June 21, 2007

It’s Like Leading A Middle Class Life With A Million Dollars In The Bank!

By H Natarajan

Sunil Gavaskar finds himself in the midst of yet another blazing controversy. In what is one of the most scathing attack ever on the maestro, Outlook magazine has questioned many of his actions and alleged inactions. The litany runs long in the article titled, Too Many Dot Balls, in the latest issue of the magazine.

I have had nothing but the highest admiration for Gavaskar as a batsman. He gave Indian cricket a new identity, a new respect. It was his batting genius that saw India emerge from a Third World cricketing nation to a force to reckon with. But there’s no doubt in my mind that he could have offered much, much more to Indian cricket than he has since his playing days. It’s like having a million dollars in the bank but having to remain content leading a middle class life because of inaccessibility to the funds.

When one goes down the history of cricket, one can find a long list of illustrious names who served the country as selectors after hanging up their cricketing boots – Sir Len Hutton, Sir Viv Richards, Allan Border… Even the legendary Sir Don Bradman, who was to become increasingly reclusive in the later part of his life, served his country and South Australia as an administrator for more than 35 years. He was also chairman of the national selection committee.

Why has Gavaskar stayed away from being a selector when just about every great contemporary of his playing days like Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Bedi, Venkatraghavan, Gundappa Viswanath, Syed Kirmani, Dilip Vengsarkar, among others, have all taken their turns to be selectors? It’s a question that has haunted Indian cricket for long.

I once saw Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott in a highly cerebral discussion on batting technique. That one Master Class would have been enough for anybody to realize the high level of excellence Gavaskar can offer. He has seen international cricket for 38 long years from very close quarters – on and off the field. Very few in world cricket – barring a handful like Richie Benaud – have that length of first-hand experience and expertise to give intellectual sermons on the game. In fact, I have always believed that if somebody was to write The Modern Art of Cricket - a sequel was to be Sir Don’s classic, The Art of Cricket then Gavaskar would have been an ideal choice. It would be the Bhagwad Gita of modern cricket. It’s sad when India has to look for a coach within the country, Gavaskar is not in the frame.

Nearly two decades ago, Gavaskar did show interest in grass-root development of talent with plans to start his own indoor cricket school in Mumbai. The Maharashtra state government gave him 2,000-square-metre of prime plot at Bandra Reclamation for the purpose. A school by the Master himself would have been a boon for Indian cricket, but, sadly, that was not to be.

I read the Outlook article just yesterday and it’s not a Gavaskar v Bedi spat as media coverage indicates. There is no denying that Bedi was once an unabashed admirer of Gavaskar and, in fact, named his son – from an earlier marriage to an Australian – as Gavas Inder Singh. But there is also no denying the fact that relationship between the two stormy personalities of Indian cricket has soured in the years that followed. Bedi’s broadside that Gavaskar is “destructive” and that is “nothing positive” is indicative taking personal differences to a public forum and overstretching a point.

Bedi accuses SMG of liking “power without accountability”. There was at least one earlier occasion when another powerful person said something similar.

At a public function, Gavaskar, once said in his inimitable style that politicians in Indian sports had done precious little for the sport they headed. Manohar Joshi, a Shiv Sena heavyweight and then Maharashtra Chief Minister, who had used his political muscle to topple Madhav Mantri as the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) president, was present at the function. Mantri’s defeat hurt Gavaskar the cricketer and Gavaskar the nephew. Even before the gathering could recover from shock, Joshi did not let lose an opportunity to fire his riposte. He asked Gavaskar to come forward and occupy the seat of power, implying that the maestro should contribute to Mumbai and Indian cricket as an administrator and not merely take pot-shots at administrators as a mediaperson.

Of course, to the delight of the Mumbai cricketing fraternity, SMG took over as the MCA vice-president in 1998 when Ramakant Desai died in office. However, that stint was fleeting.

The vast majority of the Indian cricketers – past or present - would remain non-committal or diplomatic for fear of antagonizing a powerful figure like Gavaskar. There may be attempts to dismiss the Outlook piece as another example of the Mumbai-Delhi divide – a rivalry that runs long and deep. The writer of the piece is from Delhi as are the rest of the people interviewed – except one. But it would be insulting the integrity and intelligence of people like Rajdeep Sardesai and Mukul Kesavan if one were to dismiss their opinion as pro-Delhi or anti-Mumbai. As for Rajaraman, the writer of the piece, I have known him over two decades as an erudite, no-nonsense and balanced journalist.

If there was anything avoidable in that article, in my humble opinion, it was the allegation that Gavaskar reportedly took a nap in the dressing room when he was batting consultant to the Indian team. While it’s easy to lampoon him for seemingly dereliction of duty, one has to be fair to Gavaskar. After all he was not doing something that is unheard and unseen in dressing rooms all over the world. It’s quite possible the nap may have been brief or it may have been at an unimportant stage of the game. In fact, Gavaskar himself will bear testimony to the fact that captain Wadekar was sleeping in the dressing room when India were on threshold of a historic series win at the Oval in 1971. Victory always has a nice flavour and Alex Bannister, the respected journalist from The Daily Mail, wrote in praise of Wadekar’s slumber: "Like Montgomery before Alamein, he had laid his plans in advance and retired to confident sleep".

If the likes of Gavaskar and Kapil Dev have not come forward more often to play a more dominant role by holding key positions in Indian cricket, then the BCCI is also to be blamed. Why can’t a cash-rich body make it financially worthwhile for the likes of Gavaskar and Kapil? These men command high price for their time and it’s only fair that they do not suffer serious losses as a result of giving their cricketing expertise. If the BCCI does not find value in them, some other enterprising businessmen like will. And Subhash Chandra had done exactly that by roping in Kapil for his forays. Instead of having a re-look at their own follies, the BCCI reacted to Kapil’s involvement with the Zee’s Indian Cricket League (ICL) by saying that he would be sacked as National Cricket Academy chairman. There is no denying that there is a clear conflict of interest, but why did Kapil feel the need to offer his services – even if it’s not the done thing while still holding charge as NCA chairman? As Kiran More, another member of the ICL Board, opined: “I am not even compensated for the cost of petrol that I use while driving to my BCA (Baroda Cricket Association) office.”

Unless the BCCI sheds its archaic garb, adopts a professional outlook to be in tune with its multi-million dollar, money-spinner status and treats professionals like professionals, the very best may find greener pastures elsewhere. The lessons Kerry Packer taught with his breakaway World Series Cricket should not be forgotten.


At 8:59 pm, Blogger Gargoyle said...

I'm someone who is generally sports illiterate. And only marginally literate in cricket because I grew up in India and it's impossible to do that without learning something. But even I found myself wondering in the wake of the World Cup why our old champions did not play a bigger role in our cricket. I enjoyed your blog thoroughly. It's well-written, thoughtful sports commentary, the likes of which I didn't know existed. (Probably because - before you say it - I'm sports illiterate and haven't read the sports pages!) Either way, I'll definitely be back.


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