International cricket in India was already a bestseller in the early 21st century but, mind you, not the domestic form of it. Here’s a look back on India’s first step to producing something as big as the Indian Premier League when Zee Telefilms conceptualised the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007.
To cricket fans who did follow the sport through the first decade of the 21st century, the ICL is but a distant memory as there are not much talks about the now-defunct league almost anywhere. Fans and cricketers have subconsciously agreed as if the league never existed. Unfortunately, though, the predecessor of the IPL is only remembered for the wrong things. But the structure and professionalism that it tried to incorporate into the Indian domestic scene are rather underrated. So let’s go back in time and revise how it all really took place.
Cricket as a business prospect was fairly understood in India when Mascarenhas signed an insane amount of Rs 25 crore deal with Sachin Tendulkar for an advertising contract of over five years. Meanwhile, the BCCI rose a money-rich giant in the cricket fraternity through the 1990s and 2000s. The board, that enjoyed a tight international scheduled through all seasons, were of course offered huge offers from several businesses for selling their broadcast rights. One of the leading TV channels in India, the Zee telefilms, were in the race to secure these rights for cricket, the most marketable sport in the nation. But Jagmohan Damilya’s BCCI refused to sell their rights to Zee for years.
Remember Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket from the 1970s? Well, the Zee Entertainment Enterprisestook a leaf out of the ‘Cricket War’ and produced a T20 league of their own. The owner of the TV channel, Subash Chandra, decided to go down the Packer route and started signing several domestic and international players and promised them huge amounts of monies to play in his league - the ICL.
Quite obviously, the BCCI reciprocated negatively and decided to put international bans on cricketers who agreed to join the ICL and other boards around the world followed suit. However, the owner of Zee, Chandra was able to attract enough talents from the domestic and international scene to produce the inaugural season of ICL, which was held in November 2007. The talents included the likes of Ambati Rayudu, Rohan Gavaskar, international stars like Shane Bond, Lou Vincent, Azhar Mahmood, etc. The first-ever ICL season saw six participating teams - Mumbai Champs, Chandigarh Lions, Chennai Super Stars, Delhi Jets, Hyderabad Heroes and Kolkata Tigers - that consisted of cricketers from India and beyond. basically bringing back the memory of the World Series Cricket played between teams from India, Pakistan, and the Rest of the World.
Decline and Aftermath
However, BCCI and the resistance from all boards and also the fact that the league couldn’t capture the imagination of fans, led to the ICL being irrelevant only after being able to conduct two seasons - in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the BCCI decided to conduct a T20 league of its own - the Indian Premier League - which became a mega-hit in 2008 and till date remains the biggest league in the world. In fact, several big names such as Mohammad Yousuf, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Stephen Fleming were initially reported to be interested in the ICL but eventually joined hands with the IPL. The ICL was all done and dusted but the friction between Zee and the Indian cricket board sustained. In 2009, the BCCI lifted its ban on cricketers who participated in the now-defunct ICL.