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September 21, 1999


The Rediff Cricket Interview/ Inderjit Singh Bindra

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''The players are not involved in match-fixing. I wish I could say the same for the administrators'

Part I: 'Can you risk Tendulkar getting permanently injured because you don't want to spend a few extra rupees?'

So what suggestions would you put forward, what new direction would you give the administration?

I made a lot of suggestions at this last Board meeting. It would be unethical to reveal details of what was discussed. However, without revealing secrets, I can tell you I spoke about putting more emphasis, spending more money, on the overall fitness of our players. I spoke of hiring, on a full time basis, a highly qualified physio, of spending more on amenities for the paying spectator.

In India, the money comes because of the tremendous spectator support. When I was Board president, I had maintained we are shortchanging the public. The public amenities at our grounds is a shame and a scandal. If you see the eating facilities, the public toilets and such at most grounds, you will realise this.

In fact, I strongly believe this is one major reason why we have so many public disruptions during matches. When the spectators can't get even basic conveniences, when you pack them in like sardines on hard, hot, concrete slabs, when you cite security and don't even let them carry drinking water, people are going to become restive and any small flashpoint will spark a riot, they will take out this frustration on the team.

In that sense, I am proud that Mohali, the stadium I am directly responsible for, is the best maintained in India, the one with the best facilities for the players, for the media and for the spectators.

Do you think this is the only reason that leads to rioting and other unsavoury behaviour?

Not the only reason, but it does play a very major role. Imagine the temperatures, the humidity. Imagine the discomfort, when you pack tens of thousands of human beings into a closed space without even the basic amenities, often in boiling temperatures. Their tempers are going to be frayed thin, and when their team does badly, they take out all these frustrations on the players. I am not justifying recent riots, in fact I believe that venues where there are problems should be punished, but I do believe that a large part of this unrest will come down when you begin to provide proper amenities.

We take pride in the fact that India is number one in terms of marketing, that no other country can touch us when it comes to making money out of cricket. And that is important too, look at the West Indies, so much talent in the eighties but they didn't know how to make money out of it, and suddenly, the talent has dried up and they don't have the money to fund development programmes.

However, it is not enough to be number one in terms of minting money -- we also need to be number one in terms of using that money for further promotion and development of the game, and for improving facilities -- player facilities, ground and spectator amenities.

And again, we have been very successful in marketing international cricket -- but at the domestic level, we have failed completely, we have failed when it comes to marketing domestic cricket.

Could you elaborate on that aspect? Why have we failed to market domestic cricket? And what impact does that have on the game here?

The main reason is that for successful marketing, it is essential to carry the electronic media with you. If you notice, the print media gives a lot of play to domestic cricket, Ranji and Duleep Trophy games make headlines in all the papers. But on television, you get at best five minute capsules -- and that won't do. India's international cricket is so big, the sponsors are so enthusiastic, mainly because television covers it comprehensively, it has made stars out of the players and whipped up enormous public interest. At the domestic level, however, no effort has been made to duplicate this.

That is why I returned to the Board meeting this time, because the question of television rights was crucial. I was initially opposed to the idea of the rights being given to Doordarshan, but I later decided to support it because of all the bodies that bid for the rights, Doordarshan alone had promised to cover domestic cricket live, for 21 days. I think that is very significant, a major step towards raising the standards of domestic cricket.

It is not only that television brings in the money. There was a misconception earlier that television would drive away the crowds -- during our time, Dalmiya and I disproved this, proved that in fact television makes the game more popular, raises the interest level, brings more spectators to the venue. If we can do that with domestic cricket, the playing conditions will also improve, the performance levels will go up because players know that fans around the country will be watching them... this is a path-breaking step, in fact.

With television covering domestic cricket, and with better facilities, more money will come into domestic cricket and that will again have a good impact on standards all round.

You talk of domestic competition and how to improve it. But take this year, with India and India A on tour, the top 30 players won't be on view at the domestic level -- don't you see this as a problem? How will television coverage solve this?

What you have said is absolutely true. One hundred per cent correct. In nations like England, Australia, South Africa, you get packed houses for domestic competitions because the international stars are participating -- whether it is the Gillette Cup, or the Sheffield Shield. The main reason is that people come to watch their stars.

We need to structure our schedule so that the international stars are featuring in the domestic circuit, especially for the big games. You can't expect spectators to turn out in numbers to watch Karnataka without Dravid and Srinath and Kumble or Mumbai without Tendulkar.

