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February 2, 2001


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Prem Panicker

Why must we have a cricket tamasha in Sharjah?

For the nation, and the world, Gujarat is a tragedy of epic proportions. Each day, fresh reports of entire communities wiped out sears its way into the collective consciousness -- like so many teardrops scalding the cheek of Time.

But then, we are talking of normal people here.

We are not talking of Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Thus, Dalmiya -- as head of the Asian Cricket Foundation -- announces from Lahore that Pakistan and Bangladesh are willing and able to play a quick tri-series in Sharjah in order to raise Rs 20 crore for the relief of quake victims in Gujarat.

He mentions, in passing, that, of course, it all depends on the Government of India clearing India's participation -- but hopes that since it is for a noble cause, the GoI will grant the required permission.

For starters, why Sharjah, pray? Surely there are enough grounds in India on which to stage charity matches, assuming that is in fact the intention? Surely the premier Indian grounds have far larger seating capacities than Sharjah, which in turn means that the amounts raised will be far greater? Surely, for a series played in India, in aid of such a cause, the corporates will pull out all sponsorship stops, to ensure that vast sums are collected? Surely the public, the fans, will turn out in their numbers, knowing that their presence and participation swells the amounts being collected for the relief and rehabilitation of Gujarat?

But why raise speculative questions? A couple of months ago, when we did an in-depth study of the CBI case against the BCCI, the question of Sharjah had been tackled in some detail. The story in question merely underlines the point we make here -- that playing in Sharjah is not as lucrative as playing in India.

But Dalmiya, sitting in Lahore, can only think of Sharjah.

Why Pakistan? Because it is free, and ready to play, we are told. As the ACF chairman, Dalmiya can get Pakistan on the next flight out to Sharjah, we are informed. Dalmiya's influence never ceases to amaze -- maybe it would be churlish for us to wish that he uses a modicum of that same influence to talk Pakistan into abating cross-border terrorism.

Never mind that, let us not get into politics here. Let us, instead, look at the question from another angle -- is a series in Sharjah, and against Pakistan, the best way for us to raise money for Gujarat? A glance at the international cricketing calendar tells me that at this point in time, South Africa is free. Did Dalmiya, or any member of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, approach the United Cricket Board for South Africa, and request that body to send its team to India for a quick ODI series to raise funds for the cause?

Surely, India playing three ODIs against South Africa in any combination of venues picking from Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Bangalore or Madras would raise considerably more funds than this proposed tri-series in Sharjah?

So, was the attempt made? Was the UCBSA contacted?

No. Instead, Dalmiya gets the Pakistan Cricket Board's approval, then unilaterally announces a series. A blatant piece of emotional blackmail, intended to put pressure on the GoI to give permission for India to play Pakistan at the 'neutral' venue (Interestingly, as you will see from the story referred to earlier, Dalmiya himself had, not so long ago, demanded that India should never play in Sharjah again, since the venue was weighted against India). The trick here is simple, and transparent -- use the Gujarat quake to permit India and Pakistan to start playing each other because once that is achieved, it becomes difficult for the GoI to refuse permission the next time the question of a tour to that country comes up.

(In passing, it needs mentioning that recently, the Indian government had refused permission for the Pakistan basketball team to visit India and take part in the SAARC tournament -- indicating, among other things, that the GoI's policy of discouraging sporting links with that country still holds.)

Examine, now, the Dalmiya proposal from a cricketing point of view. The schedule calls for the Indian team to go into a preparatory camp from February 6 to10, followed by the Challenger Series between February 12 to 15, with another camp to follow from February 16 to 20, if coach John Wright feels the need for it.

What is the idea behind the schedule? Simply this -- the first camp gives the Indian Test hopefuls an opportunity to come together with the coach, and work on strategies for the home series against the Australians. The Challengers meanwhile provides an opportunity for the coach, the captain, and the selectors to view the best available one day talent in the country, in order to shortlist those who will play the one-day series against Australia following immediately after the Tests.

But Dalmiya, sitting in Lahore, suggests that the Challengers can be done away with. In other words, not only can this one man usurp the function of the GoI, but he can, with equal ease, usurp the BCCI's powers and functions and make whatever changes to the national cricketing schedule he fancies.

Shakespeare, speaking through Cassius, found the right words to describe this situation: On what meat doth this our Caesar feed/That he is grown so great?

In general, no one in his right mind would oppose moves, by anybody, to raise funds for victims of the Gujarat quake. But the question remains -- is a series in Sharjah the best way to do it?

If the BCCI -- and Dalmiya who, going by available evidence, appears to be running it by remote control -- is serious about doing something for the cause, it could have announced that 25 per cent of all earnings during the upcoming Test and ODI series against Australia will be handed over to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund. Further, keeping in mind that the series will end only in April and it will take at least a month more to tally the take, the BCCI can, predicating on the fact that its total earnings during the last Australian tour of India in 1998-1999 was Rs 51,467,341, announce an immediate donation of 25 per cent of that amount, with the proviso that if current earnings top that figure, then the difference will be paid into the PM's fund immediately after the tour ends.

Further, the BCCI could announce a quake surcharge of Rs 20 on each ticket, at each venue -- no Indian is going to crib when it comes to paying out twenty bucks per head towards the Gujarat fund.

Further, the BCCI could announce that any corporate desirous of sponsoring advertising, on-field or off, focussing on the upcoming tour will need to pay an additional sum of Rs 500,000 or Rs 1 million into the PM's Relief Fund -- amounts that are chick-feed for the Pepsis of this world, but which will cumulatively make for a substantial contribution to the cause.

Further, the BCCI could use its good offices with the players to ensure that at each Test and ODI venue, an auction is held with the entire proceeds earmarked for the Gujarat quake victims. Towards this, players could donate autographed bats, balls, items of apparel and other memorabilia. The visiting Australian team could also be asked to pitch in -- and they will be only too glad to help.

Hell -- if the BCCI really wants to do something for the cause, all it has to do is look in its own bank lockers. Here are the official figures, as shown in the BCCI's balancesheet for the financial year 1999-2000:

Total earnings: Rs 491,132,789

Excess of Income over Expenditure: Rs 360,122,999.

It needs mentioning that that figure of Rs 360 million is merely the profits earned during the period in question.

Imagine the quantum of relief that could be provided to the unfortunates of Gujarat for a fraction of that sum, lying ready to hand.

But no -- our hearts bleed for Gujarat, and therefore we need to organise a cricket tamasha in Sharjah. Or so Jagmohan Dalmiya, sitting in Lahore, would have you believe!

The Complete Coverage | List of earthquake sites

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