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It takes a sturdy sense of perspective to turn down a chance to micro-manage the affairs of Indian cricket, and Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ibrahim Kalifulla of the Supreme Court ultimately could not resist the temptation. It is unfortunate that the honourable judges have gone beyond simply deciding on the conflicts of interest embroiling the Board of Control for Cricket in India and, more severely, its most lucrative property, the Indian Premier League. This undermines the court itself, and also damages Indian cricket.
In an interim order, the court has disallowed any employee of India Cements from holding a role in the BCCI, other than playing (thus saving Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s place in the team, for now) or commentating. It has, in an instance of unwise overreach, also suggested that Sunil Gavaskar take over as interim president of the BCCI from N. Srinivasan of India Cements, owner of an IPL team embroiled in match-fixing and conflict of interest controversies, but limit himself to matters related to the IPL, leaving other BCCI functioning to a vice president. If that were not interference enough, the court has asked that Gavaskar be compensated for the very substantial income he will forego for giving up his contractual obligations as a commentator.
As eminent a sportsperson as Gavaskar should be expected to decline the offer of recompense for the honour of serving the sport, but that’s just a little side question in this bizarre turn of events. There is no question that Srinivasan’s conduct defies every best practice, and his removal from a position of authority would be to the benefit of cricket. It is, in fact, necessary. But is deciding on corporate conflicts of interest and malpractice in any way a ground for a judicial takeover of the running of an autonomous organisation? What next? Will the court set the terms for how teams are chosen? On the colour of their ODI uniforms? May we go to court when a fielding decision goes wrong? It certainly looks headed that way.
Meanwhile, if the BCCI has been reduced to a plaything, the powerful men who run it only have themselves to blame — indeed, they are accountable for bringing the sport to this juncture, ironically at a time when the IPL is not just keeping cricket financially healthy, but also giving Indian cricket great power. They have not only ignored the bad practices, the outrageous conflicts of interest and the perversion emanating thereon, they have colluded in them. The BCCI needed a severe crisis to be jolted into rectifying its affairs. Such a crisis has been building up over the past year. If only the court would not waste it by overreaching.