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July 4, 1998


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Thumbs down Sunny Gavaskar!

Prem Panicker

Another week, another bit of insight courtesy the mailbox.

Regulars will recall recent news items about the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev entering cricket administration and, in all probability, making it to the national selection committee sooner rather than later.

To my surprise, every single mail I got about this item is negative. The thinking seems to be that the two former Test stars are not free from bias, for starters. And, further, that in addition to regional bias, they will further, encourage sycophancy among both players and administrators.

What struck me most about this reaction is that it undercuts an argument a sizeable section of the media has been advancing for some time now -- that Indian cricket urgently needs a selection committee comprising former Test players of repute.

So if the likes of Kishen Rungta, M Pandove, Sambaran Bannerjee and Shivlal Yadav do not have the know how to do a good job, and the likes of Dev and Gavaskar, who have the expertise but cannot be trusted to do it sans bias, then just where lies the solution?

In a better ordered society, Rajesh Chauhan would be suing both the BCCI, and the ICC, for millions. And any decent jury would award him double what he asked for, without even leaving the box.

Consider his case: He is accused of chucking. A BCCI-appointed committee clears him, and the ICC permits him to play.

Then, brief months later, the chucking allegations surface again -- surprisingly, with the ICC technical committee, which had earlier cleared him, raking the controversy again.

What was most surprising about it was that at no time was any definite evidence presented. Rather, the ICC committee called for evidence, asking the BCCI to provide tapes of his action. If such tapes were not available, then what was the original doubt based on?

The answer to that, did you say, was match referee Bobby Simpson's report at the end of the India-Sri Lanka Test series late last year? Tell me the other one -- Simpson said the umpires officiating had expressed 'concern' about the offie's action. But at least one of those umpires, S Venkatraghavan to give him a name, later went on record and said he had expressed no doubts whatever about Chauhan's bowling action. So maybe Chauhan could add Simpson to the list of people to sue?

Meanwhile, what of the BCCI? It plays along, dropping Chauhan then picking him then dropping him again, responsive to every whim of the ICC.

When he was asked why the board didn't back the player, the way the Lankan board stood behind Kumara Dharmasena who was similarly excused, secretary J Y Lele's response was a classic: "Sri Lanka can afford to pick Dharmasena, they have nothing to lose. But the ICC president is our very own Jagmohan Dalmiya, how can we go against the ICC directive?"

Come again? If the BCCI had picked Chauhan, standing up for the principle of natural justice which says that a man cannot be condemned without evidence and trial, would "our very own" Dalmiya have been removed from the presidentship of the ICC? Or, now that the BCCI meekly went along with everything the ICC said, will Dalmiya get a second term of office?

Obviously, the answer to both questions is "no" -- so why was Jagmohan Dalmiya the reason for Chauhan being dropped like a hot potato?

Finally, the ICC gets the evidence, in the form of videotapes of the offie's action. The concerned committee, after scrutiny of said tapes, clears the offie. Any good lawyer would immediately pounce on that and demand, in court -- then why, on what basis, did you condemn him first?

You first pass judgement, then ask for evidence and scrutinise it?

Chauhan could cite damage to his reputation. Mental anguish. Damage to his earning capacity. Remember, every single one day international you pay fetches a player Rs 90,000, for starters. More importantly, this is boom time for Indian cricketers in the endorsements market -- the only thing they don't seem to be hyping these days is tampons (and who knows, even that may be merely a matter of time).

I mean, two years ago it would have been impossible to imagine a Hrishikesh Kanitkar, a Robin Singh, actually landing endorsement contracts -- but the other day, there they were, munching away on Britanni biscuits and telling the rest of us how toothsome that brand is.

That is another bus Chauhan missed out on. And one more grounds on which he could sue.

I'd love to see him do it, frankly. If only to teach the governing bodies of the game, whether at the national or international level, that the tail cannot -- should not -- wag the dog. The player has to come first, and that is a lesson the ICC, and BCCI, need to learn in a hurry.

Coaching camps, and cricket academies, seem to be the flavour of the month, in India.

The last instalment of this diary, if you recall, spoke of academies being established by Rajinder Amarnath and Madan Lal. Add one more to the growing list -- Radiant Total Cricket, to be based in New Delhi and operated by sports promotion firm Radiant Sports and Entertainment.

But the real kicker is the identity of the man appointed to head this latest project -- Duleep Mendis, to give him a name. The former Sri Lankan star will be helped by his erstwhile colleague Lalitha Kaluperuma, and former India players Surinder Khanna and Rakesh Shukla.

While Kalupermuma, Khanna and Shukla will be hands on, throughout the year, Mendis will visit the academy four times each season, to oversee operations.

