IPL fights for its future
New Delhi - The Indian Premier League revolutionised cricket when it burst onto the scene in 2008 with a high-octane blend of international star players, Twenty20 matches and Bollywood glamour.
But the money-spinning tournament faces an uncertain future with some observers predicting its fourth season, due to start in April, hangs in the balance.
The event has been hit by allegations of massive corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion, as well as secret deals to hide teams' real owners and even links to India's criminal underworld.
Shashank Manohar, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the league, said he was determined the tournament would survive -- and thrive.
"The IPL is a very valuable property for us and it will not be devalued," he vowed, adding that the next edition may drop the cheerleaders and late-night parties that characterised past matches.
"The focus will be on cricket, not what happens off the field," he said.
Lalit Modi, the IPL's founder, was thrown out of the sport by the BCCI in September over accusations about his conduct.
The BCCI has registered a criminal case against him for the misappropriation of 4.68 billion rupees ($106m) and he also faces a government probe for financial irregularities.
Modi, whose brash style personified the IPL, fled India earlier this year -- and has consistently denied all the charges against him.
He now lives in self-imposed exile in London, surrounded by bodyguards, as he claims his life is in danger from Mumbai-based gangsters linked to illegal gambling.
Whatever Modi's fate, the IPL faces many obstacles as it hopes to make a fresh start in 2011.
Two of the original eight franchises, the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, were expelled from the league last month for not declaring changes in their ownership structures.
Former Australian spin wizard Shane Warne, who captained the Royals, said the expulsion of his side was staggering, and he questioned whether there was "something sinister behind it".
The Royals, part-owned by Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, were one of the highest-profile teams after winning the inaugural IPL under Warne's inspirational leadership.
"I don't see IPL 4 happening if the BCCI treats other teams like this," Rajasthan co-owner Raj Kundra told the media before he took the governing body to court over the axing.
Kochi, one of two new teams set to join the IPL in 2011, also faces the axe if it is unable to resolve ownership disputes, raising fears the IPL may shrink from the intended 10 teams to just seven.
The players' auction, which was due to be held in November, is mired in confusion and unlikely to take place before January as the BCCI first decides the number of teams that will take part.
England star Kevin Pietersen, who was signed up for the 2009 and 2010 seasons by the Bangalore Royal Challengers for an annual salary of $1.55m, said he was unsure of the IPL's prospects.
"It is a case of wait and see where it goes," Pietersen told the Times Now news channel. "In the immediate future we don't know what will happen, where it's going go, whether the IPL is going to happen.
"A lot of people are uncertain where the IPL is going."
The IPL has overcome difficulties before. In 2009 it moved the entire show to South Africa at three weeks' notice over security fears as the dates clashed with India's general elections.
It remains hugely lucrative, based on continued popularity with fans and advertisers -- and still draws many of the world's best players.
But organisers will be desperately hoping the 2011 tournament goes smoothly, and recaptures the excitement and explosive cricketing action that first made the IPL famous.