Within hours of the Supreme Court’s judgement, it became clear that the panjandrums of the Board of Control for Cricket in India were not ready to roll over and die. There was talk of the typical Indian responses: non-co-operation, a rush to form a ‘rival’ body that would now run the game in the country, and through it all, a scorched earth policy guaranteed to give the impression that only the old, corrupt lot could run the game in the country.
We have seen the end of the beginning, but we may be some distance away from the beginning of the end.
This, despite weariness and court-fatigue among many members of the erstwhile BCCI. There are those who supported the BCCI’s intransigence but believe now that the battle has been lost and enough is enough. But there are enough power-hungry, chair-hugging, money-lapping members who want to stymie the system by any means, mostly foul.
The game is no longer about saving cricket — if it ever was — but about saving themselves.
N. Srinivasan, ex-President and the man whose original intransigence led to the break-up of the BCCI, seems to have become the rallying point for the disaffected. In sport, as in politics, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends. At a meeting in Bengaluru, the dispossessed planned their re-possession campaign. All three techniques mentioned above were discussed informally.
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Forming rival bodies is an administrative pastime for officialdom in India. Often two soccer teams or two cricket teams land up for the same national event, leaving it to the organisers to decide — sometimes with the help of the courts — which the “official” one is. If the plan is to carry this idea into the international arena — imagine two teams from India arriving to play in the Champions Trophy later this year — that is unlikely to happen.
The Supreme Court could be faulted on some of the “what should happen” rulings, but it is very clear on what should not happen.
The BCCI is up against not just the Supreme Court which has had its say, but against the International Cricket Council too, now headed by Shashank Manohar. While the former has removed unqualified officials (making all talk of “resignation” somewhat cute and unnecessary), the latter is not inclined to recognise a new body.
The Supreme Court’s decision to remove the President and Secretary of the BCCI from their posts came with sufficient warning. The only surprise was the manner in which the cricket body refused to see it. When the West Indies ruled the (cricketing) world, they followed a simple psychological ploy. Their fearsome fast bowlers went for the opposition’s captain, believing that once the captain fell, the rest would follow. Many of the broken noses, cracked ribs and fractured fingers of batsmen in the 1970s and 80s belonged to rival captains or the teams’ best batsmen. The learned judges of the Supreme Court followed the same strategy. By sacking the President and Secretary of the BCCI, the highest court of the land ensured it would not have to worry about the rest. The alacrity with which the hitherto obdurate officials of state cricket associations changed their tune suggested the Supreme Court had read it right.
By September last year (the ruling was passed in July), it was clear that the BCCI’s plan was to brazen it out, bury its head in the sand and pretend that the Supreme Court did not exist. “You better fall in line or we will make you fall in line,” the Court informed the BCCI. It was unambiguous and hinted at what was to come.
Both the President and the Secretary said they did (or didn’t) do what they did (or didn’t) in the greater interests of cricket. But by their intransigence they had brought the game into disrepute, made it difficult for those who might have handled it better, and frightened away (at least temporarily) those who would serve the BCCI and cricket. The best sports body must attract the best talent, but no one wants to jump into a dirty pool.
In one fell swoop the Supreme Court unseated those whose backsides seemed to be glued to the chair. When families in Indian cricket are discussed — the Amarnaths, the Mankads, the Pataudis — these are men who brought glory on field. But there is another set of families even more closely associated with Indian cricket whose contributions are suspect. The Shahs of Saurashtra, for instance, or the Mehras of Delhi, the Rungtas of Rajasthan.
Niranjan Shah has been the presiding deity in Rajkot for over four decades. He came in all those years ago to “democratise” the association then run by a local Maharajah. The association has been packed with his relatives, while his son was not only made the captain of Saurashtra in Ranji cricket but found himself picked for the IPL too. His first class average is 28.
Niranjan Shah is 72, and his reaction is interesting: “We respect the Supreme Court judgement and we have to abide by it, but whatever judicial thing is left we will discuss with our lawyers. I have got constitutional right, which has been given by Gandhiji. Constitution is written by Babasaheb Ambedkar.” To paraphrase: if there is the slightest chance, I will return as office-bearer.
It is not difficult to imagine yet another Shah — or a Shah acolyte — taking charge in Saurashtra. Ruling-by-proxy is a very Indian thing in sport (as in politics). The possibility of one set of corrupt, overweening officials being replaced by another similar set cannot be ruled out, but the Supreme Court’s ruling will give the genuine, old-fashioned hardworking administrator in love with the game and in serving it, some hope.
It is not the Supreme Court’s job to run cricket in India, nor is it desirable. It has to get just one more thing right now — the panel which will oversee the administration till all the elements are in place. On January 19, the names will be revealed. Interestingly, the canvassing has already begun, some of it subtle, some not so.
There is much to be done. Some associations will have to change their registration for which they will have to call for a general body meeting. Others will have to work towards having a panel to oversee the changeover. It’s a long road in one of the busiest domestic seasons ever.
The BCCI panel must quickly learn to distinguish between wheat and chaff, and release funds for genuine matters. Which is why it is important to get the committee of administrators right.
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