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September 18, 1999


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Money matters

Prem Panicker

When it meets on September 23 at Jaipur, the general body of the Board of Control for Cricket in India will vote to hire a physical trainer for the Indian team.

It will be an Indian. Preferably, someone who can be hired for peanuts. Cost, not qualification, will be the criterion.

A month ago, Sachin Tendulkar, on being named captain of the national side for a second term -- a post he accepted, despite his own reservations, on the assurance from the board that he would receive its full backing -- made a fervent plea for the reappointment of Andrew Kokinos as team physio. He argued that Kokinos, who was fully conversant with modern methods of physical training, had done immense good for the team during his short tenure, that in the interest of the overall fitness of the side it was necessary that continuity be maintained and that Kokinos be appointed for a long term.

That recommendation has met with short shrift from the board. The reason being advanced by the working committee of the board, which met earlier this week in Chennai, is that Kokinos was paid, during his year and a half of service, Rs 3.54 million. An exorbitant sum, the board says, arguing that a "reputed trainer" can be found within the country for a fraction of that cost.

Does such a "reputed trainer" exist? Obviously, no -- which is why the board went outside the country to hire Kokinos in the first place. Obviously, therefore, the idea now is to hire just about anybody with some sort of paper qualification -- remember how Ali Irani held that portfolio for quite a while?

How necessary is a top quality physio to the team? Setting aside Tendulkar's openly voiced request, a quick glance at the team list, which shows at least five members on the injured and/or recovering list is all the argument that is needed to justify the appointment of a top-notch physio. Further, look around at teams that mean business, even within the subcontinent -- Sri Lanka, for instance, not only have in Alex Kontouri a physio who has been attending to the team's needs, 12 months a year, since before the 1996 World Cup, but have recently hired a specialied coach, in Trevor Chappell, to teach them more specialised exercises and fielding techniques. And Pakistan have Dr Dan Kiesel -- the person who, in the words of skipper Wasim Akram, was responsible for keeping the side match fit and raring to go during the recent World Cup.

The boards of Pakistan and Sri Lanka are both considerably less cash rich than the Indian board, in case that needs mentioning.

But why generalise, when the specifics are readily available? During the financial year 1998-99, the board has announced net profits of Rs 83 million (less than the Rs 1.59 billion netted in the preceeding financial year, but still a considerable sum by any yardstick).

The board netted Rs 38.5 million from the Toronto series of 1998. Rs 24.8 million from the triangular series at home featuring Australia and Zimbabwe. Rs 5.23 million from the Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah. Rs 7.84 million for the Sri Lankan tour. Rs 2 million for the Zimbabwe tour. Rs 3.39 million for the Wills International in Dhaka. Rs 7.06 million for the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah in November. Rs 9.32 million for the New Zealand tour. Rs 2.64 million for the two Tests against Pakistan at home. Rs 9.16 million for the two Asian Test Championship test matches...

Even a no-account triangular like the one that featured India, Bangladesh and Kenya netted the board Rs 1.03 million.

Remember that every one of the figures cited above is net, not gross. Which means that the spectators, and sponsors, have been so generous in their patronage that even games featuring Kenya and Bangladesh ended up making a substantial profit for the board. And that the season just ended fetched the board an overall net profit of Rs 83 million.

Yet, the board's working committee baulks at spending around Rs 2 million for a physio!

Interestingly, no questions were asked, in the working committee, about the money spent on board secretary J Y Lele's trips to every single venue the Indians played in, the amounts spent on his five-star accomodation and general expenses -- which, in sum, totals far more than the amount paid to the physio over the 18 month period in question. Whether there was any need at all for the board secretary to go trailing along with the team is, apparently, neither here nor there as far as the working committee is concerned.

The working committee, too, passes without question the sending, to England during the World Cup, of a board statistician. The organising committee of the World Cup had clearly indicated that a qualified statistician would be provided for each of the participating teams -- which did not stop the board from dispensing patronage by sending a superfluous statistician along.

As we lead up to the crucial AGM -- scheduled to be held in Jaipur on September 23 -- one thing is already clear. To wit, that this decision to penny pinch in the matter of a physical trainer is merely the first of several shockers that are likely to come out of this year's annual exercise.

It also indicates, clear as the Reserve Bank Governor's signature on the currency note, the board's priorities: Anything for the officials, and money is no object -- but when it comes to the well being of players (whose efforts bring in the money, in the first place), every penny will be pinched till it squeals.

And still we keep wondering why India's cricket standards are so low...

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