The junta strikes back


The recent decision by the BCCI to appoint Kumble as captain for the three-Test series against Pakistan indicates the role of the law of natural justice, writes Gautam Sen.

Several years ago, I wrote an article in The Hindu focusing on Rahul Dravid’s character and behaviour at the Oval Test in England in 2002 when he sacrificed his wicket after having scored 217 so that a youngster, Ajay Ratra, could continue at the crease. Rahul was run out, and he was given a standing ovation by the entire crowd. The entire English team too got to the centre of the field to applaud him.

It was a rare gesture by the opposing team to recognise Rahul’s character as a sportsman and cricketer. It was in the best of tradition of the game of cricket.

However, the Indian commentators, spearheaded by Ravi Shastri and Navjot Singh Siddhu, discussed whether it was right on the part of Rahul to honour the call by Ratra for a run when he was on the threshold of breaking the 23-year-old record of Sunil Gavaskar (227).

The recent decision by the BCCI to appoint Kumble as captain for the three-Test series against Pakistan indicates the role of the law of natural justice. It also showed how the BCCI blindly and unwittingly came to grips with the reality of the situation in Indian cricket and its requirement to recognise the role of merit to augment leadership.

The BCCI belatedly accepted that they had neglected the factor of talent in their decision making process and hence injured Indian cricket. I do not wish to do a post mortem of the members of the BCCI and show how little of the “understanding quotient” of sports they have.

Barring Sharad Pawar, who has an uncanny trait of understanding the role of development strategy for nation building, majority of those in the BCCI believe in furthering the game through conceptual lenses of financial gains and retaining the authority to cut the players to size or dole out favours to the undeserving for political reasons. They thus fail to rest those players who may be suffering from over exposure, allow those who need to be shown the door and send chosen ones into the oblivion since such players have a mind of their own and often resent any control.

Today Indian cricket has reached a stage beyond being an icon of Indian nationalism. It has developed a cultural mooring which contributes towards secularism, integration and tolerance. It cuts across all “isms” and raises passions of certain fanaticism which have often led to acts that are more emotive than being rational. Cricketers in India can almost play God; they have the capacity to bring bitter political opponents together for a common cause, to further national interests by showing solidarity to the Indian nation state. No other organisation barring India’s armed forces has been able to generate such passion and heroism and fight like the Indian cricket team for the people of India.

The BCCI’s stranglehold on Indian cricket had to be broken, talent and potential had to be recognised, politics of regionalism had to be minimised, inequality had to be diminished, new faces had to be given chance to emerge, experience had to be accommodated and the process of governing to administer had to be incorporated. Somewhere in the dark recess of reality and necessity the BCCI underwent a change because of natural compulsion for the game to be played for nation building, character building and national reconstruction. It has been long overdue since at stake is enormous financial outlay of thousands of crores of rupees and a vast consumer market that is directly related to employment, development and national reconstruction.

As for the case pertaining to Anil Kumble’s appointment as India’s captain for the three-Test series against Pakistan, the question that arises is: does Kumble lack skill, determination, character, leadership quality or consistency of performance? If he does not, which is well known, then why has he been made captain only for the three-Test series against Pakistan?

The answer perhaps lies comically in a conversation that occurred long ago between Robert McNamara and John F. Kennedy at the height of Cold War, rationalising the number of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to be produced and deployed as strategic nuclear weapons against the former Soviet Union. McNamara proposed to deploy 1054 Minuteman Missiles. Kennedy asked, “But Bob, why 1054 missiles?” McNamara replied “Jack, that is the number that the Capitol Hill will allow and accept.”

I will not be surprised if, in the impenetrable domain of the BCCI Board room, such questions had been asked. The BCCI President may have been given similar dictates by the Board.

All this despite the fact that no one has been more meritorious at world class level than Kumble. No one can question Kumble’s loyalty to the game and his single-minded devotion, which is next only to Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Sourav Ganguly.

However, there is one interesting observation. No one wanted to lead the Indian team more than Kumble. And he has confessed to it.