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September 23, 1997


It's just not cricket

Prem Panicker

Did you know that de facto, Indian cricket today does not have a governing body?

Very interesting, that. For what this means is that between now and November - which is the very earliest that the Board of Control for Cricket in India hopes to hold its annual elections - every single decision they take is of dubious validity.

And what are the major decisions on the anvil? For a start, the national selection committee has come to the end of its tenure, and a new one is scheduled to be named today. The national team to play Sri Lanka in a series of Tests and ODIs has to be picked. The national coach and physio have to be appointed. And so on, and so forth...

Peculiar situation, this. And what caused it? Simple - an unprecedented, and extremely vicious, faction fight between the Raj Singh Dungarpur-Jagmohan Dalmiya axis on the one side, and the DC Agashe-Inderjit Singh Bindra group on the other, leading to the adjournment of the 68th annual general body meeting of the BCCI in Madras on September 20.

While there was some confusion about the representatives of the Railway Sports Control Board and the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association, the real bone of contention was the minutes of the last AGM. And nothing is as indicative of the pathetic state of Indian cricket as this incident.

A bit of background is in order here. In end-June, the BCCI held an AGM in Calcutta. Representatives of member cricket associations around the country were flown down, put up at the Taj Bengal (at a reported expense of Rs 1.5 million), and at the end of it all, three 'major' decisions were taken.

The first was to restrict bowlers, on the domestic circuit, to one bouncer per over. Mind you, the international norm is that a bowler is allowed two short-pitched deliveries in an over. The common grouse is that Indian batsmen are found unable to cope with fast bowling on foreign tracks. And here we have a board directive further protecting our batsmen, even on the dead wickets obtaining here, from honing their skills against quick bowlers. I'll leave you to judge the unwisdom of that directive for yourselves.

The second decision was to ratify the appointment of Professor Ratnakar Shetty as manager of the Indian side to tour Sri Lanka. Again, mind you, the Indian team had by then completed the Asia Cup and the three-Test series against Lanka with Shetty as manager, and were on the verge of the concluding part of the tour, namely, the three-ODI series. So obviously, it was inconceivable that the meeting would have failed to ratify Shetty's appointment, given that the tour was well nigh at an end. So that was more wasted time right there.

And the third decision was to convene the next AGM at Madras on September 20, to elect the next lot of office bearers.

This again needs a bit of background. BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur has come to the end of his tenure. The president is in fact picked for three years at a time, subject to the proviso that he is re-elected each year - in other words, though the official tenure is three years, Dungarpur can find himself out of office if the majority of member associations do not, in this year's AGM, vote for his continuance.

Meanwhile, there is no secretary. J Y Lele's appointment is temporary -- the BCCI constitution provides that when a secretary is either incapacitated, or otherwise unable to continue functioning, the president is authorised to pick an acting secretary until such time as the next elections, at which time a full-fledged secretary has to be picked and appointed.

Continuing the background, it pays to remember that Dungarpur was elected to the post of president on the casting vote of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, delivered to him by his good friend Purushottam Rungta. Subsequently, Rungta's brother Kishen was picked by the BCCI as one of the five national selectors. Dungarpur then sanctioned the elevation of Lele from joint secretary to acting secretary of the board when Dalmiya, by virtue of having been elected president of the International Cricket Council, had to relinquish his post of BCCI secretary. And to round things of, the prime candidate for the post of joint secretary, today, is a certain Kishore Rungta - brother of, no prizes for guessing this one, Purushottam Rungta himself.

Talk about remote controls - here we have a little known man, in Rajasthan, sitting in a little remarked corner and pulling the strings that guide the destinies of Indian cricket.

Anyway, thus much by way of background, now back to the story - the minutes of the Calcutta AGM were not signed by the past president, Inderjit Singh Bindra, as the BCCI constitution provides. Why? Because Lele - who, having served as joint secretary all these years is expected at the least to be conversant with the rules and constitution of the BCCI - just did not know to ask Bindra to rubber stamp it.

"I did not know of the rules," says Lele. "Earlier, Bindra and Dalmiya would sit together, finalise the minutes, and give it to me."

Very, very revealing, that. For what Lele, without quite realising it, lets a big sized feline out of the bag there. To wit - minutes of a meeting are supposed to be the details of what actually went on in the meeting proper. What Lele is saying here is that in the earlier regime, when he was joint secretary, Bindra was president and Dalmiya secretary, the two last named merely got together, concocted the minutes they wanted, rubber stamped it and gave it to Lele to pass along to the member associations.

In other words, Bindra and Dalmiya were running the BCCI as a private club.

And that in turn provides the key to today's imbroglio. Bindra burnt his bridges when he had the temerity to set himself up as a candidate for the BCCI's nomination for election to the ICC presidentship. This led to a bitter, if largely unreported, struggle within the BCCI between Bindra and Dalmiya, with the latter winning the game of numbers and duly getting elected to the ICC top post.

From that point on, however, relations between the two were as sour as could be - and Dalmiya struck back swiftly when he orchestrated, behind the scenes, the ongoing CBI probe into the acquisition of land for the cricket stadium at Mohali by the Punjab Cricket Association. And this act of Dalmiya's, in turn, has led to open war between the two.

Thus, when Dalmiya let it be known that Dungarpur was his candidate for a second term in the BCCI presidentship, Bindra promptly put up the Pune-based Agashe as the alternate candidate. For the last month and more, both factions have been campaigning for the votes of the member associations - and word from informed sources is that both contending parties are promising everything from the rights to stage ODIs and Test matches in the coming season, to land and grants for stadium constructions, seats on prestigious BCCI committees, and so on, in return for votes.

Came the Madras showdown, and the Bindra group realised that they were a few votes short of getting their man, Agashe, elected president. So what do they do? They get some of their followers to take advantage of a technical quibble - namely, that the minutes of the last AGM had not been signed by the past president, namely Bindra himself - to call for an adjournment of 21 days, as mandated by the BCCI constitution.

Lele has already indicated that the meeting will not take place 21 days from now and that it can, in fact, be pushed as far away as November - the stated reason being that most associations will now be busy with the domestic season.

It is easy to dismiss all this as a mere administrative tussle, with no other implications. It is easy to point out, too, that by default, the failure to hold elections empowered the sitting office bearers to continue in office until such time as a new body of office bearers is picked.

But that, in real terms, is akin to a government that has come to the end of its tenure continuing in office and, what is more, taking important decisions relating to the country's future.

Now look at what this implies. As pointed out earlier, this BCCI cannot, morally, appoint the national selectors, whose tenure has also expired.

However, the BCCI is just going ahead with it anyway, and appointing the five-member panel. In other words, despite widespread calls for the scrapping of the five member panel and the appointment of a three-member panel comprising former Test players, the BCCI without a shred of moral authority will go ahead and perpetuate the status quo.

This selection committee will in turn pick the Indian team to take on Sri Lanka.

More to the point, Indian team coach Madan Lal, and physio Ali Irani, come to the end of their tenures on September 30. The BCCI has to pick, and appoint, their successors. With what authority?

Again, I'll leave it to you to judge the horrific implications of this latest intrigue - masterminded, mind you, by men such as Bindra, Dalmiya, Dungarpur and Agashe, all of whom publicly profess that their only desire is to serve the cause of Indian cricket to their utmost ability.

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