A good move

THE formation of the Indian Cricket Players' Association has to be welcomed. The cricketers, both the internationals and the domestic players, did need a body to speak for them, and take up their cause with the authorities.

The channels of communication can be so much better this way, and there is a lot of good that can happen to the game vis a vis the players' interests. To start with, any dialogue between the Board and the cricketers will be more organised and focussed, with both sides understanding the need to resolve the pressing problems, if at all there are any.

Once the hurdles are out of the way, the two sides can concentrate on schemes to benefit the cricketers, which is of principal importance really. Here, not just the Test and the ODI stars, but even the first class cricketers will have to be given the importance that they deserve.

I would like to stress here that the Players' Association will have to work in tandem with the Board, and there should be a certain amount of cohesion between the two. In other words, the players and the Board should not be on a collision course, which will only hurt the cause of Indian cricket.

Instead, a spirit of goodwill and cooperation should prevail, and I hope things turn out to be different than in 1989-90, when the players and the Board locked horns, leading to plenty of bad blood. During that period, there wasn't much unity among the players, and they gained little in the end.

This time things do promise to be much different, with the players standing up in a united fashion. Their goals appear to be common, and I would like to wish them the very best of luck in their endeavour.

It would have been so much better though, had the association been formed at least five years earlier. Had that happened, so many players would have already been reaping the benefits.

In many ways, the controversy over the player sponsorships and contracts before the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo, forced the cricketers into forming an association. They need not have allowed things to come to such a pass.

Indeed, the row between the players and the Board could have been avoided, had the cricketers shown more foresight. There were so many moments of suspense and drama before the star-studded Indian team eventually took part in the Champions Trophy.

Here, I would like to take the readers to the dramatic events of the late 80s, when things turned ugly and bitter between the players and the Board. The sequence of events was triggered by the Board banning all the cricketers who took part in an exhibition game in the U.S., at the conclusion of India's tour of the Caribbean in '89.

The players did not take the severe and harsh punishment lying down, and they found a willing supporter in The Hindu group of publications, of which The Sportstar is an integral part. And it was only when the court decided in favour of the cricketers, that the bans were revoked, and the Board was made to eat the humble pie.

However, matters did not end there. The senior members of the Indian team were keen on the system of gradation in payments; those with more number of Tests under their belt would receive more as match fee.

Things reached a flash point before the tour of Pakistan in late '89 - I had been appointed captain for that tough campaign. The leading Indian cricketers, led by Kapil Dev, demanded the system to be implemented before the side left for the tour.

Frankly, having played less than 40 Tests, I did not stand to gain much from the endeavour, and it was just three cricketers, who would have derived the maximum benefit had the system been implemented - Kapil, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri. Senior cricketers like Mohinder Amarnath too were firmly behind the move to have gradation payments.

I must inform the readers here, that Mr. Raj Singh Dungarpur even asked me whether I would be willing to skipper a second string side in Pakistan. Had I been selfish, I could so easily have prolonged my career as captain for another two seasons, at least.

I said 'no' and though the first side eventually left for Pakistan, I was not in the Board's good books. It was important to keep the younger cricketers out of the controversy and I do remember telling the precociously talented Sachin Tendulkar to concentrate solely on cricket.

India performed particularly well on that tour, drawing all the Tests, and all I got in return was being dropped from the team to New Zealand, and the reason given was my indifferent batting form. The real cause was not hard to understand though - I had paid the price for not toeing the Board's line.

Since the players, fearing the axe, could not stay together, that particular movement proved a failure. Things could have been so much better had the cricketers and the Board joined hands then.

It is important to dwell on the past because the same mistakes can be avoided in the future. A spirit of understanding between the Board and the players could be the answer to the problems. Singling out a personality or an individual for criticism will serve little purpose.

If it was a question of a few thousand rupees more in the late 80s, the amounts involved now are far higher, and they often run into crores of rupees and millions of dollars. And when the numbers are big, the problems can be bigger too, as we saw in the run-up to the Champions Trophy, that witnessed Indian cricket in the midst of a major crisis.

That storm has still not blown over, and the contentious issue of player contracts and sponsorship, needs to be resolved soon.

It is here that the office-bearers have a key role to play. They have to ensure that the players concentrate on cricket alone, while they thrash out the 'money matters' with the Board. The coming months will be important for the cricketers, and they should not be distracted before the World Cup.

There are several cricketers, who were good enough to play for India, but due to various reasons, could not represent the country. They should be given their due. First class cricket in the country should be firmly in focus - the players toiling in the domestic circuit do deserve a better deal. Their remuneration needs to go up drastically, and the playing conditions can also be much better than what is prevailing now.

Benefit matches should be held for the present and former cricketers, which can be conducted jointly by the players and the Board. And the players, whose careers had ended prematurely due to some reason, should be provided adequate protection.

There is so much that can be done. The players and the Board should not miss out on this fine opportunity.