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November 25, 1999


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The 'yes-massa' syndrome

Prem Panicker

Indian cricket administration is the last bastion of feudalism in this country.

The power structure is clear, and well-defined. The BCCI is the landlord -- the entity that, without doing the hard work, gets the lion's share of the perks and the privileges. The player is the serf -- the one who toils in the field and, in return, gets the odd crumbs the landlord chooses to throw his way.

And in time-honoured traditions of feudalism, the Board maintains this convenient status quo by the simple expedient of gagging the players, the captain, the coach -- while allowing its own officials free, unfettered rein to criticise or condemn as they desire (so what if the odd condemnation causes a storm of protest? You can always say you were misquoted).

Consider an example: Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath, Anil Kumble, Mohammad Azharuddin -- five of the biggest names Indian cricket has produced, names recognised the world over for outstanding performances -- have at some stage or other of their careers been dropped for non-performance, or for other real or imagined sins of omission and commission over the years.

In all the years of its existence, do we have a single instance of a Board official being sacked for similar reasons?


Does this mean that the Board has been perfect in all that it has done? Far from it. Among the various committees the Board has constituted, there is one designed to oversee the preparation and maintenance of pitches. Yet, not so long ago, an international fixture had to be called off because the pitch prepared for the purpose was deemed to be positively lethal. Was the concerned committee held accountable for that lapse, for that public loss of face, for the enormous loss in revenue the calling off of the match entailed? No.

The Board has a tours and fixtures committee. Which, one presumes, has enough of a budget to equip itself with the basic tools of the trade -- a calendar, pencils, some paper. And yet, not so long ago, the senior Indian team found itself scheduled to play in Toronto and Kuala Lumpur at one and the same time. The result was pure chaos, public grovelling to the ICC by the Board, enormous loss of face before a 'compromise' formula involving the splitting of the senior team into two was arrived at. Were the members of the scheduling committee taken to task for the goof-up? Were the officials concerned sacked, or at the least issued a show cause notice, the modern day landlord's equivalent of whip and spur? No way.

In early September, BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele and the then chairman of selectors, Ajit Wadekar -- who were in Singapore at the time -- named Mithun Minhas to play for India A. Minhas, in good faith, went to the coaching camp in Delhi -- and found that he didn't figure in the roster. In response to the hue and cry that followed, Lele said -- and Wadekar seconded him -- that Minhas's name was merely discussed by them, that he had not been named for the squad, that it was merely "media gossip".

However, the fact that Lele had named Minhas was widely reported in all the national dailies. The reporters concerned, to a man, stated that the BCCI had named Jai Prakash Yadav of MP and Mithun Minhas of Delhi to the India A squad, replacing Amit Bhandari and Jacob Martin.

But no, Lele and Wadekar insisted they had been misquoted.

This was not, mind you, one reporter doing a one on one interview with one official, as has happened in the immediate past with us. This was a collective effort -- the reporters of the leading dailies had got together to 'gossip', to 'misquote'.

It was a clear goof-up. Equally clearly, it was the result of the Board secretary exceeding his brief and announcing a name he had no business mentioning. It was the case of the chairman of selectors jumping the gun and picking names without having consulted his fellow selectors. Was any action taken against either of them?

I could go on, and on, citing instance after instance when the Board and its officials have, through mismanagement or worse, created confusion and chaos and, to the outside world, presented a ludicrous picture of Indian cricket. But never, not once, has an official been held responsible, never has there been official action against obviously erring officials.

The players are accountable to everyone -- to the Board, to the selectors, to the media, to the 950 million people out there. The Board, for its part, is accountable to none. Not even itself.

It's a great job, if you can get it.

A Board official can condemn players, individually or collectively. A Board official can talk of how Indian players, in order to save on their food allowance, go out of their way to cadge invitations. (Incidentally, that is a strange statement to make anyway -- for one thing, it would seem to indicate that the players are being underpaid, and if that is so, then the Board has something to answer for -- why are players being underpaid when the Board has, in successive years, declared multi-million dollar profits? And in any case, as anyone who has spent even a couple of hours with any player will tell you, the Indian stars are constantly being badgered with invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner -- they have to fight off those invitations with a stick. It passes belief, therefore, to say that they have to 'cadge' such invitations.).

But for the sake of argument, let us assume the criticism is valid. And that in a democracy, which enshrines the principles of free speech, such valid criticism can -- indeed, should -- be made. By the same token, then, can the players, or the coach, criticise the Board, or one of its officials?

