Having taken over the reins of the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) in January, Rohit Pawar has made the most of his Powerplay. Not only has his dispensation revived the Maharashtra Premier League (MPL), but Pune, the MCA headquarters, has been awarded five matches in the 2023 ICC Men’s World Cup.
In this freewheeling chat conducted on the sidelines of the MPL final, Mr. Pawar, who is also an MLA and third-generation leader from the bastions of Baramati, spelt out his vision for the MCA and responded to allegations of dynasty politics having trickled into cricket administration.
What is more satisfying for you? To have organised the Maharashtra Premier League, or Pune being set to host five World Cup games later this year?
I would say that creating a platform for cricketers always matters more. MPL is a platform where promising cricketers from middle-class households get to experience a tournament that’s similar to the international level. Besides, when you host a big-ticket event like the World Cup, when these young cricketers witness the action from the gallery, watch great cricketers in action from close quarters, they get a feeling like “I have just played MPL, now I want to go on and play IPL, more importantly play for India”. So, both these achievements are crucial for the association and we are proud of having ticked both the boxes.
What prompted you to revive MPL in such a short time?
Our apex council has professionals who are experienced in various fields. We have lawyers, entrepreneurs — I am involved in politics and business, some are experienced administrators, bankers. So, when we discussed whether we should do MPL and everyone replied affirmatively, we decided to share the responsibility. We roped in an able (event management) agency and started planning for the event. Fortunately, the BCCI and the IPL wholeheartedly supported us. It is said, sincere efforts, strong willpower, and clear intentions lead to success. The same applies to MPL being a grand success in such a short timespan.
The BCCI has a rule of not letting any State association organise a T20 league until 15 days after the IPL. Do you think it needs to be relaxed, especially for the associations in western (and central) zone?
All of us will get together and try and discuss it with the BCCI, whether the rule can be relaxed a bit. Even if the window can be advanced by 10 days — ideally to the end of May — it can help all of us. In spite of so many issues to deal with, including the World-Cup preparation, the BCCI gave us the go-ahead for this season. It shows it is positive and I sincerely believe that it will be supportive of this request as well in future.
Not too many are aware about your involvement in cricket, especially in Baramati. So, when you took over as MCA president in January, it obviously led to the discussion about dynasty politics. How do you view it and what was your drive behind entering cricket administration?
Look, every Indian is a cricket lover. Some play, some don’t; someone wants to play but cannot. I am also one of them. I watch less but love playing cricket. I have been organising big-ticket tournaments, especially in tennis-ball cricket, for a while now, so at some point I was wondering whether I can contribute to the leather-ball cricket circuit and coincidentally this opportunity came my way.
As for dynasty, everyone speaks about it early on in someone’s journey. And the discussion of dynasty will always remain considering the body of work of our elders. We are involved in politics anyway. Besides, Pawar saheb has been the BCCI and the ICC president, so it’s understandable for the dynasty parallel to be drawn early on. But ultimately, when our modus operandi and our functioning is witnessed, all this talk dies down.
For instance, even when I entered politics, the same topic cropped up. But I started from ground zero, the Zilla Parishad. And once I became an MLA, it subsided; no one talks about it now. Similarly in cricket, having a look at the way the MCA apex council has worked so far and also based on our body of work, I am sure these whispers will die down over a period of time. If I have to give a full-stop to these murmurs, the only job I have to do is to keep doing good work. That’s all I can say.
The Maharashtra Cricket Association has faced a severe financial crunch over the last decade. Having taken charge when things have started improving, what is your vision for the association?
Even the previous apex councils have worked hard to keep things going. We acknowledge their excellent work during hard times. Not all problems have been resolved, and the challenges are bigger now. We already increased the number of men’s teams competing in the Invitational Tournament from 36 to 48 and we plan to further expand it to 72. When the number of teams increase, it leads to a widened pool of players and many more talented players get an opportunity to showcase their talent and make a case for selection. Even among girls, we have increased the number of teams.
Our next endeavour is to try and help district associations for improving infrastructure in their region. We also have plans to stage MPL in two-three cities to expand its fanbase and involve locals more in the tournament. We are also considering upgrading the gym at the MCA International Stadium. We also have a few other plans and we are grateful that the BCCI has wholeheartedly been supporting us.
How does MCA plan to make MPL financially viable for owners and ensure it doesn’t fizzle out?
First and foremost, we had open bidding while awarding franchises and we saw 19 bidders turning up, so it shows it was a tempting proposition. We saw competitive and aggressive bidding, so all six owners are passionate about the game and are aware about the financial aspect. The first year was always going to be a challenge for everyone but from the next year onward, the revenue sharing model will shape up, be it with regard to the broadcaster, sponsorships and attendance.
It is bound to increase with every passing year. We have copied the IPL revenue share model so the next year onward, 50% of the central revenue created through various sources will be equally distributed among the franchises.
With the additional financial benefit to MCA through the annual subvention and the MPL, do you think it’s time to introduce player contracts?
Player contracts is the ultimate goal but there are numerous smaller targets to be achieved before it. To begin with, to improve the infrastructure at district level. Then to ensure the players are taken care of whenever they travel to represent Maharashtra. Earlier, only boys were allowed to have five-star lodging facilities. Now, we have decided to extend the same policy for all our girls’ teams. The next step is to improve the remuneration for the selectors and the coaching staff of all our teams. They devote so much time passionately for our cause, so they need to be compensated well. Once we tick all our boxes, we will be able to expand the MCA umbrella and it will motivate a lot of young kids to start playing competitive cricket. And then, possibly, we will consider player contracts.
There’s another topic to be taken care of. We have a plethora of former cricketers who have created the legacy of Maharashtra cricket but are facing a financial crunch now. The BCCI does extend them some help but our endeavour is to support them for their medical help. We need to look at all these issues first.