“I don’t even know how to start a computer, I don’t have phone”. Being a Luddite has nice old-world charm in this modern world and Shashank Manohar, the new president of BCCI, seems more than eager to add to the myth around him. In his first press conference, where he spoke about transparency and asked for two months to enforce the course of action he will take to clean up the Indian cricket board, the other officials around him talked up his clean image.
It won’t be a surprise if Manohar, a lawyer based in Nagpur, starts doing a few things right away – a possible termination of couple of IPL franchises and a decision on the future of Sunder Raman, the controversial IPL COO, but the larger concern remains.
Much has been made about his reclusive nature, or the fact that he just got a passport in 2010 when he had to tour abroad for a cricket meeting. To be ensconced in Nagpur when the action happens elsewhere isn’t exactly what the board needs. The board requires a president who will be completely hands-on, not in the just two months, but for the entire duration of the term.
It slightly disconcerting that a man supposed to be low-key indulges in his own myth – being a recluse, or talking about not possessing a phone or unaware about computer usage are just amusing distractions at best and not signs of any virtue.
In all this myth-making of him, it shouldn’t be forgotten that much of the muck that emerged in the cricket board had happened when he was at the helm. He wasn’t directly responsible of course but he can’t be completely exculpated of blame too.
The rise and rise of N Srinivasan and Lalit Modi running amok with power even as the board officials turned a blind eye as they were fixated on the moolah pouring in for the board from the IPL occurred under his watch. If he hadn’t been, like the rest of the board so enamoured by the money, he could have prevented Modi from becoming so all-powerful, and almost a law unto his own. Also, as a legal expert, he could have seen the potential troubles inherent in the controversial amendment to the BCCI constitution’s clause in 2008, that authorised Srinivasan’s India Cements to own the Chennai Super Kings. He was the president-designate then, and in Sharad Pawar’s camp, and part of the process that allowed it to happen.
Now to turn around and talk about conflict of interest is well and good, but it would have been far better had he preempted the entire issue in the first place.
Manohar might have won an unanimous vote for his presidency this time but he wasn’t all always popular within the board. In 2013 when he submitted an affidavit in the High Court to clear his name from the cases filed against the BCCI by the Enforcement Directorate, the board members raised the matter in a AGM as they saw it as Manohar leaving the rest of the board in a fix and trying to save his own reputation. The then secretary Sanjay Patel had even made their displeasure public.
The lack of computer awareness made its appearance again on Sunday’s press conference. Asked a direct question about the alleged trail of emails he exchanged with Modi during the spot fixing controversy, Manohar, who had just talked about his intent to bring in transparency and end conflict of interests, sought to pose a few counter questions. “I am not admitting to anything, just putting out a worse-case scenario. What if I had mailed the Queen of England? Does it prove anything? Does it say that she knows me? Anyone can say they have mailed me, the question is whether it will affect the way I function. I am saying I won’t allow anything to affect me.”
The logic wasn’t water-tight. Sending an email to the queen, or the president of United States can’t be equated with exchanging favourable communications with a person the board was investigating. And as for ‘I won’t let it all affect my judgement and actions’ takes us right back to the heart of conflict of interest issue. That’s the definition of conflict of interest. It’s not the actual event of wrongdoing happening but the potential of it. Perhaps, realising that he was dragging himself into a needless mess, Manohar suddenly brought up his lack of computer skills. In the same breath he jested about mailing the queen, he said, “I don’t even know how to start a computer.”
Sunday evening had more such whimsical confessions. He even praised Srinivasan though it ended up sounding as a clean chit to his own reign as president. “All I can say is when I was the president, Srinivasan was one of the best secretary (sic). In fact, I would say he was one of the best secretaries, after Jagmohan Dalmiya, that Indian board ever had. What happened after I left, I can’t say as I wasn’t aware of the day-to-day functioning of the board.”
A praise to an adversary was being couched as a statement on one’s own presidency. A largesse of the heart, and self-exoneration – a shrewd move.
The press conference wasn’t all about the administration of the board but also offered couple of cricketing issues. One was DRS, the Decision Review System, which India has been against for a while now. Manohar said he was all for it, except in the case of lbws where he said the “camera angles can be deceiving”.
He also talked about the dearth of spinners in the country, and the lack of bench strength, and advocated the need for a better National cricket academy which can function all round the year and contribute to Indian cricket. Here’s to hoping that the cricket administrators too rise to the occasion and take Indian cricket to the next level. Hopefully, Manohar can walk the talk and help raise the standards of Indian cricket.