The top tiers of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium afford sweeping views of the low-hung city that is Delhi. From the west stand, if you look left, you can see a flock of pigeons fly across the grand dome of Jama Masjid. And if you turn right, close at hand are the ramparts of the 14th century fort that gave the ground its name. It’s not the HPCA Stadium in Dharamshala, not by any stretch of the imagination, but from up above, Kotla does have its own charm. So much so that it briefly makes you forget some kind of curse lies upon it, too.
On Tuesday afternoon, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni practised big shots in the nets, and janitors scrubbed and cleaned the seating area, it seemed business as usual at the stadium ahead of the second India versus New Zealand ODI to be played here on Thursday (October 20). But the phrase “business as usual” in the context of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) doesn’t have a reassuring connotation. It means all isn’t well. And it wasn’t.
Team India’s fielding coach R Sridhar had barely left the room after a brief media interaction at Kotla when a DDCA official grabbed the mic and requested the press corps to remain seated. DDCA vice president Chetan Chauhan, he announced, was to conduct a presser to brief the media on the preparations ahead of the ODI. Soon, flanked by a few brooding officials, Chauhan settled in his chair.
“The pitch is good…it will be a full house…security will be tight…the match will begin at 1:30 pm and end at 9:30.it will be an entertaining affair,” were some of the stuff Chauhan blurted out in a long mundane monologue that kept you from falling asleep solely because you wondered: what the heck was he driving at? For, as DDCA watchers will tell you, the association doesn’t do such innocuous press conferences. Its officials address the media when a scandal or two have broken out — which is quotidian.
And so, a journalist told Chauhan to stop beating about the bush and come to point: what about the claims of wrongdoing in in-stadium advertising rights? In a nutshell, this was Chauhan’s version of the story: The DDCA invited tenders and gave the rights to the highest bidder. Only, with Rs 2.17 crore dancing before their eyes, they completely skipped the background check part. Matchday approached, but there was no sign of the money, which was when they found out the greenhorn bidder wasn’t in a position to deliver on the promise. An experienced company dug in, and — DDCA proceeded to congratulate itself — everything is now all right.
It is this sort of all-pervasive adhocism that drove Justice Mukul Mudgal, the Delhi High Court-appointed observer to oversee DDCA’s affairs, to write a scathing report on the functioning of the association. “Despite being formed in 1883, and granted affiliation in the year 1928, and even after having conducted many Tests and other international matches at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground, any match assigned to DDCA, for reasons best known the office bearers of DDCA, is dependant on last-minute preparations and permissions,” Mudgal had written in June.
The first thing you notice upon entering the DDCA office is dusty walls adorned by pictures. On the wall outside the restaurant-cum-bar that was shut down for serving alcohol on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday three years ago, there are framed photos of those state cricketers who have played for India — nearly three-and-a-half dozen in all. It may not be as large a number as the corresponding count from Mumbai — which is almost twice — but given the dysfunctional state body that is DDCA, it is mighty impressive.
Hung high above a sleeping stray dog, there is a photograph of Gautam Gambhir. In it, he is very young — a teenager — and is shaking Arun Jaitley’s hand. Jaitley was DDCA’s president between 1999-2013 and Gambhir made his bones in domestic and international cricket during this time. Gambhir is also a vocal DDCA critic. Even on Tuesday he laid into the association.
“Delhi is the national capital and a very big centre,” he said. “There is always some controversy every time there is an international game taking place at the DDCA, and it gives a wrong image to the world. As I said, the people concerned have been there for so many years and they need to take a call and think about it. Something like this needs to stop. The whole situation is embarrassing not only for the common man but even for the cricketers who represent Delhi.”
Gambhir’s frustrations stem from the fact the Delhi’s cricketers come through not because of the system but in spite of it. Even now, arguably the hottest young player in domestic cricket and potentially the next face on DDCA’s walls of fame, Rishabh Pant, has shone through despite there being little pre-season cricket in the state. The infighting and lack of funds meant there was no scope for league cricket this year. Even the Ranji Trophy team selection was mired in controversy, with 35-year-olds from Himachal mysteriously making the probables list at the expense of promising local youngsters. It required Mudgal’s intervention to get the house in order.
One man who has been standing between DDCA and a total breakdown this past year is Justice Mudgal. He was asked by the Delhi High Court in 2015 to take charge of hosting the India-South Africa Test in December. Overcoming sheer unhelpfulness of the disgruntled association members, Mudgal delivered a memorable Test match, following which he continued till the World T20 and the IPL. He later said overseeing DDCA was the toughest challenge he had ever faced. In August this year, he told the court he couldn’t do it anymore, but was asked to stay on till a solution was arrived at.
Then, ahead of the New Zealand ODI, Mudgal had to issue a warning telling the members to put aside their disputes and not “impede the smooth functioning” of the match. It’s his presence that keeps — barely — the faction-ridden body together, but for how long is the question.
From the terrace of the west stand, if you glance southwards, far beyond the ruins of the fort, you can make out the top of Supreme Court’s building. The SC will soon have to decide what it needs to do with the administration of Indian cricket. And even though it’s an extreme case of a badly run body, the DDCA and its non-cooperation shows that sometimes even the court’s intervention can do only so much.