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Indian board agrees to meet ICL

On the second morning of the Bangalore Test, the front page of the Times of India was splashed not with Ricky Ponting's drought-breaking century but with a lavish preview of the Indian Cricket League.

Rather than being a sign of the extent to which the rebel league has captured the Indian public's imagination, it was a triumph of the ICL's aggressive marketing machine.

The marketing team has lifted several gears since the inaugural Indian Premier League (the BCCI's billion-dollar baby) caused Indian households to switch off their soap operas and tune in to the extravaganza of cricket entertainment, the emphasis being on entertainment rather than cricket, that burst into life last April, and is shifting the foundations of traditional cricket.

Anyone associated with the ICL will tell you that it was here first, and that the IPL only exists because the Indian board was fearful of ICL founder and media mogul Subhash Chandra and his Kerry Packer-like possibilities.

While the ICL cannot compete with the calibre of star attracted by the sanctioned IPL, with its ostentatious auctions and heady contracts for current international cricketers, it has been a surreal experience to switch on Ten Sports and see a greying Jason Gillespie, who was Australia's leading wicket-taker for the historic series victory in India four years ago, trundle in to bowl for the Ahmedabad Rockets. The second season of the ICL was deliberately scheduled to coincide with the Border-Gavaskar series.

"Our crowds have been a tad down, which we expected, but our TV ratings are very, very good," said former Australian batsman Dean Jones, who is on the ICL board and commentary team. "We are not competing with the India-Australia series because it's on at a different time, with our games in the evenings."

Two other Australians who featured in Australia's 2004 triumph, Michael Kasprowicz and Damien Martyn, are earning retirement pensions in the ICL with the Mumbai Champs and the Rockets, respectively. It is their younger teammates, though, who stand to benefit most from the prospect of a peaceful resolution between the Indian board and the rebels.

Emerging Indian players who appear in the ICL are presently banned from playing domestic cricket, let alone representing the national team, and most national boards, including Cricket Australia, have fallen into line with the influential Indian administration by doing the same.

Almost 30 years after Packer's breakaway World Series Cricket and the Australian Cricket Board brokered a deal, new BCCI president Shashank Manohar has agreed to meet ICL officials for the first time since the league was set up in April last year.

Though the Indian board will not capitulate, a resolution granting official recognition could give India's ICL players permission to resume their domestic careers.

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