New Delhi: Indian cricket was rocked by an acrimonious slanging match as the game's powerful establishment moved to crush a breakaway multi-million dollar series.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is determined to ensure the failure of the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) which is bankrolled by the country's largest listed media house, Zee Telefilms.
The BCCI has not only refused to let out stadia for the ICL's inaugural Twenty20 competition later this year, but also threatened to bar rebel players from representing India in official tournaments.
"In a democratic country, anyone is free to play anywhere, but those players who join the ICL will not be considered for selection for India," said BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah.
"They could even face life bans from official cricket."
But ICL chairman Kapil Dev, India's only World Cup winning captain and one of the great all-rounders of the modern game, said Shah's comments were "malicious and uncalled for."
"Our cricket will go ahead as planned," Kapil told AFP. "No one can stop cricket from being played in India.
"It is shameful that the BCCI has adopted such an attitude. I thought they would be the first to encourage cricket. But they want to stop it.
"I think the BCCI is scared of the ICL."
Kapil said the line-up and dates for the first Twenty20 competition between six city teams are expected to be unveiled in the next few days.
Each team is supposed to comprise four international players, two Indian stars and eight upcoming cricketers, according to an ICL announcement in May.
But the BCCI's hardening stance has made it difficult for the rival series to recruit current cricketers from both within and outside the country.
So far, most of the players linked to the Twenty20 series - regarded as a young man's game - are retired, semi-retired, or those who can't hold their place in the national side.
Retired West Indian captain Brian Lara, Test cricket's highest run-getter, is the only player to have confirmed his participation in the competition which carries a winner's purse of one million dollars.
Ex-Australian stars Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have dismissed claims by the ICL that they had already signed up, but the duo continue to be linked to the series.
Other big names reportedly in negotiations with the ICL are ageing veterans Inzamam-ul Haq of Pakistan, Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka and New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns.
Importantly, no Indian star currently touring England has been linked to the rebel series, prompting BCCI chief Sharad Pawar to dismiss the ICL as a "veterans series no one will want to watch."
Kapil, however, remains unfazed.
"They can call it what they like, but our aim is to help young, promising cricketers to rub shoulders with the very best in the game," he said.
"It will be great to have Lara and others teach our players. Standards will improve. That is what we want. Is there anything wrong with that?"
Kapil refused to reveal the big names the ICL has signed. "Wait for a few days and you will know. Cricketers from both India and abroad are getting in touch with us."
The BCCI is due to meet on September 21 to discuss the ICL developments.