Vinod Rai’s ‘ Not Just A Nightwatchman: My Innings in the BCCI’ is a transparent commentary on the functioning of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) under the guidance of the Committee of Administrators (CoA). It highlights little-known aspects of a most critical phase in Indian cricket when many veterans administrators were given lessons in cricket administration in the country.
“There was a lot of misinformation floating regarding our work. We were given a mandate to implement the Supreme Court recommendations and by the time we finished our terms only two of us were left in the CoA. We were clear in our resolve to make sure the Constitution is implemented even though three states did not agree. My job was to carry the mandate and the order to run the administration. To set a template,” Rai told Sportstar .
READ: Anil Kumble felt he was treated 'unfairly' in 2017, Vinod Rai writes in his book
The most shocking aspect was Kumble being handed a one-year contract even though his predecessor, Ravi Shastri, had enjoyed two years in the position. The Indian team was to participate in the 2017 Champions Trophy and proceed to the West Indies right after the tournament. Kumble was widely considered ideal for handing the Indian team, given his stature in international cricket.
Strangely, Kumble was never made aware of Kohli having issues with his way of functioning. “A barrage of opinions appeared in the media,” wrote Rai. “The CoA had been unanimous in its thinking that Kumble had a legendary track record as a cricketer, as one of the most successful bowlers of all time. He had also guided the team to some remarkable wins during the year that he was coach. He was a no-nonsense coach and a brilliant strategist for the team. However, despite his credentials and track record, the CoA was legally and procedurally hamstrung in permitting an extension by simply taking a decision overriding contractual clauses.”
Rai also highlighted how he had held discussions with Sachin Tendulkar, part of the Cricket Advisory Committee along with VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, and requested him to bring about a rapprochement between the captain and the coach. Tendulkar, according to Rai, mentioned that the CAC would speak to Kumble and Kohli and ascertain the “nature of the dissonance.”
The CAC, in fact, decided to recommend Kumble’s reappointment. But it never happened because Kumble chose to step down.
On Kumble’s letter of resignation, Rai wrote, “This was vintage Kumble — mature, diplomatic and a thoroughbred professional. A legend in his own right.” Even though Rai told Sportstar he did not speak to Kumble at any point during this controversy, he said in the book that the coach had taken the decision after he got to know that some team members had misgivings about his approach as a coach.
“I did not speak with Kumble. He has a high stature and I couldn’t have persuaded because he would have turned around and asked me what my standing was. Suppose we had given an extension what was the guarantee that the harmony of the team would not have been disturbed. Someone may have gone to the court to embarrass us. I couldn’t have given him a sermon. The CAC could have. But let me tell you I have a huge amount of empathy for Kumble. He deserved much, much better. After the episode was over, I spoke to him and must say that his hurt was justified. But please tell me how it could have been handled better or differently.”
“The BCCI,” when talking about his experience, Rai said, “had to change the approach and make the administration cricketer-centric. We have to realise the fact that the BCCI is rich because of the cricketers who play good cricket. The players are popular and it is because of them that the media is attracted to cricket. The BCCI makes huge revenue and I wanted to see that the players are well looked after along with the public who are the most important stakeholders.”
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On the subject of the players’ contracts, the book, published by Rupa, details how the CoA reworked it in 2017. “It was shocking that the contracts had not been revised since 2011. Our players are very grounded and I must appreciate the lead that Dhoni and Virat took on this subject by wanting us to encourage the Grade B and C players by giving them more money. Also, I must say there is zero star culture in this lot despite the huge public adulation for them. I never felt any of the players trying to overreach. I was, however, shocked to know that efforts were not made to correct the workload on the players — engaged for 272 days in a year.”
Rai admitted ,”A rather unusual step had been taken by the BCCI in appointing Dhoni as a mentor towards the end of the Indian tour of England…..maybe his presence in team management or in the dressing room could have been effectively used….If Dhoni was the epitome of calmness on the ground, Kohli was the picture of aggression and passion. This model was ideal for Indian cricket and needed to be adopted as a template.”
He praised the Indian cricketers for their commitment. “This is a fearless and courageous lot who will not take any nonsense from anyone, including cricket administrators. These cricketers are no longer at the mercy of the BCCI or any cricket administrator. By and large the objective behind the Lodha reforms is that cricket administration should be in the hands of former cricketers. With all the annoyance displayed by the Court in its last three hearings, the BCCI still had not considered it prudent to withdraw from its arrogant and aggressive stand and accept the reforms package.”
He took pride in the introduction of the north-east states and also Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and Puducherry into the first-class system. “I think every state should be given the opportunity to compete. We have to provide them with the necessary infrastructure and we helped them by giving them three guest players. To those who mocked their weak standards I would ask if every team that ICC promotes is strong enough to take on the big nations. We were keen to develop Indian cricket by giving everyone a fair platform to perform.”
READ: Navigating through turbulent times — a timeline of CoA's bumpy ride
Rai left with a regret that the CoA could not do justice to women’s cricket. “I feel we could have done much for women’s cricket. We also could have given the players a decent academy than what we have in Bangalore.” Rai has continued his association with the game. “My love for cricket dates back to the time when Polly Umrigar was making news. I love the T20 format too and marvel at the seamless way our players switch from one format to another. Our team is second to none and the CoA has helped them set new benchmarks.”
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