ON 27 JANUARY 2002, an otherwise unremarkable Sunday exactly a decade ago, a large car carrying four people hit another vehicle and overturned somewhere near Nagpur. It soon became clear that only three had survived. The dead man, Mark Victor Mascarenhas of Connecticut—but earlier of Bangalore and sometimes of the Oberoi Hotel in Bombay—was, until that moment, a puller of rugs, a stormer of barns, a breaker of closed oak doors. In the nine years that he had flit in and out of India, he had been embraced by the most powerful man in Indian cricket, represented its most famous cricketer, and issued the first ripples of the tide of wealth that would wash over the sport within a decade of his death. He would not find justification in the eventual creation of the private league along the lines of what he had envisioned, or witness the rise to dominance of Lalit Modi; these things sprang later. But his world, at that moment, was so small, and its characters so few, that everything that came after—the valuations game, the football money, the relentless search for new markets—were only branches of a tree nurtured by him and other men who all knew each other by name and reputation.
Jump back another decade—so long ago that the third umpire was a revolutionary idea—to a meeting that was held at the coffee shop in the Blue Diamond hotel in Pune. On one side of the table were Jagmohan Dalmiya and Inderjit Singh Bindra, cricket administrators who were still some years away from disrupting the international power structures of the game. They represented the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Opposite them were Henry Blofeld, the cheery, clubby commentator who looks just as he sounds, and Andrew Wildblood, who would go on to help Modi transplant an entire tournament between continents 18 years later. Wildblood was part of an expedition by the sports production company TWI—a wing of the global talent management juggernaut IMG—into cricket’s dark continent, where they hoped to find value for Sky, an English broadcaster. Over a coffee, they negotiated the cost of television rights for England’s looming tour of India. They haggled over “the last $25,000” for a bit before reaching an agreement. Wildblood later said, with the slightest hint of exaggeration, that the price they paid wouldn’t have bought a single over of cricket today.
The deal marked a break between the BCCI and Doordarshan, which had for a long time used its status as India’s monopoly broadcaster to demand payment for carrying cricket on its network. The BCCI was a monopoly as well, of course—but Doordarshan was a government agency whose programming appeared on every television in India, and until that moment it had the upper hand. To the BCCI, the broadcaster offered coverage but little else. Poor equipment transmitted weak signals that grew fainter until TV sets projected more grain than grass.
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