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November 4, 1997



Prem Panicker

How are you guys with New Year resolutions? I mean, me, I can never keep them for even as long as it takes to type "resolution". Come to think of it, why New Year's? I can never keep any resolution, period.

The latest one I made was at the end of the Wills Challenge ODIs between India and Pakistan. No more watching cricket, I told myself firmly, till November 19, when India and Sri Lanka begin mixing it again.

Not that I have gone off the sport -- just figured I was getting a bit jaded seeing the same players go through the same motions. And since, to my rather jaundiced imagination, every game was beginning to look like a replay of all other games, I found myself not really paying attention, and as a result, missing things I should have spotted. Hence the idea of a break.

Didn't last long, though, that thought -- because for the last couple of days, I have been totally enthralled by some outstanding cricket action coming from Lahore, where four of the top nations in the sport are engaged in a quandrangular contest that, already, has provided a bit of everything that makes cricket the spectacle it is. Inspirational bowling -- vide the Shaun Pollock blitz against Pakistan, or Wasim Akram's display of swing and seam bowling at the fag end of the South African innings in the same game. Magnificient batting performances -- vide Inzamam ul Haq and Azhar Mahmood who almost pulled off a remarkable come-back-from-the-brink win against South Africa after being three wickets down for no run in the first over of the innings; vide Hansie Cronje who on Monday shepherded his side home to a mammoth 293-run target set by the West Indies; vide Carl Hooper who came up with a brilliant century to help set up that target in the first place; vide Ranatunga......

It has been, thus far, a fabulous advertisement for cricket.

And it couldn't have come at a better time -- for cricket, right now, can do with all the advertisements it can get!

Check out the scene, worldwide. In England, maverick spinner Phil Tufnell gets drawn into a drug scandal. It is alleged that he's been smoking cannabis. It turns out that he "forgot" to provide the mandatory urine sample. The consequence is a fine, a suspended sentence, and yes -- the introduction (or rather, intensifying) of random drug-testing for cricketers.

Meanwhile Australia, bidding fair to make the mantle of world champions their own, there is an ongoing war between the players association and the cricket board, over the question of equitable pay. The players threaten strike, the ACB talks of putting together a second string outfit to break the strike, if and when. Chaos unlimited, in fact. And to make matters worse, two of Australia's premier cricketers -- Messers Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh -- are involved in a public slanging match that does no credit to either themselves, or to the game they represent.

Even Sri Lanka -- a nation that has, thus far, concentrated on just playing the game to the peak of its immense ability -- is not exempt, apparently, from the general malaise. A bribery scandal allegedly involving a top official of the Lankan board busts loose, and threatens to drag no less than the country's minister for sports into the mire.

So can India be far behind? Never fear -- not only are we not exempt from the general malaise, we are in fact leading from the front. Vide the Jagmohan Dalmiya- Sunil Dev faceoff.

For the record, Sunil Dev -- sports secretary of the Delhi District Cricket Association, and a one-time manager of the Indian cricket team -- set the ball rolling by alleging that Dalmiya had committed irregularities with regard to the allocation of telecast rights of various tournaments to Doordarshan and to WorldTel.

Dalmiya duly denied the allegations, and went one better by sending a legal notice to the effect that either Dev retracts, or shells out Rs 150 million for damage caused to Dalmiya's reputation. And alleges, in his turn, that Dev withheld earnings from advertisement logos carried on drinks trolleys, during recent international fixtures conducted at the Firozeshah Kotla in Delhi.

Dev, for his part, has now filed a counter suit, demanding that Dalmiya pay Rs 240 million for damages to his, Dev's, reputation!

Funny -- neither of the gentlemen (and one of them, mind, is no less than the head of cricket's global governing body) -- appears to give a damn for the damage they are causing to the game's reputation.

And it ain't over, folks, until the fat lady sings! As sing she will, come November 6, when the postponed general body meeting of the BCCI is conducted at Madras. And two erstwhile friends -- okay, maybe 'friends' is too strong a term, call them allies rather -- battle for control of the most cash-rich cricket organisation in the world.

As long as Dalmiya and Bindra, as secretary and president respectively of the BCCI, were masterminding, in concert, the milking of cricket for every rupee that could be wrung out of it, everything was fine. No scandals, no acrimony, life was one grand, sweet song.

Then came the election to the ICC president-ship. And when it looked a cert that the candidate from India would get the coveted post, Bindra, like Brutus of old, got ambitious and decided he wanted a shot at it. This put him on a collision course with Dalmiya, who had done all the hard work earlier and positioned himself as a front-runner in the ICC elections.

And therein lies the genesis of the entire controversy.

Bindra's tenure ended, Dalmiya meanwhile became the first president of the ICC. Not content with that, however, the Calcutta strongman apparently figured on not just having his cake, but eating it as well, and continued to meddle with the functioning of the BCCI.

It's a funny thing, that. One time about two months back, I phoned Dalmiya's office seeking clarification for a BCCI press note. And was categorically told that Dalmiya, as president of the ICC, was now no longer involved with India's cricket affairs. In fact, I was given a rather sanctimonious lecture about how Dalmiya was expected to be impartial, to rise above geographical considerations and consider, only, the interests of cricket at a global level.

Tell me the other one! If that were the case, how come Dalmiya's minions attempted, in the last executive committee meeting of the BCCI, to push through a new amendment making him a life-member of the executive committee? As president of the global body, how can Dalmiya seek a post, any post, with the BCCI?

How come, again, that Dalmiya, no less, comes out with a defence of BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur, when the rival Bindra faction puts up the Pune-based Dnyaneshwar Agashe as candidate for that post?

