Cricket.com (CDC): As a team owner, what’s been your experience with your team? How tough is it to move into a business like this from the traditional ways of running a company?
Mahesh Ramani (MR): Basically, my line of business has been into finance. Sports is something which I started experiencing from last year. We bought this team and I could say that the journey has been very interesting, challenging, but the opportunities that sports gives us, just not only in sports even in other ways, is tremendous. I would say that I can use this platform to build on my other businesses around the Caribbean. St Kitts is a very beautiful and amazing place, a very small population. I don’t think it’s more than 60,000 people but I could say all the people love cricket. They are very passionate about the game. That’s how the journey began and this has been my second year. Enjoying it as of now and I think it will only become better and better as years go on. It’s been more of a learning process.
CDC: This year has been tough on you as a team owner. Few players could not join because of the pandemic, some injuries to players mid-tournament. How do you keep a bunch motivated?
MR: Good question. First of all, among all the six teams, the team which got really affected in terms of players not able to come in, has been in St Kitts. Just at the time of the draft everybody was looking at the team and saying like well it’s a very explosive team and we can look for something more different this year. But, unfortunately, it didn’t happen the way we planned. No.1, the South African players couldn’t make it and we lost our core player Rassie van der Dussen, who has been doing well for St Kitts. But the main blow was Fabian Allen who couldn’t make it and with him, we lost two players. One Fabian Allen as a spinner and one as a batter. So it did cause a lot of concern and then of course there are a few more players, who couldn’t make it because of COVID. More than the players, we also lost our coaches. Our head coach and assistant coach, both couldn’t make it for this particular season. It has been quite tough. Right now Sohail Tanvir has been ruled out from the rest of the tournament because he has a fracture and we also had injuries with Ish Sodhi, Sheldon Cottrell, Joshua Da Silva, we just continued and I think it was too much of bad luck. But for me, this particular season, it was not more about winning. I have been only concerned about the health of the players. My communication with the players is not about their performance on the field, for that the coaches are already there. And we can’t expect every day the player to score. They do have some bad days and all, but I have been more concerned about their health and how well they are being treated. Winning comes second, first I need to ensure that my players are safe. So yes it has been quite tough.
CDC: From the conversation that you had with your players, are you kind of sensing that their morale has also been affected due to the circumstances they are playing in?
MR: I don’t think, that could be the case. If that is the case, for example, you can see a team like TKR (Trinbago Knight Riders), they have not even lost one match, and they have been doing phenomenally well. Not all the players, I don’t think they have played any quality cricket in the last six months. But, just because, my team is not doing that well I know the players’ morale has been extremely down and the coaches, myself, the support staff, we have all been telling them not to worry about it...there will be a better day coming. This year they are not doing well but doesn’t mean that they are not going to do well ever. In fact, players like Ish Sodhi, he was even rated as one of the best T20 bowler couple of years back and Chris Lynn, everybody knows, how explosive he can be on his good day. Somehow the team couldn’t have this combination this particular year. They do go down but we have somehow ensured that we pump them up with a lot of positivity, saying that yes another day come, another day comes. So I guess, it is a part of sports and cricket.
CDC: How has COVID affected revenue in terms of gate receipts, team sponsorship, merchandising etc?
MR: A lot. In fact, sponsorship was a very big challenge. With no crowd, we are losing on tickets and everything. But among all the six owners of the CPL, we all had the same wavelength. We wanted to go ahead with the cricket. We just wanted to ensure that we don’t break it and CPL has been very lucky to have conducted the first tournament of the year very successfully. Most important is not even one COVID case. They have done a phenomenal job. Also talking about how challenging it has been, I do have to give the credit to CPL, for this particular year, because they have also contributed and ensured that we don’t face a bigger portion of the loss. We know when we entered this particular year, that there might losses to almost all the teams but we took it up in a positive stride.
CDC: I also have to give credit to the players who participated. There was a pay cut from CPL to the players which they gladly accepted nobody even protested against it, they all said as long as we play cricket we are fine with it, that’s shows their spirit. So overall for the love of cricket everybody joined, and so far this tournament has gone extremely well and a lot of viewership. There are not many sports around so most of the eyes are focused on the games. It’s been an interesting time not a difficult time.