Can a player, for instance, point a finger at a particular official? Can he say, for instance, that it is unfair that the team is often made to fly the long way round to their latest cricketing destination, often spending hours in uncomfortable airport lounges, simply in order to save a few pennies while the Board official -- who really has no business being at every cricketing ground in the world anyway -- takes the direct route and damn the expense?

Not a chance. Let him breathe so much as a word of criticism, and he'll think it's begun raining show cause notices. Let the media report their own words, and there is a storm of denials, and threats of legal action.

As far as the Board is concerned, the players are cattle -- to be shooed around at their own personal whims and fancies. 'Humane' is a word that does not exist in the Board's collective vocabulary. Take, for instance, the case of Mohammad Azharuddin.

Since the national selection committee was reconstituted, with Chandu Borde as chairman, it has met six times. During the media briefings after each sitting, the name of Azharuddin was raised, and the response was identical. 'Azharuddin was not considered,' Borde and Lele said on each occasion.

Why, pray? We are talking here of a player who has represented the country for nearly 15 years. He was not dropped for form -- he opted out, himself, in order to recover from a shoulder injury and a corrective operation. He has since submitted a fitness certificate.

Is it that the Board does not trust that certificate? If that is the case, it should have summoned the player -- who in any case has since played two first class matches -- and asked him to undergo an examination.

Is the player's ability in doubt? Or are there other considerations? Is he, for example, considered a bad influence in the dressing room?

Maybe. But at the very least, does that player not have the right to know? In other countries, when a senior player is being dropped for whatever reason, either the chief selector, or one of the committee members, personally visits that player at his home, and explains why the action is being taken. That is just, that is humane.

But here, in a country that prides itself on the oldest extant civilisation, that player reads, in the newspapers the next morning, that he "was not considered". Doesn't he, at the very least, deserve to know at first hand, why?

The Board makes its money from the spectators -- read, cricket fans -- whose presence and interest in the game brings in the sponsors. An Azhar has his own fan following, there are people numbering in the hundreds who will pay good money to watch him play. Don't those fans deserve to know why their favourite is no longer "being considered"?

In a set-up where accountability was the norm, we would know. But in Indian cricket, accountability applies only to the players, not to the Board. So we -- player and fan alike -- remain content with terse, one line communiques of the order of "he was not considered".

This is a world where management schools are set up to train people in handling businesses, and people, alike. But here, what do we have? A multi-million dollar corporation, run by 'honorary' amateurs.

They are 'honorary' -- in the sense that their compensations are hidden under various heads (expenses, reimbursements, honorariums and such) rather than paid to them as salary. And that is just how they like it -- simply because a salaried official is an accountable official, whereas the honorary official can go his merry way, secure in the knowledge that he cannot be held accountable for his many blunders.

Time and again, we in the media analyse in great detail the reasons for Indian cricket's relatively poor showing in the international arena. Rarely if ever, though, do we mention the character and mode of functioning of the Board as one of the main reasons.

Look at it this way -- if Reliance Industries was run by the BCCI as it now stands, would it be a Fortune 500 company?

What is the remedy?

Restructure the board's constitution. Hire, at all levels of our cricket administration, qualified persons for the respective posts. Pay them a salary, set them goals, and hold them accountable (why, for instance, is it that only the coach and captain are vilified following a defeat? Isn't the selection committee, which picked the team in the first place, equally responsible?). Impose on them the same standards as we impose on the players.

The remedy is simple -- but it will never be implemented. For why? Because the Board is an autonomous body. Only the Board can change, amend, its constitution. In other words, the only people who can bring about reform are the Leles and such -- who have the most to lose if such reforms are implemented.

And this is precisely why Indian cricket has stumbled along all these years, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, while other countries race ahead of us in performance. Cricket in today's day and age is a product. A product, to be successful, needs a top notch production and marketing team.

We have neither. What we have is a situation akin to taking your neighbourhood garage gofer and putting him in charge of the Rolls Royce assembly line.

And that is the real tragedy of Indian cricket -- rich in talent, pathetically poor in administration.

Postscript: We've been flooded with mail, supportive of Faisal Shariff and of Rediff for standing by its interview. There have been so many of these mails that it is physically impossible for us to write in and thank each one who wrote in. However, we'd like to express our thanks for this outpouring of support -- a reporter's credibility is his only asset, and when someone questions that, he faces the loss of his raison d'etre. It helps, for a Faisal Shariff, for a Rediff, to know that the readers have faith in us. Yet again, thank you all, very much indeed.

Prem Panicker

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