Another thing we have to do is strengthen club competition -- which is why football is so big in Europe. If you have a strong, well organised club structure, with proper coverage, the club cricketers will become household names and get their own fan following. The competition will also throw up, and hone, more talent. And if television can cover this, then where today 20 cricketers are watched, tomorrow it will be 500 cricketers, and the whole game will benefit.

In fact, we have been fighting for increased coverage of domestic cricket, for increased participation by DD, for quite some time now. We fought for this in 1987, in 1994 during the Hero Cup, if you remember, an outside agency was doing the telecast and we, the board, went all the way to the Supreme Court, finally won the uplinking rights, which we thought was a first step.

Unfortunately, our partnership, Dalmiya's and mine, folded immediately afterwards, and the focus shifted. Look at it this way, if there is more attention paid to domestic cricket, if more money comes into domestic cricket, then the stars will want to play at the domestic level as well, and that can only help lift standards.

It will also help in another way. Today, we play so much international cricket because there are so many sponsors lining up and not enough tournaments for them all. Once you make the domestic cricket more attractive, once television begins covering it comprehensively, some of the sponsors will shift to the domestic level and that will take the pressure off the international calendar.

The scheduling of tours is obviously a key area in the whole equation -- could you elaborate on your own thoughts on the issue?

I think that we must give 27 days to international one day cricket, maximum. But after that, we shouldn't schedule any more, in the name of globalisation. I am referring to these triangular tours, not the ODIs that are played as part of regular Test-and-ODI tours of various countries. These tours at the drop of a hat to Sharjah, Singapore, wherever, must stop. Globalisation is the responsibility of the ICC, not of the BCCI. You don't see any other of the top nations undertaking such whistle-stop tours in the name of globalisation, so why should Indian cricketers alone be made to undertake such senseless tours?

What sense does it make to have a triangular involving India, Kenya and Bangladesh, like the one last year? This is why I said that there were some manipulators active behind the scenes.

You have been expressing strong, even radical views right through this chat. Given that you have all these ideas, why is it you haven't thought of coming back into administration, trying to correct these wrongs that you talk about?

I don't mind being a crusader, but a time came when I realised I was all alone, that it was like batting my head against a brick wall, that no one really cared to upset the status quo. Twenty years ago, when I first started out, I was young and had energy on my side. Today, I am no longer young, it becomes increasingly difficult to muster up the mental and physical energy to carry on a lone crusade, even if my level of conviction remains the same.

When I started my battle, it was against a benevolent dictator, in Mr Chidambaram. Today, too, there is a dictator too -- only, he is not a benevolent one, like Chidambaram was.

Who is this dictator, this man who controls the Board?

I am sure you don't need me to name him -- I'll leave it to your judgement, to the judgement of your readers.

Okay, let us revert to cricket questions -- you have talked about scheduling. What about fitness, what are your thoughts on that aspect?

In the last Board meeting, the first I attended after a long time, I argued that we should have a permanent qualified physio. We have a rich Board, we can afford to hire the best. I was told Dr Chaddha is doing the physio's job. I don't like to mention names, but here, I must, and in any case it is all public knowledge. Chaddha's appointment surprised me. He does not have a degree or diploma in physiotherapy. In fact, he is from my part of the world, he is my family physician and a good friend, but that does not change the fact that he is not qualified for his present post.

I said in the Board meeting that it is a matter of shame that the board cannot engage the best possible physio for the side. Brijesh Patel, who managed the World Cup squad, also supported me on this. And their argument is that they had a contract with Chaddha till the end of September. I said look, pay him whatever is due, but how can you carry on with this kind of thing?

Sachin Tendulkar
Can you risk a Tendulkar getting permanently injured because you don't want to spend a few extra rupees? Look at how stupid it is -- Sachin has a back injury, and they have to fly down a doctor from Bombay to attend on him, doesn't this alone tell you that Chaddha is not qualified to do the job?

I mean, where the fitness of players is involved, you cannot play games, you can't indulge in manipulative politics, you can't give the physio's post to someone simply as a sop, or reward, or whatever. Ravi Chaddha is a general physician, not a physio. His appointment is merely politics at work, and I will leave it to you to judge how this is affecting the team.

The Indian Board has not had a physio with the side for so many years now. Even Kokinos, he is a physical trainer, not a physio -- and you need a physio to attend to sports injuries.

It is strange that people were doubting Ali Irani's qualifications -- whatever they were, it is definitely more qualification that Chaddha has. But suddenly, no one is asking any questions.

