It’s all Saharan to me…

The havoc wrought by the Sahara group’s sudden withdrawal as sponsor of the Indian national team and the IPL Franchise, Pune Warriors, may not have made have registered as more than a faint ‘blip’ on the news radar of most South Africa cricket supporters, but it’s a fascinating story. Allow me to simplify it for you.

The group is owned by one of the wealthiest men in the world, never mind India, so don’t for a moment think that a shortage of cash has anything to do with their dispute. So, if it’s not money which has caused this catastrophic meltdown between the game’s biggest sponsor and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and it is not religion or politics, then it can only be about principles.

The Indian Sahara Group has a market value of around $20 billion and land holdings estimated at 24 000 acres across the depth and breadth of the country. The company’s chief, Subroto Roy, lives on a 375-acre estate in the province of Uttar Pradesh which is so vast it has its own petrol station and a cinema theatre which seats 5 000! There is state of the art security scanners at every entry and exit point of the estate.

So when he bought the Pune Warriors IPL Franchise for $370 million, it wasn’t exactly small change. But it was change. Nonetheless, you don’t get to be as rich as Roy by being footloose and fancy-free with your wallet, and a financial plan was carefully put in place which would see the Franchise operationally sustainable.

But then the BCCI kicked out the Kerala Tuskers before the last tournament and the total number of matches in the tournament fell from 94 to 78 which seriously affected the financial plans of all the Franchises, but particularly the Pune Warriors who were three years behind the others. Roy asked the BCCI for a refund. The BCCI refused.

Then, after three years, the second player auction took place. Except that the original eight Franchises were allowed to keep their four best players. In effect, it meant the Pune Warriors were starting with player number 33. Roy had been led to believe that ALL the players would go back into the auction after three years – and indeed, that is exactly what was SUPPOSED to happen. But the BCCI changed its mind. The BCCI’s president, N Srinivasan, owns Indian Cements – which owns the Chennai Super Kings – which owns MS Dhoni and Albie Morkel, among others.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Roy lost his one major superstar, Yuvraj Singh. Hopefully, the great all-rounder will make a full recovery from cancer but Roy had had enough. His company was paying the BCCI approximately $670 000 per international match as the title sponsor of the national team – and getting very little in return – and now he was being screwed by the BCCI over the IPL. He’d had enough. He took his bucket and spade and walked away.

For much of the last week, Roy’s people have been talking to Srinivasan’s people in an effort to get the Pune Warriors back into this year’s IPL. Apparently the two main men were supposed to meet face-to-face at Roy’s estate but it wasn’t big enough to accommodate both of their egos.

Meanwhile, Sahara SA is headed up by Ajay Gupta who owns The New Age newspaper (among many other assets) and he is a close friend of Roy’s. Gupta has been helping his Indian billionaire friend with his investments in iron ore and bauxite mines in SA. Gupta, of course, already owns the naming rights for three of South Africa’s test venues and has just added Willowmore Park and the 7th Franchise in the domestic T20 competition.

At least someone is showing an interest in investing in South African cricket!

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