CDC: The US is home to plenty of franchise-based sports such as American Football/Basketball. Would you want to incorporate anything from there into CPL?
MR: Who would not? These American leagues have been existing for almost 15-20 years and they have been very successful. And the population is also huge. If you look at CPL, most of the islands are probably 100,000-150,000 people. That is the population of each and every island. Of course, you cannot adopt a model like what is happening in America but yes when it comes to merchandise or when it comes to developing the community assets along with their teams, there are a lot of things that we have to learn from them and adopt them. That would be very useful for any franchise cricket. Just not only CPL or any franchise cricket that would come in the future.
CDC: How did you end up owning a cricket team?
MR: The passion for cricket came in because of my dad, he was an absolute cricket fanatic. I still remember when I was 4-5 years old, he used to take me to all these Ranji Trophy matches in Chennai and whether I enjoyed it or not, he never asked me, just asked me to stay and watch. So I probably would have watched more number of matches because my dad was very passionate about it. From there the interest grew. We all grew up during my time looking up to the West Indies team. Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Curtly Ambrose... so I had a lot of interest for the West Indies cricket, and when the opportunity came I just grabbed it with both hands.
Of course, I understand it has got nothing to do with businesses which I was doing earlier but I also mentioned to you that if I can use it as a platform to get myself in, because one thing I've understood is that cricket, it really opens a lot of doors. I am looking at the expansion of other businesses, not sports but other businesses as well in the Caribbean. And this is really helping out.
CDC: You come across as a team owner who looks a lot into numbers and stats. How much data analysis does the management do before building a team?
MR: My base, my bread and butter has always been finance and it is nothing but numbers. I am strong in that so I basically have to use where my strength is. The statistics are extremely important in building up a team. I think all the data, which has been given and provided, that forms an integral part of the team. I believe in it very strongly. In fact, most of the picks this year or probably in the coming season, I will be going with the numbers.
CDC: What's the approach you have to build a team? Do you look at it in a 3-year or 5-year plan? How does the whole process of scouting and talent spotting work?
MR: When it comes to scouting, I do have a dedicated team for it, I do believe that we need to build a team. Winning is one thing, we can always properly pick up all the big names and say we have you won the tournament, but most important is to build a team. That is going to happen only when you start training youngsters. For example, when I am representing St Kitts and Nevis, the island, I have plans. In fact, I wanted to implement it from this particular year but of course, because of COVID I couldn't do it, but definitely, in the coming year, it would be implemented. I am going to have a camp, which is not a part of the CPL but I am going to go into finding out new talents, train them up and see how many people I can get in my team slowly and build a team probably in a period of three years’ time and get going with it. Also, develop a lot of talents. I have a lot of plans towards building up on this particular part, mainly within the West Indies and as the years go then let’s see how much we can expand it outside of the Caribbean. But right now my focus is more on the Caribbean.
CDC: What are some of the best moments you have had in this period with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots?
MR: Being there is something very important because when you are among the people and when you are enjoying the match...winning or losing is a second thing, what’s important is the match is interesting. Last year, we probably had three such great matches, which people still talk about. Our match against Jamaica, where we chased down a historic 242, one of the biggest chases in T20 matches, the second was the Super Over that we won against TKR. Even as of today, people talk about the way we came back in the game...that was a very interesting moment. I also enjoyed a lot during the match that we won against Barbados by one run. Talking about this year also, I would probably say, though we were on the losing side, the match that we had against Guyana, our young emerging player Joshua Da Silva, I think he scored a brilliant 50+ runs and the way he paced his innings, was extremely good under pressure. We've discovered a new talent in him so I could probably call that as a very good moment for me. Irrespective of the result, I was extremely happy the way he performed.
CDC: Do you have any plans to expand your reach to other sports leagues?
MR: Not in other sports at the moment but yes in the cricketing field, I am looking at opportunities in other countries also. Provided it is a viable opportunity, I will definitely jump into it. I think it (cricket) is a very interesting sport right now. It’s been a passion of mine. I would rather focus full time on it, get some sort of experience and then follow it up probably into other sports.