The media session with the BCCI president Anurag Thakur and CEO Rahul Johri was unusually lengthy, lasting nearly 40 minutes including a neat power-point presentation of the new bidding process by Johri. Theoretically, the interaction intended to brief the new bidding procedure for the IPL broadcast and digital rights, but in essence, it turned out to be another dais for Thakur to defend and justify the recent spate of outbursts at the ICC, and specifically its chairman Shashank Manohar.
Going by the recent tirades between them, it was hardly unanticipated that Manohar’s name would pop up some time in the briefing. For the record, not once did Thakur address Manohar by his name, but the latter’s shadow lurked around uneasily in the room and several of his answers and observations were clearly directed at him. It seemed Thakur was comfortable speaking on the perceptible BCCI-ICC stand-off rather than explaining the mundane intricacies of the bidding process, which was mostly left to Johri. The ICC topic, in fact, seemed to banish all the jet lag he had accumulated in the 16-hour flight from Washington, where he was part of a delegation of Indian MPs who had gone to meet their American counterparts.
For the first time in the session, he broke into peels of laughter when someone asked him whether he wanted to helm the ICC. “I have no interest. Jisko ICC jana tha woh bahut pehli hi gaye,” he said, grinning, and not making any effort to hold back the sarcasm. The entire room echoed with laughter, before he repeated that oft-repeated line. “I’m more than happy serving Indian cricket. For me, serving the nation and Indian cricket comes first and foremost.”
The patriotic fervour was soon replaced by proud brag about the indispensability of Indian cricket, laced with another irresistible snide at Manohar. “You say you have no time to look after Indian cricket, because you want to look after the world, but if you don’t think about your country, how can you think about the world? (In cricket), they can’t run the world without India. World cricket is where they are now because of India and to sideline us will be counterproductive,” he emphasised.
Like in another press conference he had addressed last week, he dwelled into the conflicting views of the ICC and BCCI on Tests matches as well as the shelved two-tier system in Tests. “The ICC chairman thinks nobody watches Test cricket between 10 am and 5 pm. And here we are playing 13 Test matches this season and planning a grand celebration for India’s 500th Test. Also, two-tier system will widen the gulf between the countries. So it’s sometimes difficult (to work together),” he said, reiterating that the BCCI is duty-bound to stand by the likes of Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe.
He offered a simple solution to the ICC, too: “Instead of saying such things, the ICC should ask themselves why people don’t come to watch cricket and how to find the perfect balance between the three formats. That’s exactly what the BCCI is doing. We understand that there are people who watch Test cricket, so you need to have Test matches. There are people, especially the younger ones who watch T20s. So we have T20s. Now we have to think how we can make the T20-watching fans to follow Test cricket,” he asserted.
The indignation at not having a BCCI representative in the ICC financial committee still aches him. He admits it’s incomprehensible for him to find any logic in the decision. “India is where the maximum money comes from. So how can they have a financial committee without any BCCI representative?” he asks, wearing same the perplexed look whenever approached with this question.
It seems like the ICC-BCCI feud has evolved into a personal spitfire between the two. But he quickly clarifies that there’s no estrangement between the boards. “Hamare beech mein man-mutav kuch nahin hain,” he said.
Battles at home
Meanwhile, the BCCI and its president are fighting battles on their home turf as well, especially in dealing with the Lodha committee recommendations, some of which had asphyxiated the board . Though the BCCI has been vehemently opposed several of their recommendations, they have been prompted to toe the line on several others. Like for instance, tweaking the bidding process for IPL television and digital rights.
Whereas previously it involved close-door meetings involving BCCI and IPL functionaries and broadcasters, from now on, the BCCI will open tenders for the next 10-year cycle for television and five-year contract for the digital media. The invitation to tender document will be available from Monday while the last day for receiving bids is October 25 and is open to all non-news broadcasters, who don’t have a litigation with the BCCI.
However, the highest bidder is not automatically guaranteed to win the rights. It depends on the feedback given by the board’s auditing and consulting company, Deloitte, and financial advisers. “Sometimes you get very similar bids and then the financial adviser look at the value of the money. The final definition of the best offer for BCCI has to be left to the financial adviser,” said Johri.
The open tender process, Thakur says, will bring in more transparency and accountability “no nobody can point their finger at the BCCI”. As an after-thought, he added: “It has always been the case with the BCCI. We ensure transparency and accountability in everything. No broadcaster in the past can accuse us of anything. And we have always been open to reforms, even before the Lodha recommendations.”
As for Justice Lodha and his colleagues, he invited them to watch a few domestic matches from the stadium. “Anyway they have been unable to visit the state association offices or BCCI headquarters. Most of the meetings were held in five star hotels. But the domestic season is about to start, and I would request them to come and watch a few matches to see how well the BCCI is organising the biggest domestic tournament in the world,” he said.
There was no evident sarcasm in his tone, but the message was explicitly conveyed–those that have no practical experience of playing or running cricket shouldn’t have too much say in reforming the board.