Neeraj Kumar, one of India’s accomplished police officers, is an avid cricket follower. So much so that when the Indian Premier League (IPL) was hit by a spot-fixing scandal, he was disillusioned with the game. “I will never watch IPL again,” he had told Sportstar. He has not watched it since and writes about the dark side of Indian cricket.
Published by Juggernaut Books, “A Cop in Cricket” is Kumar’s association with the Board of Control for Cricket in India as chief of the Anti Corruption Unit (June 1, 2015, to May 31, 2018). They were years of much happening in cricket administration, and Kumar, in this must-read book for every stakeholder of the game, gives a candid peep into the murky world of cricket administration.
On the reasons for penning this book, Kumar said, “I wanted to do this as a cricket fan and a police officer. I wanted to cleanse my system of the humiliation that I faced from these cricket officials. I love the game and felt I owed it to the fans. Most of these officials are self-promoting and have little love for cricket. When you talk of corruption in cricket, you talk of cricketers indulging in spot fixing but what of the corruption of the cricket administration. I was appalled at the stories that I heard from budding players from small venues. I wanted to get out the toxins from my system and feel good because I have some bitter memories of my association with the BCCI. Show me how many officials care for cricket. Show me one decent stadium — I have not seen the one at Ahmedabad — that cares for the players and the spectators. Not one. I have highlighted many such issues in the book.”
Kumar decided to share his experiences with cricket fans, whom he holds in high esteem for the trouble they take to watch matches at the stadium. “There is hardly a stadium that can boast of a world-class facility with clean toilets, availability of hygienic food and refreshments, clean drinking water, parking facilities, smooth accessibility, firefighting equipment, and so on. End of the day, it is on account of the fans that the Board generates enormous revenue, but sadly nobody cares for them. The so-called cricket administrators, most of whom have never held a cricket ball or bat in their lives, end up as the main beneficiaries of the monies earned by cricket in this country, at the expense of the fans of the game and the players.”
But Kumar also reveals how he was in for a shock when on “one of my visits to Mumbai, after taking over as ACU chief, I was informed that the ACU office on the first floor of the Cricket Centre (BCCI Headquarters) had now been allotted to the accounts branch, which had been shifted from Chennai. Nobody had the decency to ask me before allotting it to accounts or to even inform me of the change. And till the very end of my tenure, I didn’t have an office of my own.”
Kumar is right when he writes that cricket has flourished in the country despite the cricket administrators, who, he asserts, are “in the business of cricket only for the power and pelf it brings them. They have unabashedly carved out personal fiefdoms in their respective areas of influence. They are there primarily for the lucre that is theirs for the asking. “
He shares his knowledge of how every state association is given a grant of “crores of rupees” annually as their share of the total revenue earned by the Board. Much of it comes from the IPL. “This huge corpus meant for the promotion of cricket at the grassroots level is diverted and misappropriated by state association officials, who adopt every conceivable modus operandi of malfeasance to do so,” claims Kumar. He would have done a huge service to the game had Kumar exposed the families who have come to hijack the state association for decades.
The Lodha Committee saga
“In the three years that I spent at the BCCI, I realised that fixing was the proverbial tip of the huge iceberg of corruption in cricket. Fixing is, in fact, a minuscule percentage of the large-scale chicanery that cricket administrators indulge in. The handsome revenues earned by cricket in India are parcelled off to state cricket associations, where the money is mostly misappropriated. The 2015 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case against the top bosses of the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) for embezzlement of crores of rupees given to them by the BCCI is a case in point.”
The top Board office-bearers “generally never ask for the utilization details or certificates for these funds” from the office-bearers of state associations because they need support to stay in the power circle. “The Lodha Committee report made pathbreaking recommendations on the structure of the BCCI, its governance, management, the creation of a Players’ Association, conflict of interest and so on. Reports of both the Mudgal Committee and Lodha Committee emphasized curbing corruption in Indian cricket. However, neither said anything about the outfit the BCCI should put in place to achieve this end. No consultations on the subject took place with the ACU officials.”
Kumar is very critical of the role played by Vinod Rai, who headed the Committee of Administrators (CoA), especially in the #MeToo episode when the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri, accused by a lady BCCI employee of sexual harassment, enjoyed a ‘father-son’ relationship, where the “father didn’t wish to hear anything against his prodigal son. He (Rai) always gave me a patient hearing and made me feel he was on my side and would discipline Rahul Johri suitably. But I noticed he did nothing of the sort. Looking back at the sequence of events, I continue to be appalled and outraged. The defaulting CEO had conspired with the chief administrator to embarrass me and pass on the blame for his misdoings to me in a meeting and had shared his plans with a journalist. Even more hurtful was that Rai pretended to be on my side only a couple of hours earlier and conducted himself in the meeting along the lines his CEO had scripted for him, even when he knew all the facts.”
Kumar also alleges that “unsavoury things also happen at the grassroots level” when teams are selected. “Those happenings remain a matter between the selector and the aspiring cricketer or his family.” He makes startling allegations that he had to look into complaints where sexual favours were sought from young cricketers. “We were frequently approached by players and their guardians complaining that they were cheated of lakhs of rupees by coaches or officials who promised them a place in an IPL or Ranji team and then disappeared,” Kumar writes.
There are instances of Kumar detailing spot-fixing episodes in various private tournaments and also the northeast, where the Arunachal Pradesh Cricket Association held trials in July 2019 in Aligarh. “Nearly 200 each was charged as entry fee.” The organizers of the trials “shut shop and fled” when Kumar made enquiries regarding the trials so far from the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
One for keeps
A pleasant anecdote highlights the human side of a star cricketer. “During the India-South Africa series of 2015-16, I recall once casually mentioning to him (Ajinkya Rahane) that I supported an upcoming cricketer from Delhi who came from an impoverished background. Days after this conversation, after the last Test match in Delhi on 7th December, I received word from the team manager that Ajinkya had left a cricket bat for me.” When Kumar called him, Rahane informed him that the bat was for the impoverished cricketer. “This magnanimous gesture on Ajinkya’s part is easily the most unforgettable experience of my association with cricketers,” he writes.
Kumar concludes on a bitter note. “I also realised over time that there was no room for expression of dissent at the BCCI. You dare not speak up or express your opinion. No one appreciated your pointing out even glaring inequities or erroneous orders in administration matters. Anyone attempting to speak out was got rid of in no time.”
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