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July 19, 2000
Dear Board, I quit! Signed, captain!Prem Panicker
Before cutting to the chase, let me quickly respond to the emails that have peppered my box these last three weeks. No, I have not left rediff.com, nor have I been sacked (the two most popular reasons advanced for my rather extended silence). One gent even sent me a mail that had me flummoxed. To quote: 'Dear Prem, haven't heard from you or read anything by you in a long time. Are you still alive?' That one necessitated a trip to my family GP, and I am happy to report that said GP, after checking all the vital signs, assured me that I am still clinically alive.
True, there's been much happening these last few weeks. For starters, the Sunil Gavaskar locker mystery exploded, with all concerned finally admitting that the amount recovered from the locker in Bombay Gymkhana was much more than the Rs 80,000 Mrs Marshneill Gavaskar finally admitted to. And with that, Gavaskar officially joined the pantheon of greats, past and present, currently under investigation -- which, in any case, was merely a matter of time. And quite a good thing it is, too -- the further back we dig, and the deeper, the more thorough will be the resulting cleanup.
Besides, our news agencies -- which by definition are dedicated to putting out 'news', by the tonne, on a daily basis -- have told us of the various people being interrogated by the CBI, of the various statements those people are supposed to have made to the CBI, and the various statements made by the CBI itself.
I refrained from comment -- I still do -- for one simple reason. In course of the last ten years spent in this profession, I've had occasion to monitor, edit, or even report on other issues being investigated by the CBI. And the one thing I have learnt in that time is that during the course of an investigation, the CBI does not talk.
Amend that. The CBI will talk. About the weather, about the political situation in Sierra Leone, about anything and everything under the sun -- except the case they are investigating.
Which leaves the reporters in a bit of a quandrary. Their editors tell them that the CBI investigation is news, and they better deliver on a daily basis. So the poor, hassled reporter makes tracks for the CBI GHQ. And, if he is sufficiently persistent (read, thick-skinned), he will get to meet one of the head honchos. The conversation then goes like this:
'Sir, could you please brief me about the progress of your investigation?'
'Our investigation is progressing satisfactorily.'
'Sir, could you give me a few details?'
'No, we cannot give details about an investigation in progress'.
'Sir, when will the investigation conclude?'
'It will conclude when we have all the information we want.'
End of interview. The reporter, realising that there is nothing in there to hang any kind of story on, then stops by the doorman on the way out. Or the paan-wallah across the road. And asks him who visited the CBI office lately. 'Manoj Prabhakar was here yesterday,' the chaprasi obligingly tells him.
The reporter then heads back to the office, sits before his terminal, and begins to type. Thus (comments in italics, mine): 'Confidential sources in the CBI confirmed that Manoj Prabhakar was summoned yesterday for a second interrogation (information anyone watching the door of the office could have provided. And probably did.). Top-level sources said that Prabhakar was interrogated about his initial allegations, and matters that have subsequently come up (Like, what would you interrogate Prabhakar about anyway, the LTTE offensive in the Jaffna peninsula?). Speaking exclusively to this reporter, a high-level official within the CBI said that investigations were proceeding satisfactorily, and that the agency was hopeful of bringing it to a speedy and effective conclusion. (Like, you expect the CBI to say that they have no hopes of producing a result, and that the investigation will continue forever?)...
I could go on in this vein, saying nothing at all at extreme length -- but you have probably got the point. And that is the reason I've preferred a wait-and-watch brief. There is an investigation on, and the next opportunity we will have of knowing how the probe is progressing, and whether there is any likelihood of something constructive coming out of it, is on June 27, when Federal Minister for Sports Sukhbir Singh Dhindsa reads, and evaluates, two documents -- the first, a report by the BCCI on its operations, finances et al; and second, an interim report by the CBI on the progress of its investigations thus far.
Our first real clue to what has been happening, and leading from that, to what the ultimate outcome could be, will come from those two documents, and Dhindsa's own reaction to their contents. Which, I figured, is time enough for comment.
What won't wait, though, is the latest farce perpetrated by the masterminds who run our cricket -- to wit, the BCCI. Sometimes, I think that those blokes get together in some cosy five-star retreat every so often, to dream up ways of making us the laughing stock of the world.
And their latest exercise in this direction is the code of conduct they have just put out. First up, what prompted this code? The problem of betting, match-fixing et al, right? Right.
So what does this code -- which is going to be further revised in Mumbai on July 24, before being submitted to the Sports Minister Dhindsa -- say?
Item: The captain shall not invite any person into the dressing room, into his room, or into any mode of transport used by the team without the consent of the manager.
Item: The captain cannot invite any person to travel with the team, or allow a friend or relative to stay in his room or in the hotel without prior permission of the manager.
Pause, for a moment of thought: How on earth can anyone enforce most of this? Assume I know Saurav Ganguly, assume I am his friend -- how on earth does anyone expect to stop me from booking a room in the same hotel? Try doing that, and you -- the manager in question and the BCCI, that is -- will get hit with a lawsuit so damn fast, they'll think they are facing Brett Lee.
