Administration is a different ball game

Over the last two decades, former players have jumped into cricket administration. Some of them have shown that they can make a difference off the field as well, while some are learning from their past mistakes. A few others are aware that they are walking a tightrope.

Brijesh Patel, secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, inaugurates the turf wicket at the H.K.S School campus in Hassan. Patel and his team helped promite the game in the interiors of Karnataka.   -  Prakash Hassan

As the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, Anil Kumble (left) along with Javagal Srinath did a lot of good work but failed to communicate it properly.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

In a week that witnessed an outpouring of collective grief from rival factions in the BCCI over the demise of its president Jagmohan Dalmiya, the fine print also featured a pertinent question — who are better suited for cricket administration, the regular officials or former players? With the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, backing current Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) joint-secretary Sourav Ganguly for the CAB president’s post, which fell vacant following Dalmiya’s death, scrutiny is on cricketers-turned-administrators and the value they bring to the table.

However, there are no rules set in stone. Yes, players bring in their vast repertoire of experience and an awareness of how the game is governed in the rest of the world, thanks to their tours with the Indian team. Yet, regular administrators, who back clubs in the local leagues and get into positions within cricket bodies, aver that they are more clued into the nuts and bolts of helming a committee, giving directions and also handling the respective State’s bureaucracy.

During the early cricketing days in India, erstwhile maharajahs and princes ran the show, while some even forced themselves into the playing elevens, be it club, province or country. Independence, the gradual abolition of the privy purses, the relegation of royalty as a mere ornament from the past, helped another set of people to step into the corridors of the sport’s power points.

Businessmen, builders, club owners and the stray politician jostled for the reins, and while grounds were built and tournaments were conducted, players often felt that most of the powers-that-be had a feudal air. Of course, there were exceptions but the general perception was that in the pyramid, players and the game were low priorities.

Slowly, the air changed, players formed their own clusters, winged their way into associations by taking over clubs, began to participate in the elections and over the last two decades, cricketers have slowly trickled into State associations, be it in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengal or Hyderabad, to name a few. The most prominent though is the Karnataka State Cricket Association where players have held the hot seat for close to 20 years.

Brijesh Patel and his eminent peer group, which had the likes of G. R. Viswanath, Syed Kirmani and Roger Binny, democratically ousted the earlier regime led by C. Nagaraj in the 1990s. Patel and company did promote the game, which slowly began to spread into the hinterland.

Just as fresh legends like the Anil Kumbles and Rahul Dravids were emerging on the field, the honeymoon with the player-turned-guardians began to wane a bit.

There were whispers of the usual failings of being in power — like coteries stepping in with agendas and of Patel’s son Udit, a genial youngster, being preferred in the Ranji squad. But truth be told, the KSCA under Patel unveiled a pension scheme for State players, unveiled India’s maiden T20 tournament — The Bradman Unibic Cup — and the game was allowed to flourish.

The ushering in of the Karnataka Premier League did raise the hackles of the classicists but rookie players felt that they were now in the limelight and could well gain the selectors’ nod.

But monopoly breeds boredom at the simplistic level and disenchantment at the macro level, and once Kumble and Javagal Srinath evinced an interest to don their suits and shepherd the game, Patel withdrew and instead backed them. “I don’t want a split between us players,” he had then said, and soon the spine of cricketers running the KSCA was further strengthened.

Kumble and his colleagues, especially Vijay Bharadwaj, pushed technology, enhanced infrastructure and just as things were settling down, fissures appeared between them and Patel.

Eventually, when the elections were held, Patel’s group swept the polls. During a break in one of his commentary stints in South Africa, Dravid said: “I knew the numbers were stacked against us but I didn’t realise we would lose like this. You got to admit that good work was done by Anil and Sri, perhaps we missed a trick in not communicating it properly.”

And that brings us to the other aspect of cricket administration — you may have done fine work but you still need visibility, and a PR machinery is a must. It is something that the administrators (with obvious political leanings) and even senior cricketers-turned-officials like Patel had mastered.

A KSCA employee said, “Once you step into administration, you should forget that you are a player; yes, use all that experience but you should accept that you will be judged on how you run the association, your interaction with the staff and clubhouse members, your accessibility, and if you cannot make that transition then the voters will react. Remember, it is not the public that votes, but just members. If it is the public, an Anil or a Sachin (Tendulkar) will win every election but members have their own viewpoints.”

The above utterance offers a reality check and stars like Ganguly are aware that they are walking on eggs. It is never easy and they will have to go beyond their aura and impeccable reputations and just get the hard work done besides keeping members in the loop. Most players would admit in private that it is easier handling a fiery bouncer than coping with the political undertones of running an association.

The players have made their choices and it is now up to them to show that they can make a difference off the field as well, which Patel and Kumble have done in their own inimitable ways.