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October 8, 1997


Future tense

Prem Panicker

"Due to circumstances beyond our control we were unable to bring you the updated reviews of the crucial BCCI elections."

In other words, folks, we were shifting office to a new location, and have been off the net from Thursday on. This report, thus, is being brought to you via a rather circuitous route.

Ordinarily, we would have just taken a break till Monday. However, there are issues arising out of the events in Madras that deserve a careful -- and immediate -- look. We, therefore, attempt here a post-mortem:

The Anshuman Gaikwad factor

The media appears to have honed in on the sacking of Madan Lal Sharma and his replacement with Anshuman Gaikwad.

I am not quite sure why this appears to have come, for the media, as a surprise -- after all, it was the Dalmiya-Lele axis that had, during the Sri Lankan tour of May-June this year, hand-picked Gaikwad as Lal's successor, and even sent him to Lanka as coach-in-waiting.

Lal, aware that his tenure was coming to an end, further exacerbated the situation with an interview to the Hindu, wherein he clinically -- and, in some cases, rather baselessly -- ripped apart every single member of the side he was supposed to be coaching. The team revolted, Lele dashed down to Lanka to soothe ruffled feathers, and Lal's days, from that point on, were numbered.

Tendulkar is believed to have called for Lal's retention as coach, subsequent to the team's good results in Toronto and Pakistan. And alternately, that India could do with a foreign coach -- preferably former Australian skipper Bobby Simpson.

Admitting that the Indian captain had made some such request, Lele said it was "not considered". And that Gaikwad had been named coach, for a one year term.

That was inevitable, given that Lele and Dalmiya had already decided on Gaikwad well before the elections, and in the aftermath of their group's victory in the elections, were hardly likely to do a turnaround.

Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar gets some food for thought. In the fact that his suggestion, regarding a key issue, was "not considered".

And Gaikwad, too, can masticate on the thought that Tendulkar prefers Madan Lal to him as coach. What all this is going to do for relations within the team management is anybody's guess.

An interesting postscript is Lele's off-the-top statement that "If Gaikwad is found unsuitable, (Krishnamachari) Srikkanth (now appointed cricket manager for both the India A team and the India junior squad which, incidentally, will play in the junior World Cup in South Africa early next year) will succeed him".

Is the naming of his successor, on the day of his own appointment, supposed to boost Gaikwad's confidence and morale?

A better question would be -- do such considerations even matter to the men who rule cricket today?

The selection committee

The real shocker from Madras is the retention of the selection committee in full.

And the manner of its coming about is indicative of the deep divisions within the Indian cricket establishment -- and a portent of things to come.

When the meeting got down to the question of picking the selection committee, the Bindra group, already totally outmanoeuvered in the election to the posts of board president and secretary, decided to make things tough by targetting Sambaran Bannerjee, of the East Zone, and Shivlal Yadav, of South.

What was being held against these two selectors was zonal bias in selection. The hinted at, but never openly stated, undercurrent though was that since the selection of the Asia Cup probables in early May, there has been persistent rumours that national selectors have been taking money from players to insure their selection.

Yadav and Bannerjee should go, went the Bindra group. Fortified by the fact that no less than C Nagaraj, chairman of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (Yadav's home association) was backing the demand. Nagaraj, of course, had his own reasons -- he was hoping to become vice president of the BCCI, with the help of the Bindra faction, and was belatedly finding out that he had backed the wrong horse.

The minute the Dalmiya group found itself under attack on the composition of the selection committee, they turned the tables by demanding that M Pandove, a Bindra crony, should go. And, in turn, proposed that Kirti Azad should replace him as representative of North Zone.

Had Pandove been ousted, the Bindra faction would have no voice at all in the selection committee. So Bindra and his cohorts hastily back-tracked on the question of Yadav and Bannerjee, and as quid for that quo, the Pandove issue was dropped by the Dalmiya group.