All of which provokes a little thought. We have the BCCI, easily one of the most cash rich sports bodies in the world. Its purpose ostensibly is to promote cricket in the country. And yet, in 50 years of international cricket, India is still to see one single, solitary player produced (as in, spotted, coached, nurtured) by that body.

One of these days, you should take a trip to Shivaji Park, in central Mumbai. If you go there on a slack day, you will find on that small plot of open land, an average 25 cricket 'matches' taking place simultaneously. And yet, from those cramped conditions, without benefit of sponsorship or any official backing, a Ramakant Achrekar could produce a Sachin Tendulkar, a Vinod Kambli, a Praveen Amre, an Amol Majumdar...

And what of the BCCI, with all its funds and access to sponsors? Two years ago, when Raj Singh Dungarpur and J Y Lele sought election to the posts of president and secretary of the BCCI, they said their "immediate priority" was to set up India's first cricket academy.

A year passed. Came the vicious faction fight masquerading as an 'election', in Chennai. Dungarpur and Lele fight for their posts. And promise -- surprise, surprise -- that if elected, their "immediate priority" will be to set up India's first cricket academy.

Seven months after that reiteration of intention, even the site of the proposed academy is yet to be finalised.

You reckon the word 'accountability' exists in the BCCI lexicon?

Recent discussions on this and other platforms have centered around the fairness, or otherwise, of the Clarke's Curve system of computing targets in case of interrupted games.

Several more readers have written in, giving their own spin on the question -- we will be compiling all comments, and presenting it in the form of a comprehensive piece, immediately after the final of the triangular series now on in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, our resident statistician Anant Gaundalkar the other day presented me with a sizeable package, containing comprehensive details of the various rain laws in operation in various parts of the world, their origins, applications, case studies...

Good reading for a rainy day, but just the nature of the contents has me wondering. The ICC has a committee -- comprising well compensated members -- whose brief is, has been for some six months now, to 'rewrite the laws of cricket'.

I don't know about you guys, but I find myself wishing that before embarking on a revamp (not suggesting here that it isn't necessary, mind), the ICC would first concentrate on consistency.

One set of norms for rain interruptions I can understand -- but why should we have four of them?

A decision that when Test matches are interrupted by rains, you can use lights is understandable, and welcome. But having taken the decision, why leave it up to individual boards to decide whether or not the condition will apply in games being played under their jurisidiction? Why not a simple fiat to the effect that any Test, conducted in a stadium with lights, will have to use them in order to make up any loss of playing time due to rain or other reasons?

We in India have been debating the need for a common civil code, for a while now. Isn't it about time the ICC, which is supposed to be a global govering body of the sport, gave us a uniformly applicable set of playing conditions?

By the way, speaking of that committee that is even now rewriting the laws of cricket, guess who was recently appointed to it? Our good friend Bobby Simpson, is who.

Does this mean that he will now have even less time to do what he is being payed over six thousand bucks a day to do -- namely, to act as 'supercoach' for the Indian team?

Why is sports humour so very hard to find?

By sports humour, I am not referring to the locker-room kind of stuff, that borders on the scatological. But on regular columns that focus on the lighter side of sports, and do it well?

The only person who used to make me laugh, reading his reports, was Martin Johnson, whose writings I began following when he started doing cricket reports for The Independent. You read his match reports and at the end of it, didn't have a clue what actually happened out there -- but every second line had you laughing.

The other day, I stumbled on this piece, which to my mind blended both humour -- albeit of a slightly black variety -- with thoughtfulness. Check it out.

And once you are through, hit the email link here, let us know about your favourite sports humorists. And if URLs are provided as well, hey, I'll be one happy camper.

Speaking of email links, it is the height of the monsoons, here in Bombay. For most folks, rain means romance. For us, it is merely one gigantic headache. When you get up in the morning, you have no idea if the transport system is still functional, and whether you will be able to make it to work. And if by chance you do manage to reach office, you find that the phone lines are down, as are the internet connections, and that there is no one, either at MTNL or VSNL, particularly interested in getting a move on and effecting repairs.

The result, lots of complaints -- some over the telephone, in fact -- these last few days, to the effect that mails sent to me have bounced back.

Sorry, folks -- circumstances beyond my control, and all that. However, by way of providing a backup, I've got an alternate box at Rocketmail. So if you could 'cc' your mails to, I'd be much obliged.

And before signing off, the good news for me this week has been the arrival, here, of half a dozen articles from readers around the world. We will begin carrying them, immediately after the ongoing ODI series in India. Thanks again, for the response.

Mail Prem Panicker