Caught in this BCCI vs judiciary fight to save cricket, the cricketers got stuck by a bolt from the blue. On their first morning as world No1 test team, Virat Kohli and his boys woke up wondering if they could travel to Indore, the venue of the next test, and continue their winning streak.
Intriguingly, the players, past and present, have been silent bystanders in this street fight to decide who cares for them more. Till very recently, no one knew what the face of the sport felt about the game-changing reforms the Supreme Court-appointed Justice R.M. Lodha committee wanted the BCCI to embrace. Nine months after Lodha’s report was made public, a couple of days after they were feted by board president Anurag Thakur during India’s 500th test and while on duty as BCCI-certified commentators, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev finally spoke out.
Gavaskar, guarded as ever, would start his selective criticism, with a disclaimer. He said he hadn’t read the Lodha report, probably the most compelling, threadbare and significant piece of cricket writing ever. Gavaskar is a busy professional. He is cricket’s number one pop-columnist, much sort after celebrity, a globe-trotting commentator, TV pundit for a news channel and a decision/opinion maker. He has a hectic life. Borrowing the Little Master’s pet phrase, which he often uses to describe batsmen who are quick between wickets, Gavaskar, on most days, has to convert ones into twos. Banking on media dispatches for his understanding of the Lodha report, India’s finest, sharpest cricketing brain said he was against Lodha’s “one state, one vote” recommendation and he also disagreed that officials need to have a cooling period between two stints as office bearers.
Standing next to Gavaskar for this bcci.tv interview, Kapil too had a question or two for Justice Lodha. “How can a place like Mumbai, which has done so much for cricket, vote only after three years?” he wondered. It’s a question that gives birth to another thought. How time flies. Just the other day it was the 1980s and north India’s collective grudge against Mumbai’s alleged domineering ways had divided the Indian dressing room and the BCCI. Now, Kapil wanted more power for Mumbai. It’s no secret that, Gavaskar-Kapil, in their playing days were no Mahela-Sanga. They had their thorny differences on the field and cosy cliques off it. But today they had joined hands for a common cause. Beside Mumbai’s vote, Kapil also wanted executive members to stick to their position of power for more than three years — the limit set by Lodha.
But let’s be fair, it’s an undeniable fact that Gavaskar and Kapil understand Indian cricket like very few do. You can question the timing of their entry into Indian cricket’s hottest topic of debate, and also the platform they used to air their views — but not their stance. When such blinding winds of change are blowing, and in times when it’s convenient to project “BCCI vs judiciary” as a “good vs evil” face-off, it is easy to get carried away. In this murky twilight, even the judicial over-reach can be mistaken for that impartial long hand of justice.
So again, what were their main objections? Basically three: “One state, one vote”, “cooling off period” and “longer administrative stint for officials”. Now, was it purely coincidental that the BCCI officials, at their special general meeting a few days later, had the same reservations about the report? Wasn’t this the time when the BCCI’s old guard was restless about losing power and their just-hired spin doctors were looking for credible voices to repeat their concern and put pressure on the judiciary?
Kapil and Gavaskar should have raised cricketing issues too — should the court be deciding the number and qualification of selectors or about the IPL window — but then they had their compulsions. Kapil had started the interview with a confession that he doesn’t really understand these complex things. As for Gavaskar, he can’t be blamed; he hadn’t read the entire report.
Reading the views of these two legendary cricketers would have made the judges pensive.
Since the time the IPL betting/match-fixing case reached the courts, and they have been indulging in this “sack all, change all” frenzy, the legal luminaries have held the cricketers in awe and seen them as saviours. Judges have referred to them as “persons with impeccable character, integrity and honesty”. The Lodha report too reposes complete faith in the cricketers to bring about the change. Mandatory membership of all international players in state associations, their presence in the all-powerful apex body and players’ associations are a few important recommendations that will empower players and make them powerful stakeholders of the game. This certainly is a welcome change but does it guarantee better governance? Maybe, maybe not.
Top international players have run the Hyderabad and Karnataka associations for ages. However, like elsewhere, these ex-cricketers have charges of corruption and conflict of interest against them. History shows that the biggest cricketing crime of fixing was done by players. Several were banned for fixing games, many got away because of lack of evidence, others because of lack of will.
Not everyone who wears whites is necessarily squeaky clean. There is a growing suspicion that the judges, in good
faith, might have ended up playing the fan boy. When cricket was being discussed in high-pitched voices in court rooms, there came a time when the SC had to appoint an interim IPL chairman. Quite rightly, with conflict of interest allegations flying thick and fast, they didn’t trust the much-maligned BCCI officials. So who do they go to? Gavaskar, again. The fact that he was part of a player management company and had been on rolls of the BCCI since IPL’s inception wasn’t seen as a hurdle. This wasn’t a conflict of interest case, the court thought.
In the days ahead, with a massive cricket churning on the cards, equations will change. It is unlikely the BCCI will give in, or that the SC will give up. So what next? Maybe Gavaskar, maybe Sourav Ganguly or some other. The judges trust the former players to clean the game. It remains to be seen if they play the puppeteers or puppets.