Three of the selectors, thus, had gained an extended lease of life. Meanwhile, in Bombay, Dilip Sardesai had already come a cropper in his bid to replace Ramakant Desai as chairman of the Bombay selection committee and, thus, the West Zone representative on the national panel. Desai held on to his job thanks, mainly, to the backing of BCA president and Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and other leading BCA figures, all of whom find Sardesai too much of a loose cannon to be trusted. The thinking in BCA circles is that the former Test star is too much his own man, and too inclined to thinking for himself, to really look after the interests of the zone.

So, thumbs down on Sardesai, and Desai remained in situ.

That leaves the man from Central Zone, Kishan M Rungta. And when you really examine the background, Rungta is probably the one man who is most secure in his job.

For why? Because it is the proxy vote of Rajasthan that got Dungarpur elected president of the BCCI in the first place -- and Rajasthan cricket means Purushottam Rungta, Kishan's benevolent elder brother.

The elevation of brother Kishan to the selection committee was the first pound of flesh that big brother Purushottam exacted. He then made a bid to have his other sibling, Kishore Rungta, named joint secretary following the confirmation of J Y Lele as secretary -- but that attempt didn't quite come off. Instead, Kishore has now been named to the prestigious 'tour programmes and fixtures committee'.

And guess who is chairman of the even more prestigious, and powerful, finance committee of the BCCI? Purushottam Rungta himself. So now, all three Rungta brothers are comfortably ensconced in the upper echelons of the BCCI, and Dungarpur has finally paid his dues.

The Indian captain, and team

On Monday November 10 (This piece is being written on Saturday, November 8), the national selection committee meets in Bombay to pick the Indian captain for the forthcoming tour by Sri Lanka. The team will be picked later the same week, either on November 14 or 15.

A former manager of the national side put his finger on the immediate problem. That the national selection committee is on the whole unhappy with Tendulkar is no secret. Prior to the Asia Cup, the five wise men had in fact "reviewed his performance", and held out the covert threat of his dismissal. On that occasion, Tendulkar trumped their ace by writing (or rather, having ghost-written for him) a lengthy defence of his captaincy, that appeared in the Times of India on the same morning as the selection committee's review.

It would have been logical to assume that following the success against Pakistan in Toronto, and a good showing against the same opponents on Pakistan soil, Tendulkar could breathe easy. As it turns out, however, there is still a body of opinion within the selection committee that would like to see the India skipper ousted.

Not because of his incompetence for the job, mind, but because in the perception of some at least of the selectors, Tendulkar is becoming a shade too independent. His criticism of the teams picked for the tours of the West Indies and Sri Lanka, his insistence on the naming of some players and axing of others, and suchlike acts are causing alarm to the selectors, who feel that an independent-minded captain who is not afraid to speak his piece will cause considerable hindrance to their own activities.

If Tendulkar was not axed in the aftermath of the mayhem in Sri Lanka, the reason is that the committee members themselves were unsure of their tenure.

Recent selection exercises had earned them too much bad press, and even more public condemnation. It will be recalled that as the Asia Cup wound to a climax and the selectors met in Bombay to pick the side to take on Lanka in the Test series, Raj Singh Dungarpur was in fact constrained to give the five-member panel a stern talking to.

All this resulted, coupled with the fact that their tenure officially ended in September, saw the selectors singing in a much lower key. Even in this period, however, one of their number leaked, to a national newsmagazine, the news that there was within the committee and the board a body of opinion that was in favour of deposing Tendulkar.

Now, the committee has been re-elected. And are safe, and secure, for another year.

As far as they are concerned, the uncertainity is over. As far as Indian cricket is concerned, the uncertainity has just begun.

Come Monday, will the selection committee, emboldened by its reinstallation, move against Tendulkar?

Indications are that they will not. Toronto is still too fresh in people's minds, and any attempt to depose the Indian skipper just now could recoil badly on the selectors. So chances are they will bide their time, see how he performs against Sri Lanka, and then move in for the kill.