That might sound like nit-picking, but look at it a bit more closely. For instance, it says here that the captain can't ask anyone to travel in any form of transport reserved for the team. I've travelled in the team bus. So has Faisal Shariff. So has pretty much any reporter who covers the cricket beat. Why? Because sometimes, when you ask the captain for a few quick quotes, he says he doesn't have the time to meet you in the hotel. So he suggests, 'why don't you come along with me in the team bus, we can talk on the drive back'.
And what is wrong with that? More to the point, how does this help stop match-fixing and betting? Is the BCCI telling us that it fears that the Indian captain will smuggle onto the team bus a bookie, disguised as a journalist, and there, with the rest of the team sitting around, discuss the details of the next fix?
Item: The captain shall carry out all the orders and directions given by the manager off the field, and shall not leave the team except on non-match days to visit friends and relatives without the permission of the manager.
Comment: Again, this does what, precisely? And by the way, what if the manager orders the captain to meet with a bookie? Am I suggesting something extreme? Perhaps I am -- but tell me, what does this clause do, how does it help achieve the stated objective? And by the way, is it okay for the captain, on non-match days, to visit who he likes (that 'friends and relatives' thing is plain crap -- the captain can introduce anyone as his friend, up to and including bookies) without reference to the manager? That is pretty naive, assuming as it does that fixing and stuff happens only on match-days.
Item: The captain shall not without the permission of the manager take part in any sports discipline other than cricket.
Comment: Geez, this has to be the best one yet. The captain of the Indian cricket team needs the manager's permission to indulge, on an off day, in a friendly game of tennis, or badminton, whatever? For why?
Item: If the manager's report on the captain is not satisfactory, the board may determine the sum payable to him be not paid whollly or in part. The board will be the sole authority in the matter, and its decision will be binding on the captain.
We'll get to this bit of iniquity later in this article. Meanwhile, next Item: The BCCI has the power to set up a disciplinary committee to take action for any act of misconduct or breach of any conditions in the agreement after holding an inquiry and giving the captain an opportunity to be heard and to cite any witnesses on his behalf. If found guilty, the captain will be debarred from participating in any tournament conducted by the board, besides facing any otehr punishment the committee may deem fit.
Again, comments a bit later in the programme.
Item: The captain shall not sell or permit the sale of his autograph or complimentary passes, without the manager's permission.
Comment: How the devil is the captain supposed to prevent anyone -- say, me -- from selling his autograph? The captain signs autographs by rote, 100s of kids, teens, and grownups cluster around at any and every opportunity, asking for his autograph. Is the captain supposed to be omniscient, is he supposed to know whether each autograph-seeker wants the scribble for his personal collection or for sale?
There is a huge danger in this kind of clause. Suppose, for instance, I take Ganguly's autograph. And then put it up for sale. Tomorrow, the BCCI comes to hear about it. Sets up an inquiry committee (read, kangaroo court). And finds Ganguly guilty of having violated this provision of their precious code. And refuses to pay him his match fees. Then what? The code already says the board is the last court of appeal, on this.
Items: The captain needs the manager's clearance for appearing at any place of public or private entertainment (in other words, the poor bloke cannot go to a movie-house, a bowling alley, a museum, a park, in fact, he can't go anywhere! And why, pray, not?). The captain cannot deliver talks and lectures! (Another wonderful clause, which while doing nothing to address the problem of betting and match-fixing, ensures that the captain cannot share his wisdom with anyone!). At nets, the captain cannot employ a ground bowler (the BCCI's own unique phrasing to mean, a bowler not part of the actual playing squad) without the manager's consent.
Just a while ago, I called up Harsha Bhogle to wish him on his birthday, today (you can, too, if you like -- it is email@example.com). The chat turned to this code. And his immediate comment was, 'My little son has more freedom!'
Take a look at this list: AN Singh, Dr C T Patankar, Dr Kamala Kalita, Niranjan Shah, SDA Drabu, Brijesh Patel, A N Mate, Colonel SA Siddiqui, Vikram Patel, Dr M K Bhargawa, Samiran Chakravorty. From, respectively, Bihar, Cricket Club of India, Assam, Saurashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, the Services board, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Tripura.
These are the gentlemen who have held office as manager of the Indian team (some of them twice) from September 1998 (the Indian tour of Zimbabwe) to March 2000 (the Sharjah tournament).
Now then -- how many of them have ever played cricket at the highest level? One.
How many of those gentlemen can you recognise in a group photograph of one? Again -- the answer (unless you happen to be related to one of those blokes) is, one! Brijesh Patel, in both instances.
Barring that one, then, the above list (I could have gone even further back in time, and given you an even lengthier list) is about as complete a collection of cricketing non-entities as any you could assemble. So then, how does one become a manager? How did these blokes become managers? What qualifications do you need to be manager of the Indian team?
