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Lalit Modi: Cricket's billion-dollar brain

  • Story Highlights
  • Lalit Modi is the man behind cricket's Indian Premier League
  • Has been credited with transforming the game, although not without criticism
  • Modi has been called 'the most influential man' in cricket
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By Dean Irvine
CNN
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(CNN) -- Former England cricket captain Michael Atherton has called him "ruthless," but for Lalit Modi, the man behind cricket's revolutionary Indian Premier League and vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), this is less of a criticism and more a statement of fact.

Bringing glitz to the game, Lalit Modi is the man behind cricket's Indian revolution.

"I am ruthless, without doubt," he told CNN's Talk Asia in Mumbai.

"Otherwise we wouldn't get where we were." Many believe that Modi, 44, has taken cricket into a new era, turning a sport that can be baffling to watch and take five days to play, into a brightly-colored instant hit of action taking just a few hours.

With cheerleaders, the best players in the world and even Bollywood stars as part owners of some of the teams, Modi has concocted a recipe fit for prime-time TV consumption, in a country renown for its passion for the game.

Modi's came up with the idea of a new Indian cricket league came 14 years ago, but resisted the involvement of the BBCI at that time, citing too many vested interested within India's main cricketing body that would have spoiled his ideas.

While ruthless he is also astute to the financial potential of cricket in India and the IPL.

After graduating from Duke University in the U.S. in sports management he returned to India to launch ESPN and 10 Sports.

Coming from a family that controls Modi Enterprise, an industrial conglomerate worth $1.5 billion, Modi admits his family were concerned that he was moving away from business and spending so much time with cricket while setting up the IPL.

"They didn't think that I'll be spending so much time with cricket, and cricket has taken up so much time of my time, but the job has made it so demanding. Either I do it well, and if I do it well then I need to give the time for it," he told CNN.

It's been time well spent, both professionally and personally: Modi has his own private jet, gets mobbed in the streets by fans and can hang out with Bollywood stars.

Yet he hasn't made a fortune from the IPL: "I have an honorary position and BCCI is a charity and a trust. It's a nonprofit-making organization and we do this for development of the game and I'm passionate about the game."

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However as vice-president of the BCCI he has been instrumental in boosting its revenues, brokering television deals and sponsorship associations that could see it top the $1 billion mark in the next five years.

It's no surprise that such an iconoclastic figure in a game rooted in tradition has his personal critics and those that are skeptical about the direction he is taking the game.

Modi was not without controversy himself, as he was accused of drug dealing and abduction while at university, claims that were never proven.

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The 20-over version of the game played in the IPL has worried some that the finer points of the game may be sacrificed for the instant, mass-market appeal.

But for Modi, it's quite simple: "We've hit records in viewership, record numbers in sponsorships sales, record number in team franchise sales, the owner themselves have done so well, the stadiums are full. We got Bollywood involved, I mean it's a script that I couldn't have written better myself."

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