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September 2, 1998


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As a cricketing nation, we have become a laughing stock

Harsha Bhogle

I've just had a dream. A bit of a nightmare really. In it I stumble on a letter from the Board of Control for Cricket in India to the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games.

It says, "You are probably aware of the confusion that has been created regarding the participation of our cricket team at the Commonwealth Games. Since we cannot announce our team before the 4th of September and since that is likely to cause you some hardship, I am enclosing through this letter the names of the players who will represent India at the above tournament. You are kindly requested to keep this highly confidential. If, however, this news appears in tomorrow's newspapers, kindly refer to the denial attached in Annexure One.

"Following is the list of players selected to represent India at the Commonwealth Games. This list is subject to the approval of the Indian Olympic Association and they will be informed on September 4. If they have any objections, a fresh team will be announced on September 6. In the event that the reorganised team is objected to by the organisers of the Sahara Cup, we will have an emergency meeting to pick a compromise team on September 8.

"I am requested to advise you that in case the compromise team cannot be faxed to you on September 8, you may kindly engage the services of our team physio to help you recognise the players who will participate in the marchpast which will be conducted under the banner of the Indian Olympic Association. Alternately, you may please refer to the batting order with the official scorer at India's first match. The manager of that team has been authorised to identify the three substitutes to the official media as well.

"I hope this clears all confusion. You may await the official announcement on September 4."

My dream went on. I was soon to receive a letter inviting me to a press conference. It said, "You are hereby invited to the press briefing in connection with the announcement of the Indian team tomorrow. This will be held at the ballroom of the Taj Coromandel at 1800 hours. If however, the Indian Olympic Association wants to hold a press conference as well, you may please arrange to be present at the Taj Connemara at 1800 hours. In view of the above, you are kindly advised to have two reporters and photographers on stand-by."

The conference itself took place at the M A Chidambaram Stadium. I was there. A few minutes after 1800 hours the following announcement was made, "Gentlemen, the selectors have met to pick the Indian team for Toronto and Kuala Lumpur. They have chosen 28 players. The following is the list of players along with the team that they have been selected for:

Mohammad Azharuddin: Toronto. In case of objection from the IOA because he is captain of the national team, he will go to Kuala Lumpur. However, the organisers of the Sahara Cup have insisted on his presence in Toronto.

Sachin Tendulkar: Kuala Lumpur. However, if Mohammed Azharuddin has to go to Kuala Lumpur, he will go to Toronto. Both the IOA and IMG have insisted that he be present at their events and a final decision will be taken based on the outcome of their meeting.

Ajay Jadeja: Kuala Lumpur.

Saurav Ganguly: His selection will depend on Sachin Tendulkar because, with the World Cup due next year, we do not want to break up the opening partnership.

Anil Kumble: Toronto.

Javagal Srinath: Kuala Lumpur. If the pitches in Kuala Lumpur are found to be sub-standard, he will be relocated to Toronto.

Ajit Agarkar: Toronto.

Venkatesh Prasad: Toronto. If Srinath is relocated, Prasad will go to Kuala Lumpur.

Rahul Dravid: Kuala Lumpur That will not be changed because the Karantaka Olympic Association have insisted on equal representation in both teams.

Nayan Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Rahul Sanghvi, Gagan Khoda, V V S Laxman, Debashis Mohanty, Robin Singh (Jr): all Toronto.

Saba Karim, Robin Singh, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Navjot Sidhu, Nilesh Kulkarni, Rohan Gavaskar, Sanjay Raul and Jatin Paranjape: all Kuala Lumpur.

Coaches: Anshuman Gaekwad and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Their destination will depend on where Azharuddin finally goes. Andrew Kokinos will be the trainer of the team to Toronto since the Government of India might raise objections to the use of foreign trainers with an official IOA team. However. Dr Ravinder Chaddha has been cleared to go to Kuala Lumpur.

We believe these are teams of equal strength and that the IOA should have no objection. However, Mr Kalmadi will be meeting Mr Raj Singh Dungarpur tomorrow to review the selection."

I thought that was a very tactful way of doing things and was about to complement the BCCI. But my dream wasn't over. Just before I woke up I saw Nayan Mongia looking rather confused. He had a boarding pass on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt en route to Toronto but had found himself on a Singapore Airlines flight on its way to Kuala Lumpur via Singapore.

I must confess I was a bit disappointed with my dream. I would have loved it to end with Mr Kalmadi being the manager of the team to the Sahara Cup and Mr Lele leading the Indian contingent to the Commonwealth Games. But that is all right. That would have been the only genuinely impossible aspect of my dream.

Do you think that somebody somewhere realises that, as a cricketing nation, we have become a laughing stock? That splitting the national team and sending two halves of equal strength is like splitting the two arms on a battlefield. Isn't it a bit like a fielder in the deep unable to judge a skier and putting out one hand in front of him and one behind him?

There are several other issues involved as well. The team to Kuala Lumpur will not sport Wills logos and will receive no match fee. The team to Toronto will be well paid and will have their records officially recognised. Can an official body decide that one of its players will be paid and the other won't? And if they decide that everyone will be paid equally, will they be flouting the rules of the Commonwealth Games with respect to receipt of appearance money?

Have tournament and team sponsors and the television rights holders been taken into confidence about the fact that, contrary to agreements, a sub-standard national team could be sent out to the Sahara Cup? And if indeed we do so, what message are we sending out to potential sponsors about the level of our commitment to contracts?

For once, the BCCI has got caught on the wrong foot completely. They have allowed themselves to get caught in this silly honour versus money argument. And that too against an organisation that has a very poor record when it comes to selecting teams, coaches and officials to international meets. We have had a fair number of scandals there. By contrast, the BCCI is a far more open organisation and yet, they find themselves trapped.

The real tragedy for the BCCI is that this comes in a week in which, if some reports that I have seen are true, they have taken the first steps towards the most forward thinking cricketing legislation for years. Rediff On the NeT, apparently based on the sources within the BCCI, reported that the way is being cleared for a three-man selection committee that will function with the help of one talent scout in each zone. More important, selectors will not be allowed to hold any office in any state association, will be paid a handsome fee and will necessarily be Test cricketers with a minimum of 20 Tests behind them.

I think that is absolutely sensational and one of those acts that should make people forget rivalries and rally round in support. If, at the Annual General Meeting this September, members shoot such a proposal down, we will know who loves Indian cricket and who doesn't.

Incidentally, as I write this, it is three days since the appearance of this story. The BCCI have neither denied it, nor issued a clarification. Does that mean they are committed to it? Or, does it mean that they haven't had the time due to the mess they find themselves in? Or was I...

Please don't tell me I was dreaming again!

Harsha Bhogle wrote this column before the Indian team was selected in Madras on Wednesday.

Harsha Bhogle

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