Simple -- he has to belong to an association that has supported the ruling clique in the last elections. Managerial posts are handed out to such associations, as one of the rewards. So, effectively, to be manager of the Indian team, your main qualification is, to put it effectively if a touch rudely, chamcha-giri.
And how long does his tenure last? It starts from the day the team takes off on the tour in question, and ends the day the team takes the flight back home. Looked at another way, the manager is the most impermanent member of the squad. His shelf life is lesser than that of the players, the coach, the physio, even the baggage handler.
And yet, he is the man who will, henceforth, decide whether the captain can talk to a member of the media; whether the captain can entertain his own relative in his room; whether the captain can play a bit of table tennis in the evening to loosen up after the day's nets; whether the captain can go for a movie.
A friend, who was peeking over my shoulder while I wrote the above, said, hey, hang on, you are way over the top there. It only means that the captain can't go to a place of public entertainment in his official capacity. Thus, for instance, if a new multiplex has come up and the men behind it want the captain to inaugurate it, he needs permission.
Sorry, but that argument just doesn't wash. A captain is a public figure, in, of, and by, himself. If he goes to a bowling alley, say, in his personal capacity, just to have some fun, and a member of the media happens to be around, he will take pictures, he will do a little story for the next day's edition. So the story appears, and the board then jumps on the captain's neck, demanding that he show cause why he can't be disciplined for violating the provisions of the code. That danger is real, it exists within the provisions set out above -- and as we know only too well, the BCCI is made up of petty, power-hungry men who will seize any opportunity, any excuse, to exercise that power. Because they have no individuality, no standing, of their own, they derive their stature, and their kicks, by ordering the players around.
If there is a net, a training camp, happening, and the Indian captain wants to keep his regular bowlers fresh, and therefore asks a few standby bowlers to turn their arm over to give his batsman practise, what does the Indian captain have to do? He -- players of the stature of Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Ganguly -- will have to go to a Drabu, a Patankar, a Kalita, to one of these omniscient, omnipotent gents (not omnipresent, because like we pointed out, his shelf life is less than that of fresh milk), and ask, please, sir, may I use a reserve bowler?
And finally, by adding an adverse line in a report, the manager can get the captain's fees withheld, get disciplinary action taken against him, get him banned from the game! (Just to put this in perspective -- when Saurav Ganguly made his first trip to Australia, while still in his teens, the manager was a gent who was at outs with Jagmohan Dalmiya and Chandidas Ganguly, Saurav's father. On his return, the manager wrote a report wherein he claimed that Saurav Ganguly had refused to carry water out onto the field -- a statement not supported by either the coach, or the captain, or indeed any player on that tour. As a result of that, Ganguly's career was damned for the next few years).
What, then, is the BCCI doing here? Simple -- it is using the excuse of betting and match-fixing, and the resultant need for a proper code of conduct, to further its hidden agenda of reducing the players, and the captain, to dummies with no voice, no power, no nothing to do but go out there and make more money for the board.
Frankly put, the provisions listed above, and the rest of the code, together make up the most humiliating document ever drawn up, even in the most feudal of set-ups. To accept it in full or even in part, strips the captain and through him, the team, of every vestige of self-respect.
And that in turn raises both a question, and a thought. Isn't it time the players rebelled? Isn't it time the board was shown, once for all, that there is no known instance in recorded history of the tail actually wagging the dog, the cart leading the horse to the marketplace?
The right response for this would be for the players to submit, to the board, a letter to this effect: 'Dear board, we the undersigned wish to inform you that we are at any and all times willing to play for the country, if the board and the respected selectors see fit to pick us for the team. We wish, however, to state that none of us, the undersigned, is prepared to take the captaincy of the Indian team -- which job, judging by the provisions of the code of conduct, and the very many incidents in the past, is something even the most abused of stray street dogs would not want. At least that stray dog, Dear Board, has a Maneka Gandhi looking out for its interests -- whereas the Indian captain, under your esteemed dispensation, appears to have been reduced to a leper, an outcast, an untouchable. Therefore, may we respectfully suggest that since the manager knows everything and will give the orders anyway, you ask the manager to lead us out into the field. With deepest respects...." &c.
If the players don't stand up and fight this one, they will, frankly, deserve everything coming their way. What they will not deserve, is our sympathy. The trouble with feudalism essentially lies with the victims, the serfs, in that they are prepared to accept their lot without a murmur.
Postscript: How come there is not, anywhere here, one line referring to the managers, the administrators, the board officials? Why do we have codes for players but not for officials? A captain cannot talk -- but a Lele, for instance, can talk, then deny, then deny the denial, ad nauseum and go scot-free? Where is the justice, the fairness, in that?
Post-postscript: In mail, I've had a few dozen guys asking how come I didn't say a word about the whole Brett Lee affair. Okay -- we'll get to Lee. Tomorrow. Till then, adios.
Mail Prem Panicker
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