A whiff of fresh air

EVER an event by itself, the annual election of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has caused enormous consternation among the public, if not amusement. Admired once for the sophistication and professionalism inculcated by the exemplary work ethic of men like M. A. Chidambaram and Zal Irani, the Board's stock as an administrative unit had degenerated in recent times because of endless squabbles, factionalism, acrimony, intrigue and what not.

Without any doubt, it must be conceded that the dynamism of administrators like I. S. Bindra and Jagmohan Dalmiya developed the financial muscle of the Board. This was largely on account of the unprecedented interest for the sport. Their marketing strategy yielded spectacular results. But these strategies themselves came out of conflicting interests and they led to appalling ambiguities and administrative imbroglios so much so that doubts crept up that the constitutional norms of the organisation were being flouted.

That the highest court in the land had to intervene and nominate no less a person than the former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy to conduct the elections reflected the intensity of the crisis that enveloped the BCCI. The elections were conducted within the framework of the constitution in Kolkata in the end of November. Though some feeble voices of dissent were heard, there was satisfaction all round that, at last, the chaos, which the BCCI was in the last few years, had come to an end.

The new helmsman, Sharad Pawar, is a seasoned politician and a competent administrator, who held the reins as the Chief Minister of one of the very important states. The Maratha strongman is not new to sport; he has been associated with kabaddi, kho kho and with the Olympic movement in the state. Importantly, he is also President of the Mumbai Cricket Association. This position gives him a lot of insight into what cricket administration at the national level requires at this point of time.

Pawar's defeat last year by virtue of a questionable casting vote by Jagmohan Dalmiya to favour Ranbir Mahendra was a crude attempt to misuse a constitutional safeguard. This time, Pawar played his cards adroitly, mobilising support from a wider section, leaving nothing to chance. The 20-11 verdict shows Pawar's enlarged base and the confidence reposed in his stewardship.

No one can be more aware than Pawar himself about the responsibilities that are on him. For all its popularity, cricket in India is at the crossroads, crying for reform on several fronts. Foremost is the task to rewrite, or at least rephrase, some of crucial clauses relating to the board elections. Simply put, the administrative apparatus should be more transparent and professional. The long time demand of having a paid CEO needs to be addressed immediately.

Pawar is supported by a committed and motivated team that is keen to clean the cobwebs. The secretaries, Niranjan Shah and M. P. Pandove, and the treasurer, N. Srinivasan, have a good grasp of BCCI matters because they have enjoyed high positions in their state units. What requires to be put in place without delay is the harmonious functioning of the various committees.

Dismantling the old panels and creating new ones is not an easy process; it calls for tact and impeccable timing. At no point should the moves made be construed as being designed to victimise a group or an individual. In this context, the statement of Pawar that everyone who had contributed to the welfare of BCCI would be involved is welcome. He had particularly referred to working closely with Dalmiya.

Pawar enters the scene like a whiff of fresh air. The working of the BCCI will no doubt be subjected to close scrutiny. The administration requires a bit of time to get cracking. But given the tight schedule ahead and the issues to be addressed, there is a clear case to get into the business right away.

High on this agenda is the sale of TV rights, a subject that had raised so much debate and bad blood among the bidders. BCCI deserves credit for having started a transparent process that led to the highest bidder getting the nod. The decision to give Zee Sports satellite rights to telecast the India-Sri Lanka Test series will hopefully be the first of many such pragmatic moves. The earlier system was too complex and open to manipulation. Financial rewards and high-quality production should be the only criteria followed while deciding television rights.

There is no doubt that the new dispensation will go all out to give players a good deal while reviewing their contracts that are due for renewal. At the same time, the BCCI is urged to take a fresh look at the demands of the domestic scene where certain reforms for remuneration are crying for attention. Umpires too have a charter of demands, which are worth studying so that action can be taken on it.

The new team has inherited a slew of negatives starting from the suspected flouting of constitutional norms to financial mismanagement. To say that the challenges before Pawar are daunting is an understatement indeed.