In fact, during this meeting, I remember getting angry, saying openly for god's sake, if you must play politics do so, but not at the expense of the players, at the least you have to add a physio to the team.

From physio, to coach -- what are your views on Bobby Simpson, on the whole issue of foreign coaches?

I have enormous respect for Bobby Simpson, but I do believe we have enough cricketers who can do this job, it would be a shame if we can't find a player of Simpson's calibre right here. If we are willing to pay a foreign coach, then why not spend that same money to hire a Sunny Gavaskar or a Kapil Dev?

The trouble is, we have double standards. When we approach an Indian, we quote absurdly low rates. And when we approach a foreigner, we are so in awe that we quote huge rates. Why is this so? Some of our past cricketers are as good as anyone abroad. When they do commentary for the foreign channels, they are treated on par with the likes of Geoff Boycott and Michael Holding and the rest. It is only the Board that discriminates.

My point is, if you hire an Indian coach, hire a good one and pay him the same amount that Australia pays their coach, or South Africa was paying Woolmer. Why hire a cheap coach, and then hire a foreigner as consultant simply because the coach you hired is not good enough? If you want someone of stature, like Gavaskar or Kapil, and I am simply mentioning a couple of names here, then you pay them what men of that stature command.

You were at the helm of the Board for so long -- how come even in your tenure, the cricket academy never materialised?

In my time, we allocated the funds, we created the reserves, we worked on the reserve funding for relaying wickets, for equipment and infrastructure. We have allocated the funds; we have created the reserves. We started working on the reserves for quality of wickets, on equipment, infrastructure.

Then I left, and things came to a halt. I think they are now going ahead with the proposal -- what I do know is that we have enough funds, we also got an exemption from income tax, which allows us to create reserves for operating expenses. I also know that the Board has to spend that money fast, or the exemption will be withdrawn. They slept on it too long, which is unfortunate -- but then, a lot of things to do with the Board is unfortunate.

A major problem is in fact the Board's structure, with elections every year. This means that half the time, decisions that are taken are meant to influence the next election, decisions are taken for reasons other than merit, there are all kinds of pulls and pressures. For instance, one reason why the academy was delayed for so long is that each powerful association wanted to have it in its own region.

Bangalore is the right place for it, the climate is conducive, the facilities exist, but it took a long time to finalise the decision.

In fact, again harking back to this last meeting that I attended, I and a few others raised the point that we should not stop with setting up a national academy. What we argued for was a pyramidal structure. The Board should provide infrastructure for coaching at the school, college, district and state level, all on an identical pattern with the national academy being the apex of the pyramid. In addition, we need five zonal academies to complete the structure. And all this has to be done first -- when you build a pyramid, you have to start from the base, not from the top.

All these ideas, and yet you refuse to be associated with the Board? How does this square with your profession of commitment to cricket?

What do you want me to do? It has been made plain to me that my ideas are no longer required. I have been made to feel redundant, unwanted, so I have withdrawn. If the Board needs me, I am there, I have never refused to pitch in and do whatever I can, in my personal capacity. But officially, I don't think so, not under the present structure -- what is the point in having an official designation, when you can't do anything, when your ideas are not even considered?

I am not one of those who enjoys simply carrying titles like secretary or treasurer or whatever, without any power. I have held the highest office in the Board, I have done all I could. Now, I am out of the rat race -- my services are still there if required, but the Board obviously doesn't want them, or me.

One final question, and this relates to match fixing. You have strongly condemned these allegations, could you expand on your thoughts in this regard?

I am glad that we acted more sensibly, that we didn't have the kind of witch hunt they have in Pakistan where one day, players are termed guilty, the next day they are found innocent, and all this at the expense of the team and its morale.

I firmly believe, based on my interaction with them, that the Indian players are the most disciplined, best-behaved lot in the world, and I have the highest respect for them. If Indian cricket is what it is today, 90 per cent of the credit goes to the cricketers, and only 10 per cent to the administrators.

People like Azhar, Sachin, I have interacted with them, dealt with them, they are wonderful human beings. Azhar has been our longest serving captain, he is absolutely modest, humble, well behaved. So too is Sachin, for all his talent he is very respectful, behaves very well. You find stardom going to the heads of some cricketers in other countries, but our boys are always very good in this respect.

I am not saying that betting does not go on. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of our administrators indulge in betting, in illegal betting. I can say that the players are not involved in match-fixing -- I only wish I could say the same thing for Indian cricket administrators.


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