[L] The launch of the first season of the IJPL and [R] Dinesh Kapoor with Gautam Gambhir at an event. © IJPL

[L] The launch of the first season of the IJPL and [R] Dinesh Kapoor with Gautam Gambhir at an event. © IJPL

A few days ago, the Board of Control for Cricket in India issued a press statement outlawing two entities – the Indian Junior Players League (IJPL) and the Junior Indian Players League (JIPL).

In what was a bit of a throwback to the Indian Cricket League days, the BCCI talked tough about the tournaments: “said Leagues are not being conducted by the BCCI/Indian Premier League”; “in no way associated with any activities undertaken or approved by the BCCI/IPL or their representatives”; “any matches and activities conducted by the Leagues are deemed to be Unapproved Tournaments”; “without the consent of BCCI”; “in violation of the BCCI Rules and Regulations”.

“The BCCI has not in any way sanctioned or permitted the participation, representation or association of any BCCI registered player with any of the Leagues. Further, BCCI has not authorized or permitted any BCCI registered player or the Leagues to use the images and/or likeness of the players,” said Amitabh Choudhary, the BCCI acting secretary, adding that Gautam Gambhir, Rishi Dhawan and Paras Dogra, who were associated with the IJPL, have confirmed in writing to the BCCI that they would no longer be involved with the now-embargoed setup. Also, players registered with state associations have been barred from having any dealings with the leagues.

What was the issue, really? To the layperson, it smacked of the usual BCCI heavy-handedness. But why does the BCCI even bother about two non-entities that, on the face of it, don’t affect their existence in any way?

Rahul Johri, the chief executive officer of the BCCI, redirected us to Prof Ratnakar Shetty, the board’s general manager of game development, who explained to Wisden India, “For us, it’s a simple reason: These tournaments have no permission from the BCCI, but might be using registered players. If they use other players, who are not registered with us, then there is no problem.”

But, on the face of it at least, we are talking about junior players here. Why go out of the way to prohibit them?

“There is a question of what is an approved tournament and what is an unapproved tournament,” said Shetty. “I don’t know who they are using. They reached out to some of our international players, who were used as brand ambassadors. We have a duty to caution our players. So our statement was to prevent registered players from going and to let the associations know this. That’s all.”

Having learnt their lesson from the Indian Cricket League experience, the BCCI was quick to step in and protect their turf when it came to the IJPL. © AFP

Having learnt their lesson from the Indian Cricket League experience, the BCCI was quick to step in and protect their turf when it came to the IJPL. © AFP

That’s that then, but while the JIPL guys didn’t respond to our efforts at getting in touch with them, the people at IJPL were more forthcoming, and certain that their ‘league’ was not illegal in any way.

“I really don’t understand. We are a small body, and they are a huge body, controlling everything. Is it an ego thing for them?” questioned Dinesh Kapoor, managing director of IJPLT20, speaking to Wisden India. “The BCCI have written to the state associations asking them not to give their children … but nobody can stop me legally. Why is it illegal? It’s a talent hunt. It’s called a league to be attractive, but as such, it’s a talent hunt of boys between 12 and 18. How am I doing something wrong?”

Kapoor, also the boss at Fitness World, the training equipment biggies, stressed that the IJPL had been put together as a training-cum-competition programme entirely with an eye at giving an opportunity to the less privileged youngsters from non-mainstream centres. With that in mind, according to details furnished by the company, they conducted talent searches in 16 Indian cities, got applications from 55,000 boys and then had 5200 of them registering. A total of 22 selection camps were held across the country and the 480 best players were shortlisted. After sessions with coaches and mentors, including Jonty Rhodes and Kieron Pollard, that number was halved to 240, 15 players each for 16 teams. And, while the original plan was to have the ‘league’ at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, keeping in mind the monsoons, it was shifted to Dubai, where it was held in the early part of October, the matches taking place at the International Cricket Council Academy Oval and elsewhere.

“We thought that we would do some grassroots-level talent hunt,” continued Kapoor. “The venture in cricket is only the first one. We want to enter football, many other sports. The idea is to give children playing in the gullies and fields a chance to feel like their stars.”

But why not seek permission from the BCCI, if that is the sticking point?

“I had written a letter to the BCCI last year in August, to ask for their blessings, but they did not reply. Then they sent the letter to the associations in November 2016. I met them. They told me that the BCCI’s registered players will not participate. I said, fair enough. If they have contracts, we are not interested. They are already known, so they don’t come in our plan anyway,” explained Kapoor.

Shetty as well as Ajay Shirke, the BCCI secretary at the time, remember the exchange, with both saying, “Permission was not given” for reasons explained earlier.

"We have a duty to caution our players. So our statement was to prevent registered players from going and to let the associations know this. That’s all." - Ratnakar Shetty. © BCCI

“We have a duty to caution our players. So our statement was to prevent registered players from going and to let the associations know this. That’s all.” – Ratnakar Shetty. © BCCI

What happens next on the cricket front? The boys, some of whom have paid money to be a part of the IJPL – the less fortunate didn’t have to pay but were given scholarships – had been promised a career in the sport, or at least a chance to have a career. What about that?

“Next step – they will play in school, their state, maybe national level. They can adopt it as a career if they want, if they are good enough. Remember that this is a talent hunt; we haven’t given guarantees, just a chance. It’s like Indian Idol or one of these reality shows. If they are good, if people notice them, they will get a chance,” said Kapoor.

But, even if the BCCI can’t stop the IJPL (or the JIPL) from existing, the message is clear: Anyone associated with them are going to be pariahs – as men much more qualified, able and prominent found out when the ICL got on a collision course with the BCCI.

“They can’t do this,” argued Kapoor. “Those who play in IJPL are not playing Ranji Trophy or IPL. We can go to the School Games Federation of India. My son wants to play, why do I need the BCCI’s permission? Maybe some of them will get sponsors; if they want, they can play in other countries.

“I am going to meet the BCCI people. I am not creating an Indian cricket team. The BCCI should bless these boys. Teams are not all from the metros; Rajasthan, Ranchi … the winner is from Dehradun. Talent is not only in big cities. You have to recognise it. As for our company, cricket is not everything. We will move to other things. But these boys will be our brand ambassadors. No one can stop that from happening.”

This has the makings of a clash all right, with the BCCI as the Goliath – even in its Supreme Court-chaperoned state – in one corner and Kapoor & Co in the other. Do the IJPL guys have a strong-enough case? Are they really likely to take up issue with the BCCI or, as Kapoor says, eventually let it go because cricket is not everything? One way or the other, the BCCI stance is clear, and they look unlikely to budge from it.