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February 17, 2000

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The enemy within

Harsha Bhogle

I have long held the view that the people who matter in Indian cricket do not watch international cricket. Or if they do, they watch it like a layman without his passion. They probably see the scores, express a throwaway opinion and go back to their job or business.

I was thinking of the tour on my long flight back from Australia and I asked myself what someone would do if he loved Indian cricket. I thought there would be the announcement of a review of our domestic cricket; a committee headed by a cricket lover to look into our coaching and training methods and firm guidelines on pitches in domestic first class cricket. A genuine cricket lover would go further but I thought this was basic for anyone with some pride and self respect.

The first three things I read about our cricket at the end of the series were: (1) that Kapil Dev would not be invited to the selection committee meeting to pick the team for the first Test against South Africa; (2) a statement from Mr. Bindra saying that a national selector had told his Punjab players that they would never be picked for India unless they moved out; (3) that Azharuddin and Jadeja, ignored for the tour of Australia, would be two of the three captains at the Challenger Trophy.

We do not like history so we turn a blind eye to it. Now, we donít like the present either because we are turning our second blind eye to it. And it has long been established that we donít like the future because we are doing nothing about it. So what do we like? Surely there must be some aspect of cricket that our administration likes and has a point of view about. But then, they donít like to speak either.

This column has been extremely critical of the way our cricket has been run. Deep down, I was hoping that someone would react, maybe show some anger, maybe say I am wrong. I would be happy because I have long made the point that we are all on the same side. But like inert gases, the BCCI doesnít react.

And I must confess that I still do not know how Ajay Jadeja can play officially sanctioned cricket in India but not in Australia. I still do not know if Nayan Mongia knows why he wasnít picked and what he needs to do about it. And I do not know if the BCCI has a policy on the future of Mohammad Azharuddin. For various reasons, we sent a team to Australia without three key players. Two and a half months later, nothing has changed.

Why, nothing has changed for the last fifty-two years. In 1947-48, India sent a team to Australia without several key players. But at least those players had more valid reasons for not being on it.

Why, nothing has changed for the last three hundred years. The East India Company made it big here and subsequently ruled India because in our great desire to fight among ourselves, we forgot who the real enemy was. We are still fighting among ourselves; the Punjab Cricket Association against Mr.Dalmiyaís supporters; Mr. Sunil Dev against the rest of the North Zone selection committee; the tour selectors in Australia against the national selection committee......And we are still losing to other teams because our real fighting spirit is being demonstrated against each other.

An Indian doctor in Australia spoke to me recently with great passion about the image of Indian cricket. His 14-year-old son, born and brought up in Australia, was desperately keen to support the country of his roots. By the end of the tour, he was disillusioned, shattered. There was an Indian in him that was rearing to pop his head up. That Indian now stands buried; vanquished, annihilated and let-down.

"We can understand," the doctor told me "that the politics in our cricket is more important than the cricket itself; we know why Indian teams come here so hopelessly unprepared; and we can understand how ridiculously outdated the administration is. But how do you explain all this to my 14-year-old son who so desperately wants his heroes to win and cannot understand why they don't? How can you explain to him that the people who run the cricket back in India donít really care?"

Those who care will understand why this is such a moving cry. There is a proud young generation that wants heroes to identify with. They want to show the world that they can be as good as anyone else and need images to flaunt. But their heroes have been rendered pygmies by a system that stifles growth; by a system that doesnít know where reality begins.

That is why our cricket needs more voices. Not the pro and anti Jadeja, the pro and anti Azhar kind of voices. We need proud, strong voices that speak the language of honesty, of openness and of transparency. These are alien concepts in our cricket at the moment for they still believe that to stifle the voices of the cricketers, to make them sign one-sided contracts is to conceal everything. It wasnít a bad attitude to have when the media really meant newspapers and state-controlled radio.

But that thought in itself tells you how unprepared they are for the information age. Today, television is largely free and there are some weighty voices speaking out there; the press is more vibrant and unrelenting and the Internet, the strongest symbol of freedom in our times, has opened the world and killed boundaries. For the BCCI to stifle voices is like the Government of India trying to stop satellite television. It just cannot happen anymore.

The recent demonstrations against the BCCI were a little expression of the mood of the people who support Indian cricket. If they cannot see the reality in world cricket, surely they can see the reality that surrounds them. The people of India, the genuine shareholders of Indian cricket, are very angry and they understand that the performance of the Indian cricket team is a direct reflection of the way cricket is run.

I fear for what lies ahead because the strength of our cricket has always been the unquestioned support of its masses. Make no mistake, that support will not go away because we want India to win and when the moment comes, the team will not be short of encouragement. But that supporter is now starting to ask questions and if somebody in the BCCI could feel the pulse, they would realise the danger inherent in this.

Unlike our hockey that now lies buried in indifference, cricket is too big for the administration to ignore public opinion. Already people are saying that if prime ministers can be forced to implement economic reforms, why canít the BCCI be forced to implement cricketing reforms. And donít you see a sadness in comments like those; in the fact that responsible, caring people are saying that the BCCI has to be forced to do something to improve cricket? But by keeping their eyes closed, they have brought it upon themselves.

I think the media to play a stronger role as well. Not just cricket sites like this one, but popular, general interest publications and television channels as well. If we love our cricket, we must speak out, we must induce change.

Indian cricket can be a rallying point for a generation of young men and women in their quest for Indianness. And we cannot allow that dream to be buried. Indian cricket has everything going for it except love, honesty and openness. What a pity that the genuine supporters of Indian cricket have to issue ultimatums to ask for it.

Harsha Bhogle

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