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April 20, 1998


Lele and his master's voice

send this story to a friend Prem Panicker

The collected lies of Jaywant Lele would perhaps prove a bigger bestseller than the collected wisdom of Mao. (And this is not flamebait for Communists, merely a compliment to the latter albeit a shade left-handed.)

His latest has to do with the brewing controversy around whether or no Indian cricketers are being scheduled to death these days.

For those who came in late, it will be recalled that during his tenure as captain, Sachin Tendulkar expressed concern over the way tour schedules were being drawn up without any reference to the wishes of coach, captain or the players themselves.

On that occasion, both Lele and Dalmiya jumped in with both feet, to insist that all schedules were being drawn up in consultation with the captain, and if the Indian team was playing a lot of cricket, it was with the full approval of both captain and coach.

As with much else that went wrong during his captaincy, Tendulkar preferred to let the lie lie, to perpetuate some bad phrasing, rather than take it up as an issue.

Neither his successor Mohammad Azharuddin, nor Madan Lal's heir Anshuman Gaikwad, seem inclined to similar meekness.

Recently, on this site, we had carried a story (Burn Out!) arguing that the Indian team was playing too much cricket, and that, further the games were being scheduled without adequate spacing.

At the time, some readers wrote in to say the article was an over-reaction on our part, and that if the scheduling was too strenuous, it was up to the players themselves to protest.

Well, the news is -- they did!

Both Mohammad Azharuddin and Anshuman Gaikwad, speaking for the team just before leaving for the Sharjan tri-series, lashed out at the board for what they termed incompetent, inhuman scheduling of cricket matches.

"Had we been consulted, we would certainly not have accepted the schedule for the Pepsi Cup," said Gaikwad, elaborating that it made no allowance for travel time, thus leading to contretemps like the one involving the team, during the one day between two games, having to make the land journey from Kanpur to Cuttack, which was further badly botched because the board failed to make adequate travel arrangements.

Thus -- and this is merely one in a series of such incidents -- the team assembled at 5 am on April 8, the morning after the Kanpur one-dayer, and drove to Lucknow. Then they caught their first flight, Lucknow to Delhi. Another flight, Lucknow to Bhubaneswar, followed. The team reached Bhubaneswar late in the afternoon. And the game the next morning was in Cuttack, which meant that after a hurried lunch, the players then had to drive the distance in order to get to the nets for practise before the light faded.

As it turned out, just three players got a chance to get some nets, by which time it got dark, the players all drove back to Bhubaneswar, and back again next morning for the game.

If this was what got Gaikwad's goat, Azhar went a step further. The man who was originally named skipper by Raj Singh Dungarpur, then chairman of selectors, mainly because he was seen as a meek, mild-mannered man who wouldn't raise the kind of waves a Ravi Shastri or a Kapil Dev would, has in his second essay as skipper discovered a voice and, more importantly, a willingness to use it.

Perhaps this comes from the perception that at this point in his career, he really has little if anything to lose.

Whatever the reason, Azhar was more scathing than Gaikwad, even. "I would certainly have voiced my reservations over the Sharjah schedule, if I had been consulted. We are expected to play four matches in six days, that itinerary is even worse than the tri-series at home just now. Players' performances are bound to suffer," said the Indian skipper with uncharacteristic firmness.

He said this, mind you, before the team took off for Sharjah, and not following a defeat.

In the statements of both Gaikwad and Azharuddin, made in an open press briefing before over two dozen members of the media, there is a key phrase: 'if we were consulted'.

A phrase that makes liars out of Lele and Dalmiya, both of whom have repeatedly insisted that India's cricketing schedule is drawn up in consultation with, and with the full approval of, both the captain and the coach.

And there's more. Subsequent to the Gaikwad-Azharuddin blast, Lele was asked for his comments. The board secretary promptly denied that either the captain or the coach had ever said anything on those lines. All of it was, Lele claimed, a media concoction.

Why the media would want to 'concoct' an elborate, and detailed, press briefing is a question even the normally silver-tongued Lele will find difficult to answer. Again, the 'concoction' bit was a flat out lie, and it was nailed by no less than Gaikwad himself in the aforementioned press briefing. "The captain and coach, or at the least one of us two, should be consulted when fixing tours and schedules, as we are at the receiving end. I have spoken to board secretary J Y Lele about it."

There you have it. Gaikwad says on record that he has spoken to Lele. The board secretary denies that he has heard any such thing. What is more, he denies that Gaikwad made such statements in the first place.

This is a favourite board tactic. When some member of the cricketing establishment makes an inconvenient statement, the officials promptly deny that such a statement was made, and allege that the media is fabricating the entire thing. Then, the officials promptly get in touch with the maker of the controversial statement and, using coercion, persuasion, whatever will best serve their purpose, they get the person to soft-peddle, to go back on the original statement.

This time round, the tactic didn't work -- simply because reporters covering the press briefing had taped Azhar and Gaikwad. And, moreover, so had television cameras.

A journalist from another newspaper offered to play the Gaikwad-Azhar tape for Lele's edification. At which point, Lele waffled for a bit, stuttered, then came up with a real dilly: the Sharjah and Pepsi Cup itineraries, he said, were actually finalised during the tenure of Tendulkar as captain and Madan Lal as coach.

Another lie. Perhaps the most blatant, cunning and motivated of them all, seeking as it does to put the blame on the previous regime, all uncaring that in the process, he could well have set Tendulkar against Azharuddin and Gaikwad. And harmed team morale no end.

If that didn't happen, it owes nothing to Lele, everything to the fact that the two players, and their coach, enjoy an excellent rapport.

Asked to verify Lele's words, both Tendulkar and Madan Lal categorically stated that they were never consulted about either the Pepsi Cup, or Coca Cola Cup, itineraries. Madan Lal went one step further. "During my period as coach, I have never ever been consulted about the scheduling of any international engagements," Lal categorically says, on record.

And before Lele denies this, Lal's words are on tape, too.

Sometimes you wonder -- is this guy for really real?

'He didn't say it. If he said it, I didn't hear it. If I heard it, I don't believe it.' That about sums up his operating style.

How much longer does the most visible of the board officials -- Raj Singh Dungarpur, enmeshed in personal problems, has yet again beaten a total retreat from the spotlight -- get away with such blatant lies?

The trouble with Lele is that he is like the proverbial three monkeys all rolled into one: sees nothing, hears nothing, says nothing.

With one all important exception -- like the canine that is enshrined in the logo of the Gramophone Company of India, he is all ears when it comes to his master's voice. The voice of Jagmohan Dalmiya, that is.

Dalmiya wants more cricket. Dalmiya will get more cricket. Or whatever else he desires. Even if Jaywant Lele has to lie himself blue in the face to bring it about.

And encapsulated therein lies the real tragedy of Indian cricket.

Prem Panicker

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