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Future of Mumbai cricket at stake in polls

April 29, 2003 20:47 IST

The working of a unit in an organisation often defines the characteristics of the whole organisation. The Mumbai Cricket Association, which goes to the polls on Wednesday, April 30, is an example. The association is beset with the same problems that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been facing since its inception in 1929.

The MCA consists of 323 cricket clubs spread all over the city. Every two years, the clubs elect a president, two vice-presidents, two secretaries, a treasurer and 11 managing committee members -- all, of course, honorary, as in the BCCI.

With former Maharashtra chief minister and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar getting re-elected unopposed as MCA president, the two main factions in the association -- the late Bal Mahaddalkar's group and the Shripad Halbe-Praveen Barve group -- will fight it out for the important posts of vice-president and secretary.

Mumbai cricket, once the nursery of the game in India, is in a pitiable state today, a far cry from the days when the team won the Ranji Trophy for 15 consecutive years. Today, Mumbai struggles to produce players who can hold their own in the international arena.

Though the team has reached the Ranji Trophy final this year, walloping Baroda in the semi-finals in three days, it does not mean all's fine with Mumbai cricket. The squad, for instance, did not have a coach until 20 days before the tournament began in the revised two-tier format.

Former Test opener Lalchand Rajput, who is the Mahaddalkar group's nominee for the post of secretary -- coached the Ranji Trophy squad last year. Fed up with waiting for his contract for the current season to come through, he moved to Assam as coach. Chandrakant Pandit, former Test wicketkeeper, was then roped in to coach the side.

Another major issue is the continued legal tussle between the MCA and the Garware Club House, which is housed in the MCA's Wankhede Stadium. Pawar, who is also the president of the clubhouse, had won the last MCA election on January 19, 2001, because of his promise to resolve this tussle.

The Garware Club House has single-handedly drained the MCA's resources over the last three decades. Though the MCA owns the premises, its members (read cricketers) are not allowed to use the clubhouse facilities like the swimming pool, gymnasium, and restaurant. Former India captains Polly Umrigar and Gulabrai Ramchand were not given car passes for the India-West Indies Test at the stadium last year and were even stopped at the gate, ironically named after Umrigar.

MCA vice-president Ravi Sawant (Mahaddalkar group), who is standing for re-election, said the MCA loses Rs 4,00,000 annually because of the clubhouse. The MCA pays taxes on fixed assets without access to them, while the clubhouse shows expenditure on them without paying taxes.

A chartered accountant, Sawant has been fighting this case for the past six years and has finally managed to sort out some of the issues. The MCA no longer has to pay the GCH to lodge its players in the clubhouse's rooms and use its facilities during tournaments and camps.

But worse than such hassles, says Sawant, is the failure of former top cricketers to come forward to help in running the association. "Of the 80 Test cricketers from Mumbai," he says, "more than half work in south Mumbai, but very few come to the association. It is a worrying factor. The senior cricketers are very important for Mumbai cricket to thrive."

But as an MCA official points out, "In the last election, only two of the 12 cricketers and umpires who contested won."

One such senior cricket, former Test captain Dilip Vengsarkar, returns to the fray this year for the post of vice-president after losing the election six years ago. Then, Vengsarkar was an independent candidate. Now, he's allied with the Mahaddalkar group.

There is little doubt that the Elf-Vengsarkar Academy is amongst the better coaching academies in the country, and Vengsarkar's nomination by the Mahaddalkar group will augur well for Mumbai cricket.

Vengsarkar has named improvement of junior cricket as the main objective if he is elected. "I want to remove politics from the MCA," he says. "It is harming Mumbai cricket."

Interestingly, Vengsarkar, who is keen to see the ouster of Indian team coach John Wright because he's a foreigner, says the MCA needs to get foreign coaches to train Indian coaches, "since they are more professional".

The MCA's set-up itself is a bone of contention. A senior Mumbai cricketer said having two vice-presidents and two secretaries is unnecessary and only leads to one-upmanship. For instance, vice-president Barve, owing to his opposition to the Mahaddalkar group, has rarely planned or worked with Sawant, the other MCA vice-president.

Professor Ratnakar Shetty, who is up for re-election as secretary, says it is important for the MCA to adopt the BCCI's policy of having one honorary secretary and a joint secretary who don't interfere in each other's work.

The Mahaddalkar group has also criticized Nadeem Memon, the Wankhede curator and member of the Barve-Halbe group, for failing to do his duties as maidan secretary.

But Memon defends himself, saying, "I am a one-man show. I have single-handedly got Azad Maidan, Shivaji Park and Cross Maidan cleaned and in peak condition." Removing hutments and encroachments, fencing the grounds, lighting them up and sorting out the water shortage have been his achievements, he says.

"And what has Prof Ratnakar Shetty done for his Wilson College Gymkhana? [The ground along the Marine Drive waterfront] is only leased for marriages; not a single match has been played there in years!"

But there is one project that both parties want to associate themselves with, and that is the proposed cricket academy at the Bandra-Kurla Complex on 52,157 square metres of land. The manifestos of both groups mention the project, with due credit given to Pawar for acquiring the land.

But what the two groups have done to further the project remains a mystery, just like the MCA's policy of holding its annual general meeting after the elections. Ideally, the AGM should be held first so candidates can be exposed to public scrutiny and issues discussed threadbare.

At the last AGM, for instance, a resolution was adopted disallowing any member of the Garware Club House from participating in MCA elections. Coming as it did after Pawar had won the election, it seemed to make little sense.

The falling educational standards of Mumbai cricketers is another major concern. Did you know that former Test cricketer Sudhir Naik was a double graduate, Sunil Gavaskar was a graduate, and Ajit Wadekar held a master's degree? Today, the average qualification of a Mumbai Ranji Trophy player is eighth standard at the most. The blame for this rests with the MCA, which has ignored schools and college cricket completely.

"We must rekindle inter-collegiate cricket and take cricket back to how it was in Mumbai years ago," says Prof Shetty. "This will cut down the number of tournaments held around the year, forcing students to ignore their studies and keep playing all year. The inter-collegiate cricket will force youngsters to take their studies seriously. After all, everyone can't be Sachin Tendulkar."

A straw poll indicates that the Mahaddalkar group, which won nine of the 15 seats in the last election, will get the majority again, but it remains to be seen if former cricketers like Vengsarkar and Milind Rege will be voted to power.

Faisal Shariff