Opting for the straight bat

Sunil Gavaskar, batting deity, suave with his words, rich with a sense of humour, and obviously Indian cricket’s biggest voice, has donned many hats: opener, skipper, chronicler of the game on television and coach, for a brief period. But surely the latest Supreme Court directive that appointed him as the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) Interim President specific to the Indian Premier League (IPL), is a challenge unlike any that he has faced. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

In his prime, he has battled the fastest bowlers with a sense of certainty that helped supreme middle-order batsmen like G. R. Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath breathe easy before their turn at the crease.

He has also spent a major part of his life trying to prove that India is not inferior to anyone in the cricketing world. Just to drive home that point, it may be prudent to recall last December’s Johannesburg Test between India and South Africa.

Taking a break from his commentary stint, he stepped into the press box and glanced back and forth from his laptop to the action unfolding in the middle. And the moment Virat Kohli notched his hundred, he spontaneously stood up and applauded. There was pride in that gesture and a touch of subtle anger too, which was directed at all the talk in sections of the South African media that hinted at a certain frailty among India’s batsmen against genuine pace.

Sunil Gavaskar, batting deity, suave with his words, rich with a sense of humour, and obviously Indian cricket's biggest voice, has donned many hats: opener, skipper, chronicler of the game on television and coach, for a brief period. But surely the latest Supreme Court directive that appointed him as the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) Interim President specific to the Indian Premier League (IPL), is a challenge unlike any that he has faced.

Never the one to flinch, Gavaskar said: “I am deeply humbled and honoured that the honourable Supreme Court has entrusted me with the job of being the Interim President of the BCCI till the end of IPL-VII. Like with cricket, I will give it my best shot.”

Meanwhile, Gavaskar’s former India team-mate Shivlal Yadav, currently a BCCI Vice-President, will oversee the other administrative issues of the Board.

Gavaskar’s forced metamorphosis from television pundit to the BCCI’s President’s chair for a limited tenure, was engineered by a mass of circumstances, completely unrelated to him, that commenced during IPL 2013. Those depressing incidents had the stench of money’s ills: spot-fixing, dubious phone calls and the usage of those two damning words — ‘cricket enthusiast.’

S. Sreesanth allegedly ‘throwing in the towel’ (pun intended) under the behest of bookies gained several dark shades. Soon investigating agencies stumbled on phone-transcripts that linked Chennai Super Kings’ Gurunath Meiyappan to bookie Vindu Dara Singh. Super Kings, the most efficient team in the League, was suddenly grappling with matters that had nothing to do with its brand of cricket or its skipper M. S. Dhoni while Rajasthan Royals’ captain Rahul Dravid too was in a similar predicament due to Sreesanth.

That Meiyappan is the BCCI president N. Srinivasan’s son-in-law queered the pitch even more and the old spectre — conflict of interest — reared its ugly head. An attempt was made to erase Meiyappan's CSK footprints but earlier screen shots of his Twitter page and video grabs of him attending meetings as well as player auctions, proved too steep a hurdle to cross. Eventually, Srinivasan proferred the weak line about Meiyappan being a ‘cricket enthusiast.’ At that point, Indian cricket’s and in fact world cricket’s strongman became weak in the ‘perception sweepstakes.’

Tragically, the truth is that Srinivasan isn’t just a corporate czar trying to wrestle his way into cricket’s top echelons. He and his company India Cements have done enough and more for cricket over the years, through a long list of teams in the Chennai league that featured innumerable players, not just from Tamil Nadu but also from the rest of the nation. And if there was a twinge of emotion in the way he spoke at Dravid’s retirement press conference, two years back at Bangalore, it wasn’t just because India was losing one of its greatest cricketers, it was also because the former India captain was a key player for India Cements during his early days.

Dravid is still on the rolls of India Cements as a Vice-President and many years back, when his father (now no more) fell ill, the Chennai-based company took good care of Sharad Dravid. This digression is necessary because in all the noise about India Cements and Srinivasan, both the company and the man have been demonised. But in a bid to escape the ‘team-termination’ clause that is part of the fine print among the IPL’s rules and may be because he had to also buffer the blows on his family, Srinivasan had to find refuge in trying to deny Meiyappan’s real role with CSK.

The damage though was done and no enquiry into the greedy underbelly of IPL, could be seen to be fair when Srinivasan was at the helm. What his adversaries in some other cricketing bodies, within India and across the seas, couldn’t do — toppling him — his son-in-law has seemingly done. Yet, truth be told, there is no shred of evidence linking Srinivasan with betting and its dark shadows.

The Supreme Court stepped in and though the final verdict on the spot-fixing and betting scandal is awaited, what the highest legal body has done in the intervening period is to ensure that a sense of fairness is seen in the way the game, especially the IPL, is administered. Perhaps, the BCCI has to blame itself for its current position of being tied up in knots.

When in 2012, a news channel did a sting that revealed a few players — T.P. Sudhindra, Shalabh Srivastava, Mohnish Mishra, Amit Yadav and Abhinav Bali — open to accepting money for spot-fixing, the Board enforced bans ranging from one year to life time. But there seemed to be a belief that only the peripheral players would stoop to such low levels. Then Sreesanth busted that faith and hey, the rot wasn’t just with the players. It had seeped into the administrators too as evident in Meiyappan’s alleged bets routed through Vindu.

Thankfully for now, the Supreme Court has recognised that teams should not suffer for the sins of a few players or officials and has not scrapped Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. However, with the judiciary using words like ‘nauseating’, Gavaskar has this arduous task of restoring the League’s and in a sense the BCCI’s credibility. To complicate issues, he is not entirely neutral as he does have a contract as commentator with the BCCI.

A positive sign though was his disclosure about it. The contract will obviously lapse in his interim role as President but his summer sojourn keeping an eye on the League in the United Arab Emirates before it reverts to India, will surely test his mettle. When Gavaskar used to bat, the Indian fan was high on faith and all seemed fine with the world. He needs to bequeath a similar trust-quotient now too and that can be more taxing than handling the Michael Holdings and the Malcolm Marshalls!