However, one thing is for sure -- the chaos that attended previous team selection meetings will resume and, in fact, could become worse than before. In Bangalore, prior to the Asia Cup, Messers Bannerjee, Pandove and Rungta, by ganging up against the captain and committee chairman Ramakant Desai, had driven them to the verge of walking out. If Tendulkar and Desai ended up sitting through that meeting, the credit goes to Lele and his frantic pleading.

That is the kind of situation that we could begin witnessing all over again. More so because the members of the committee go in for their second innings with two things in mind: first, the knowledge that their shenanigans the first time round has gone totally unpunished and second, that this will be their last year in office anyway, so they really have nothing to lose.

The upcoming cricket season, thus, promises much of interest.

Other items on the agenda

The long overdue axing of Dr Ali Irani and the appointment of Dr Ravindra Chadha, former captain of the Haryana Ranji team and a qualified doctor and physio, is one item on the 'to do' list that was ticked off at Madras. However, the question of a full time physical trainer -- something that board president Raj Singh Dungarpur, no less, had promised a year ago, still hangs fire.

"The board executive committee will discuss the question of hiring a foreign trainer," was Lele's comment on Friday evening. A comment, incidentally, that he made to me seven months ago, in Bangalore, when we met briefly during the pre-Asia Cup coaching camp. Judging by which, we will presumably still be talking of a trainer -- of whatever nationality -- a year from now, when the BCCI AGM next meets to elect a fresh set of office bearers.

Lele added a rider to the effect that Bob Simpson has recommended two or three names for the post of physical trainer. Further discussions, the board secretary says, will be held with Simpson when the latter arrives here later this month, as ICC match referee for the upcoming Test series between India and Sri Lanka.

The programmes and fixtures committee will finalist the tour itinerary for the Australian tour of India, within the next seven days. More interestingly, the technical committee headed by Sunil Gavaskar and comprosing P R Narayanswami, Ranjib Biswal, Maninder Singh, Niranjan Shan, V V Kumar, R V Ramani and Ramakant Desai, will finalise the match conditions for the tours by Sri Lanka and Australia

The fact that this committee has not met even once in the last ten months is, of course, neither here nor in the other place.

Meanwhile, "The exhaustive report by Kapil Dev, director of the pitches committee, was read and not discussed," said Lele. Whatever that means.

I mean, the pitches committee was supposed to be a prestige project, right? The definitive attempt to bring Indian pitches on par with those in other countries? That is why experts were brought down from New Zealand and Australia, at considerable expense, to tour Indian Test playing centres, carry out soil analysis and submit reports? Why Kapil Dev was named to head a five member pitches committee (comprising Vinod Mathur, Daljit Singh, G Kasturirangan, Dhiraj Parsana and Arun Lal) to ready Indian pitches, beginning with the ten top centres, for this year's Ranji season and international engagements?

Well, the Ranji season is in full swing. The international engagements get into overdrive later this month. So what is the status of this particular project?

An "exhaustive report" that has been "read and not discussed". And a promise from Lele that the laying of new pitches at 10 designated centres, two from each zone, will commence in April 1998!!

"The pitches will be ready by September, before the next international season," said Lele on Friday.

Now, where did we hear those words before?

PS: Just a passing thought. Lele, when asked about the state of pitches in the country, said inter alia that it would cost the BCCI a "fortune" to purchase the necessary equipment.

What is a "fortune"? Rs 2.5 million, by Lele's estimation.

In June, the BCCI convened a committee meeting in Calcutta. Two decisions were taken at that meeting. One, to "ratify Ratnakar Shetty as manager of the Indian team to Sri Lanka". At the time, the tour was actually in its last phase, with just a week to go -- so much for the value of that particular ratification. And the other was "to restrict fast bowlers to one bouncer per over in the domestic circuit".

Guess how much was spent, by way of airfares, hotel accomodation and suchlike, for that meeting? Rs 1.5 million, approximately.

Some sense of priorities, what?

Prem Panicker

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