major event occurred in 1993. It was a change forced by the growth and power of Asian cricket — on July 7, 1993, England and Australia, known as foundation members, lost their power of veto. The veto powers had meant that any changes to the ICC membership or the organisation had to be approved by both countries and this often allowed England or Australia to push any button if they so wished.

By now, Indian cricket was starting to take off. England thought they had been promised the 1996 World Cup and guaranteed Associates 60,000 pounds each; India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka offered 100,000 pounds each and won out. Clearly, change was afoot.

Masterminding the play was Jagmohan Dalmiya. The arrival of Sachin Tendulkar helped as did the commercial success of the 1996 World Cup. Even though, the broadcasting rights in 1996 were worth only $14 million but compared to previous World Cups, it was a big step up.

It showed India and cricket the path ahead. And when Dalmiya became the first Asian to become the ICC chief, he set about changing things. This was a man who knew how to do business. He knew that the emerging economies and the growing cricket audiences were both in Asia and that is where he focussed.

In 1999, the BCCI signed a record five-year deal with Doordarshan for the telecast of all international and domestic matches to be played in the country. The overall deal was worth Rs 54 crore per year. The money was flowing into the BCCI coffers but for many traditionalists, they were just the nouveau rich. All money, little class.

Power struggles

Inevitably, came the flexing of muscles and power struggles. A major incident in 2001 summed it up, when India wanted former English cricketer Mike Denness removed from his role as match referee in an India-South Africa bilateral series. Denness accused Sachin Tendulkar of ball-tampering and acted against the player and five others, including captain Sourav Ganguly, for excessive appealing.

Denness, at various stages during the hearings, violated the principles of natural justice and that raised India’s hackles. Dalmiya, back in the BCCI at this point, put his foot down and forced the ICC to reverse their decision on Tendulkar, Dennis was dropped for the third Test (which was no more recognised as an official match) and the ICC was later forced to restructure the ICC Match Referees Panel.

In 2002, the ICC introduced an ambush marketing clause in contracts with boards that said no player could, in a two-week run-up to a multi-lateral tournament organised by it, endorse or appear in an ad for any brand that competed with any of the sponsors of the tournament. Given how many Indian cricketers had sponsors, this wasn’t something they wanted to do and it took a while but the BCCI eventually had its way.

Then, the Greg Chappell years weren’t kind to Indian cricket and when the team crashed out of the 2007 World Cup early, it looked like their high-flying days were perhaps coming to an end.

There was a storm coming. The Indian Premier League will change everything.

The IPL years

The 2007 World T20, which was met with a lukewarm reception by BCCI seemingly, triggered it all. After MS Dhoni and Co were crowned champions, India moved quickly to start their own (official) T20 league. They signed a 10-year broadcasting contract with Singapore-based World Sport Group for $918 million. A year later, the contract was replaced when Sony Group (through Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd) paid $1.63 billion for the nine-year broadcasting rights.

In October 2009, the BCCI announced a renewal of its four-year telecast deal with Nimbus Communications for Rs 500 crore a year, or roughly US$ 110 million. They suddenly had a lot of money on their hands but it still didn’t make everyone want to please them.

Delivering a lecture in 2010, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, said: “If the International Cricket Council is the voice of cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is the invoice of cricket.”

He wasn’t wrong. All the major sponsors for the game were trying to make a mark in India – in essence, they were there because they knew India would be watching.

The true shift, however, started to happen when international players started realising that playing in the IPL could secure their future. This wasn’t just about the BCCI or Indian players becoming richer, there was suddenly another avenue available to players.

India controlled not just the money in the game, but more than 75% of the viewership came from the region too and in addition to that, they also had a tournament that everyone wanted to be part of.

In his book The Great Tamasha, author James Astill interviewed Niranjan Shah, former BCCI secretary. During the chat, Shah said: “For cricket, the only market in the world is India. The market is here. So we will control cricket, naturally.”

And with each passing day, that control is only growing. The 2011 World Cup triumph brought a fresh wave of enthusiasm and made the game’s hold on India (and vice-versa) even stronger.

The new IPL deal was worth around $2.55 billion, a huge bump up from the amount that Sony had paid in 2009. In 2018 Star Sports signed a five-year deal worth Rs 6138.1 crore that will see them pay Rs 60.1 crore for each match. The money is clearly not a problem anymore and with it has come influence.

As things stand at the moment, if you don’t have the BCCI on board, your plan isn’t going to go very far. Some might call it sucking up while others just might say they want to get friendly but either which way, saying that the cricket world revolves around India wouldn’t be too far from the truth.