That it is no less than Bindra firing from Dev's shoulders was apparent from the nature of the allegations levelled against Dalmiya, all of which had to do with deals struck when the Dalmiya-Bindra combine were ruling Indian cricket. Bindra, as then president, was privy to the details, and obviously had no hesitation in providing Dev the ammo he needed.

And Dalmiya for his part indicated that he was aware of the real enemy, when in reply to Dev's first salvo, he said, "I was not involved in the granting of telecast rights for the Challenger Trophy of 1996, Dev can ask Bindra for clarification as he was the board president then."

And that about sums up the current situation -- two of the most influential administrators in Indian cricket, involved in a no-holds barred mud-slinging contest that has, in the process, damaged the fabric of the game in the country even further.

And look what the result of their war has been. When the BCCI AGM met for the first time, in August, the Bindra faction was not ready with the numbers they needed to swing the election. So what did they do? Get the meeting adjourned on a technicality. And what a technicality! A Bindra groupie pointed out that the minutes of the previous AGM had not bee signed by the then president. That without the signature, the minutes were invalid. And until the minutes had been validated, and the members given time to study them, the elections could not be conducted.

And who was the president whose signature was missing? Surprise, surprise -- Bindra himself!

So we have a delay of two months. In this period, the national selection committee comes to the end of its tenure, but is not replaced by a new one. Sri Lanka are due to begin a Test series come November 19 -- but while the Lankan team was announced a month ago, we still don't even know who the captain of the Indian team is going to be.

Physio Ali Irani's contract ends -- and he is replaced by a candidate arbitrarily decided upon by Dalmiya and board acting secretary J Y Lele. So you can bet your bottom dollar that if the Bindra group wrests control in the upcoming elections, that appointment will be set aside.

Coach Madan Lal's tenure ended in September. The Dalmiya-Lele combo, again, jumped the gun and sent Anshuman Gaikwad to Sri Lanka, midway through India's tour there, as coach-in-waiting. Never mind that it created a situation where the team had one coach who had stopped interacting with the team, and a potential successor who did not have the official standing he needed to provide guidance. Gaikwad is still waiting. As is Madan Lal. As is the Indian team.

Meanwhile, a selector leaks the information that there is, within the selection committee, a group hell bent on removing Tendulkar from the captaincy, and replacing him with Mohammad Azharuddin. And further, that this group has the backing of influential board officials.

Board president Dungarpur, who has in the recent weeks come up with statement after statement of all that he has done for the game in course of his one year at the helm of the cricketing body, is yet to take official cognisance of the incident. You can't expect the poor guy to have time to spare for such trivia -- after all, he has to make sure that he gets re-elected, come Thursday -- and that sort of thing takes all your time, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, the "impartial and uninvolved" Dalmiya "instructs" Lele to probe the incident and find out where the leak occured! Hullo? As the saying goes, who died and made Dalmiya god? Who gave him the authority to instruct the BCCI secretary (okay, acting secretary) to probe anything at all? And equally significantly, do note that the probe is not into whether there is such a conspiracy within the selection committee and the board -- but merely into who leaked the news!

Not that these little facts appears to bother either the Dalmiya faction, or the Bindra group. Both of whom are hell bent on their sole objective -- to wit, acquiring total control of the cash-rich BCCI.

And if any of you have nursed any illusions that the objective of Messers Dalmiya and Bindra, in seeking control, is to work for the good of Indian cricket, then the recent exercise in mud-slinging, the recent power struggle that has caused such immense harm to the game here, should suffice to erase them.

Nope. Control of the board is sought by various factions for one reason alone -- cricket in India is a cash cow, and all concerned want to have its udders firmly in their grasp.

There is, to this song of sorrow, a sorrier postscript. All along, I had -- rather naively, I now realise -- assumed that once these jumped up merchants were thrown out and control of the game was handed back to senior players of stature, things would improve.

Now, I am no longer sure. Or to be more accurate, now I am sure -- that bringing in past players of stature will change nothing. Because to be self-serving is in the nature of the Indian beast -- and former greats of the game are not exempt from the disease.

Proof, if I wanted any, was furnished in course of the Star Sports programme, Beyond the Boundaries, anchored by no less than Sunil Gavaskar. In the episode telecast on Monday, the panellists were Ajit Wadekar and Sandeep Patil, both former players and managers of the side, and Nayan Mongia, the first choice keeper.

And guess what? Gavaskar asks Mongia about incidents in the keeper-batsman's past, when he has been disciplined for slow batting, or for not responding to calls for a run. And wonders how a "careful batsman" can be disciplined for not scoring, but a "carefree batsman" who "carelessly" throws away his wicket in the search for quick runs does not get similarly disciplined.

The questioning, which went on and on along these lines, was obviously aimed at underlining the fact that Mongia was dropped, for instance, not only post-Kanpur during the 1983 tour by the Windies, but also recently for not responding to a call by Mohammad Azharuddin, causing the former to lose his wicket, while Azhar himself has not been disciplined for rash shot-making.

For one thing, the question conveniently ignores the fact that Azhar was in fact dropped from the side during the Independence Cup fixtures -- for indisciplined batting in the West Indies.

But worse, it is not only a public attack on a present cricketer by a former player, it actually fosters the dissensions that already exist within the team, by getting Mongia to comment, even indirectly, about his colleague and former captain. Surely Gavaskar, who has himself been a captain and who, in fact, during this very programme talked eloquently of the need for unity, should have known better than to play such games?

That he supports Tendulkar is not an issue -- we all have our likes and dislikes and, what is more, we are entitled to them.

However, when that partiality causes you to misuse your stature, your position, your television programme or media column or any other public platform, to undermine another player who you perceive as a threat to your own favourite, then it does cross lines that Gavaskar, of all people, should have known better than to transcend.

Given this scenario, do you guys see much hope that the state of cricket administration in the country will ever improve?

I, frankly, don't!

Prem Panicker

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