July 31, 2000


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Harsha Bhogle

Sometimes, you see things in newspapers that you wish you hadn’t. There has been a lot of that in Indian cricket over the last three months. But nothing can quite match the monstrosity that I saw recently. It was pompous and arrogant, it was insulting and demeaning. It was called the draft code of conduct for India’s cricket captain, and if there is one thing in Indian cricket I would pray for, even more than a match-winning Tendulkar century in a World Cup final, it would be that documents like these go straight from the drafting table to the fireplace.

The BCCI seems to assume that India’s cricket captain is a dangerous delinquent who can only be let out of his remand home from time to time to go onto a cricket ground. Then, as quickly as possible, he must be muzzled, put on a leash and locked up. That is the bare essence of the draft code of conduct. It is a humiliating piece of work, and the worst public statement that I have seen in the few years that I have been covering cricket.

It made me cringe to be Indian.

To a lot of us, the position of the captain of the Indian cricket team is a symbol of authority, pride and dignity. India’s cricket captain is a symbol of India itself, and he has to be put on a pedestal. It is a position of honour, and that is why it is something that every little child craves for. If anything, we need to build a crown of jewels around the job so that it automatically invests responsibility in the person occupying it. If, having given him all this, the person named lets the side and the country down, we must have stringent punishments attached, but we cannot demean the job, we cannot take away the honour attached to it.

Independence and free speech is the hallmark of every civilised society. Any organisation that tries to gag its own leader, let alone its representatives is backward, closed, inward-looking. Such an organisation cannot even dream of progress. Is it surprising, then, that except for the hugely belated launch of its academy, the BCCI has been unable to come up with one single forward-looking decision?

So now the captain of the Indian team cannot invite anyone to his room without seeking the permission of his manager? Worse still, he cannot employ a net bowler without asking someone? At this rate, he will not be allowed to get a new bat, cannot select a new ball for a match, will have to stick to dal and not chicken, will have to seek written permission to order a cup of tea from room service… really is scandalous. Now, you tell me, what can such ludicrous proposals seek to achieve?

Apart from being extremely silly, these are proposals that simply cannot be implemented. Suppose, for example, Sourav Ganguly decides to invite me to his room for a cup of tea, as he sometimes does. Will he be sacked for it? And in any case how will anyone know? Dear, dear, dear, what are we getting into?

But that is not all. The captain, apparently, cannot sell his autograph and requires clearance for appearing at a public function. Now, this is getting into the area of a person’s individual rights and if the law can allow the BCCI to place such restrictions on individuals, the law is an ass. In any case, what does the BCCI own? Does it own a player’s time when he is not playing on a cricket ground for India? Does it own the time that he plays either? Can it influence what kind of friends a player chooses to have? Worse still, as the possessor of an extremely undistinguished management record, does it even have the stature to be talking about such things?

I genuinely believe the time has come, in the absence of a congenial dialogue, for the players to put their foot down, to be firm and united in a quest for self-respect. Should Sourav Ganguly refuse to sign the captain’s code of conduct, I am absolutely convinced that the BCCI will find itself in a bind because I do not see Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar signing such an insulting document either. And at the moment, the BCCI cannot look beyond these four in selecting a captain.

It is prudent as well to ask the BCCI who they plan to nominate as manager, as the holder of such dictatorial, undemocratic powers. For years, the manager has been appointed based on his ability to contribute a vote to the ruling faction and not because he possesses extraordinary managerial powers. Such a system will necessarily throw up poor candidates, and almost every one of those selected in recent times have proved themselves to be inadequate; a couple of them have been absolutely embarrassing.

In fact, I have often wondered if the BCCI shouldn’t have a code of conduct for its own office-bearers. In the last few years, the most damaging statements have come from the BCCI and not from the players. It is they who have given the organisation of the game in India a pathetic appearance, have caused it to become the object of some ridicule. Almost every state association has a scandal attached to it. Surely, in such a scenario, the cleaning up should come from within the corridors (large alleys that transport small people!) of power? And yet, they wear coats of arrogance, these men, and seek to impose the kind of restrictions on India’s cricket captain that I cannot impose even on my little son!

I wonder if it even crossed anyone’s mind to invite Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar for a meeting and ask if they could participate in the drafting of a joint code of conduct. Couldn’t they have sent an e-mail to Ganguly in Manchester, couldn’t they have called him and said `as captain of India, we would like you to participate in a process of assigning responsibility’? Instead, effectively they are telling Ganguly that he is an immature, untrustworthy person.

In troubled times, you look ahead. You seek opportunities and you look for deeds that inspire optimism. You send out messages of hope and reassurance to those who think their sport is in peril. You become more transparent rather than more secretive. Remember, only those that have things to hide are secretive, and by preventing people from speaking out, the BCCI is telling us that they have something to hide.

This draft code of conduct comes from the era of sati and of purdah. It has no place in the wonderful, open world that we seek to live in. And those that drafted it are living in a world of make believe, where freedom and opinion could be suppressed. They are as dated as the terrible medieval customs that we long outlawed. If there is anything Indian cricket needs, it is a fresh new wind to take away the stench of dead thought.

This code of conduct cannot, and should not, work.

Apparently the draft code of conduct will have seen some changes before it makes it way to the sports minister. There is only one change it needs. It needs to be torn down the middle, and then into a hundred parts, and then deposited in the sea.

See Related Column: 'Dear Board, I quit! Signed, captain!'

Harsha Bhogle

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