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May 22, 2000

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Individually tall; together small

Harsha Bhogle

So we now know that the BCCI spent 36,000 pounds to have its man on top of the ICC. And, sadly, we also know that they spent significantly less than that over an entire year and across all age-groups on coaching. The monarchy meant more to us than bread.

And yet, let us not dismiss it straightaway for there is a suggestion of something positive there; a little glow-worm in a cave of darkness. The whole ICC campaign was strategically conceived, there was a single-mindedness to it all and at no point was the goal lost sight of.

It was known that there would be hurdles in the way and they were accurately anticipated and countered. Traditional minds might have found some of the methods questionable but I am not raising that issue because I do not know if the opposition was using similar tactics. Enticing delegates seems to be pretty common practice these days as Mr.Samaranch and the International Olympic movement know and seem to accept !

It suggests doesnít it, that when people put their minds to achieving something, they can. Now, it is just a question of what they want to achieve. The business acumen is there, so is the ruthlessness that seems such a necessary ingredient of success. So, I dare say, is the vision. Now put all these qualities together into Indian cricket and you have a product that cannot fail. Ah, but here is the overwhelming sadness of it all. When it comes to Indian cricket, the business acumen shrinks dramatically and restricts itself to earning money. The ruthlessness is exclusively set aside for attacking each other and the vision gets lost in a maze of daily allowances and air-fare reimbursements.

If we can be so good at putting an Indian on top of the cricket world, why canít we be a millionth as good at putting Indian cricket on top of the world? Why? Does our desire end at the self? Does the passion run cold when it comes to issues beyond the individual? Or, are the very qualities that ruin our cricket essential for maintaining power? For example, a weak man with no skill may not be able to do anything for Indian cricket but his very limitations can become strengths when it comes to support in an election.

Is that the real story of our cricket? Or am I splashing black on a painting in a fit of gloom? Is this whole episode of brilliant planning for the individual but the creation of an incomplete mess for the organisation, symbolic of the way all of us live in contemporary India? Isnít it true of the way public life is run in India where a politician may create a support block fully aware that it can harm the nation he seeks to represent? Are we then, a nation that takes pride in the individual but not in the team?

It would certainly seem so from the single-mindedness with which we pursue records. And in our ability to celebrate individual achievements in spite of a defeat for the team. Mark Taylor told me of an incident in Australia that he said staggered him initially. At the end of the Melbourne Test, he saw a huge crowd celebrating outside the Indian team hotel. "What is this about?" he asked one of them and he was told that they were waiting for Sachin Tendulkar who had scored a brilliant century in that match. "But didnít your team lose badly?" he asked. 'Yes, but Sachin scored a great hundred,' they said.

Taylor thought, and he was right, that they did not mind the defeat as long as Tendulkar got runs.

Is that why we are near the top of so many individual achievements but so far away from any significant team success? Is that why our goal is that an Indian should head the ICC and not that India should be the best cricket playing nation?

In spite of it all, I could understand spending a large sum of money to ensure that Mr.Dalmiya became head of the ICC provided it benefited Indian cricket. It certainly helped the region; Bangladesh staged virtually every major tournament and are apparently a step away from Test status; Pakistan received huge support over the Shoaib Akhtar issue. But what did India get? Did our clout in the ICC help us schedule tours better? Did we get any relief from the most outrageous verdicts from match referees? Did we succeed in tapping the wonderful winds of change that are visiting most nations in world cricket? What did it achieve other than taking away Indian cricketís best administrator and making him an unofficial, rather than official, centre of power?

How I wish that this investment in power could have been replaced by an investment in people for that is the cornerstone of organisational success? The best managers ensure that their workers are happy because a satisfied man can go beyond the limits set for him; an unhappy man has to be forced to reach them. There are a few unhappy people in Indian cricket and in our crazy, destructive spree of one-upmanship, we have forgotten that.

I thought of that when I met Javagal Srinath recently. Readers of this column would have read of my disappointment at his reluctance to play one-day cricket for it is too early for him to forsake one form of cricket entirely for another. India needs him at both forms of the game. But the Srinath I met was not a very happy man and what he told me in private made a lot of sense.

Now if investment in people had been an issue in Indian cricket, his letter stating that he wasnít keen to play one-day cricket in the immediate future (and it is important to know that he hasnít said he will never play one-day cricket again!) would have drawn an instant reaction from the president or the secretary of the BCCI. I would have thought that either Mr. Muthaiah or Mr. Lele would have been on the phone to him asking him what the problem was, maybe even inviting him over for a chat and at the end of it all there should have been a programme drawn up for India's number one strike bowler. Instead, we are brandishing his letter and, effectively, we are saying: "There is nothing we can do, he doesnít want to play."

So, do we want Indian cricket to be on top of the world? To do that we need to have a plan in place for our top cricketers; a plan created with the same passion with which another was created to make Mr.Dalmiya president of the ICC. Why, we even need a plan for cricketers like Ajit Agarkar. Quite visibly, there is an outstanding cricketer lurking within him. There is also a very strange and inexplicable animal inside him that is driving him towards being someone he cannot be. Surely somebody has to speak to him; to implore him to recognise the person he is rather than the illusion he seeks to be. But such an initiative can only come if, as an organisation, the BCCI wants to invest in people; in cricketers and in cricket teams.

The truth is that Indian cricket, in these terrible times and in the better ones that must follow, does not need investment in foreign exchange for overseas delegates; it does not investments in fixed deposits even if they provide very healthy rates of interest.

Indian cricket needs investment in people. Sadly, nobody seems even remotely interested in that.

Harsha Bhogle

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