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Why are the legends of Indian cricket silent?

October 03, 2013 10:07 IST

Ravi Shastri, once the debonair rebel of Indian cricket'How do any of the cricketers who have been idolised by millions of fans not just for their ability, but also for their integrity and strength of character, continue to stay silent spectators, asks Faisal Shariff.

It was the 1987-1988 season; Ravi Shastri was the stand-in captain for a one-dayer he thought was a benefit match with no status against the touring West Indies team. It was only at the toss that the rival captain, Vivian Richards, told him the match was an ODI, but not part of the series.

Shastri, then a debonair cricketer with a reputation of being some sort of a rebel, threw the kitchen sink at one and all with the maximum sting reserved for the BCCI.

A year later, he was part of an elite group of cricketers who took the BCCI to the Supreme Court for banning them for playing matches in the US, which the powers-that-be had termed forbidden.

In 2002, the same Shastri took on then BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya in a live television challenge over the contracts dispute. He took up cudgels on behalf of the players as they battled clauses in the ICC Members Participation Agreement whose fine print was apparently not read through by anyone at the BCCI.

Cut to 2013 and we have a different avatar of Shastri. It seems as if he is reborn with a new set of ideals and purposes, which has nothing to do with the Shastri of the 1980s and 1990s or even of 2002.

Quite often, he is a shadow of the rebel who once took on the Board.

Hearing him speak at the Dilip Sardesai lecture last month was an eye-opener. It showed the extent to which he has been embedded into the system, without actually being in the system.

An excerpt from what he said:

'The BCCI has become a punching bag. But one needs to see what all they have done for the game in the country. Srinivasan is a true fan of the game and a true administrator. If I were in his position, even I would not have resigned.'

If Shastri really thinks all is well with the BCCI and the way it functions, should he not be in the system in a responsible position?

It is here that Shastri and the cricketers of his era need to step up. They have all, it appears, become subservient to the current regime and are not keen to rock the boat.

What is at stake? A commentary assignment, the monthly pension and lot of related benefits, it seems.

Almost all of India's former cricketers, Shastri included, remind one of the second Gulf War where we were introduced to the concept of embedded journalists. These embedded journalists told us just one point of view and had us believe that Saddam Hussein was the centre of a growing evil axis which wanted to blow up the world. It was as far away from the truth as you could imagine.

India's elite former cricketers have almost become like those embedded journalists. They tell us the truth that they believe is actually happening and almost always fall short of voicing their opinions.

It required a bench of learned judges at the Supreme Court to step in and say something seems wrong with the BCCI.

What do you make of it when the apex court observes that 'So many things are coming about the IPL and something seems wrong with the apex cricketing body... why has it lost its credibility?'

The cricketers themselves have manifested the current problems in Indian cricket. You have one set of former cricketers who don't speak up when required. And another set within the system that has let it rot.

Test cricketers of eminence like Shivlal Yadav, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble were prime movers in supporting the current regime. So you cannot blame any of the administrators for what happened last week.

If board officials like then secretary Sanjay Jagdale and then treasurer Ajay Shirke can take a stand and walk away, how do any of the cricketers, who have been idolised by millions of fans not just for their ability but also for their integrity and strength of character, continue to stay silent spectators?

It is all very well to say the cricketers need a bigger role in the Indian cricket administration, but what do you say of those in the system not doing anything of note? Almost all state associations have a former first-class or international as office-bearers of the state associations across the country.

Surely things can be changed, but for that the conscientious call needs to come from within. That will happen only if we move from the unaccountable honorary system of the 1930s to a more modern accountable system of paid professionals.

Love of the game does not mean not getting paid for the work you do; it means creating enough money to pay everyone for the work they do.

They have collectively let the system rot off the field even as Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side have ensured that India remains on top of the world. To give all credit for the genius and talent of Indian cricket to the BCCI alone is writing an incomplete story.

Sri Lankan cricket for long has suffered terrible board room feuds, but their teams made it to the last two World Cup finals and the play-offs of most ICC events in the last 10 years.

It is one thing to have the finest cricketing brains, but quite another to have the steel in your gut and the strength in your heart to take a stand, whatever the consequences.

When Mohammad Ali refused to be enlisted for the Vietnam war and was stripped of his world title, he said he took the stand with the full realisation of its implications.

'I have searched my conscience,' The Greatest declared.

It is time the legends of Indian cricket find theirs.

Image: Ravi Shastri, one of Indian cricket's finest minds, in his commentator avatar.

Faisal Shariff