April 11, 2008

Board, off control


H Natarajan

It’s a pretty common occurrence parents asking their young children to ward off inconvenient telephone caller by telling that he or she is not there at home when very much being there and in a position to answer the call. It’s blatant lie, though the erring parent may justify it as white lie. But young and impressionable minds can’t distinguish the ‘color’ of the lie. These children get justifiably agitated when they are told not to lie by those very erring parents who had no qualms about lying telling themselves. Obviously they have lost the right to pontificate on the virtues of truth.

The above thoughts crossed my mind recollecting the checks the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had put in place following the Indian team’s World Cup debacle last year. The thrust of the entire post-mortem was to get the team’s focus right. The popular perception was that sponsorship and endorsements obligations had upset the priorities of the players. Their primary duty was towards the team and the country but that had taken a huge hit because of players fanning out in different directions for non-cricketing tasks. As a result it had a direct and negative impact on their game and the team’s performance. It culminated in a national uproar and the BCCI was quick to quell the outrage with stringent clauses to rein in the players.

One of the clauses stipulated was that the players should not be involved in endorsement activities in the midst of a series or ten days prior to it.

The parent that wanted to discipline a child is now guilty of the same offence! Surf your TV channels or wade through any newspaper and you will find the players looking as busy if not busier with the Indian Premier League (IPL) than the more important task of representing the country in Tests.

With India losing a home Test in ignominious fashion after being shot out for 76 in 20 pre-lunch overs on the first day, the swords are predictably out. And leading the war cry are two India’s cricketing legends – Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar.

Gavaskar rightly questioned the commitment of the players as some of them had no time for nets between the first and second Tests but all the time for IPL-related promos. It not only reflected the wrong priorities of the players but also the duplicity of the BCCI which had put checks in place to prevent such unwanted distractions. The BCCI was not only overlooking the distractions but was actually masterminding them! In total contrast to India, the South Africans in the IPL fray refused to be part of mid-series, promotional distractions. That’s focus, that’s getting priority right and that’s what separates the winners from losers.

Gary Kirsten, the new coach of the Indian team, got the job on Gavaskar’s recommendation. But it’s Gavaskar himself who feels that Kirsten needs to “crack the whip” if he has to ensure that some of the guys do not “ride rough shod” over him. But when the BCCI itself is guilty of asking the players to violate their own laws by appearing for promos in the tiny gap between two Tests, Kirsten can do precious little. There are, however, two options before him: Tell the BCCI that he cannot allow such distractions or, if the BCCI disagrees, to find another coach. If he does neither, he is equally culpable and very much a responsible party to India’s defeat.

Kirsten has to quickly prove his merits as he displaced a man – Lalchand Rajput - who had proved himself consistently over many series. The BCCI has not been fair in unseating the unassuming former India opener who was not only a successful coach but a popular one at that. But more on Rajput ouster for a later date.

The BCCI has not exactly covered itself with glory in recent times. The Board did not feel it necessary to invite Kapil Dev for a function it hosted to honour Anil Kumble for completing 600 wickets in Tests. It did not matter to the BCCI that Kapil was the highest wicket-taker for India before Kumble nor did it matter that he was the highest wicket-taker in the world. It was this very BCCI administration that had invited Jagmohan Dalmiya, a man who was at loggerheads with them and against whom criminal charges are been framed. It was this very BCCI administration that had invited Mohammad Azharuddin, man who was serving a life ban for his alleged involvement in match-fixing. Are we to believe that the BCCI considers Kapil involvement with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) a greater ‘crime’ to make him persona non grata?

The real test for the BCCI lies ahead – two months ahead, to be precise – when it’s time to celebrate the completion of 25 years of India’s 1983 World Cup triumph. That team led by Kapil Dev had in it the likes of Madan Lal, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Sandeep Patil – all coaches of teams in the ICL. Surely one cannot think of the “83 celebrations without four of its key players, which includes the captain.

One of the BCCI’s key administrators also angered the powerful media by coming up with highly dictatorial clauses that went against the functioning and rights of the media. A potential nasty scenario was quelled by a quick volte-face by the IPL.

From Board of Control it has become Board off-control…Time for BCCI to get its act together.

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