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October 25, 1997


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Cricket Commentary/Amrit Mathur

BCCI -- or should it be, Crises Central?

For years, the Board of Control for Cricket in India enjoyed a terrific reputation, it was viewed as a model sports organisation -- efficient, wealthy, well administered by dedicated persons, in tune with current trends...

And everything was going just right -- money was coming in as sponsors queued up before the standing-room-only bandwagon, big events went off without a hitch... you couldn't ask for more, really.

As is usually the case, this kind of rosy image is part truth, part fiction. Reality is masked, but in any event what matters is perception and general opinion. Like any other organisation, the Cricket Board was riven with differences; feuds and clashes were frequent. Outwardly, however, a facade was carefully maintained, the impression was given that everything was decided by consensus. But within, squabbles were the norm and from time to time, the odd scandalous story of mismanagement did the rounds.

The thing was, though, that no matter what went on beneath the seemingly placid surface, the then administrators ensured that no major upheaval threatened Indian cricket.

But of late, the polish is beginning to wear off. And the rattle of skeletons in the Board cupboard is getting increasingly audible. First up, came Manoj Prabhakar's bouncer in the form of the bribery/betting scandal. The sudden revelation triggered intense speculation and adverse publicity, and the Board, unsure how to react, tried to put the lid on it by appointing a commission of inquiry.

The inquiry is now over, and indications are that Justice Y V Chandrachud, having spent a good part of four months at the crease, will not open his account. Which, of course, will in turn make the speculation intensify.

The Board is not in any position to sort out the mess, perhaps only a police probe can achieve that. But while nothing substantial may emerge from the Chandrachud comission, one positive fallout could be that people/players with soiled hands will henceforth think carefully before putting a foot wrong. Everyone's scared, no one wants to take a chance.

Even while this mess was becoming, well, messier, another problem happened along as top bowlers began breaking down. And curiously, the Board and its doctors were the last to know, as an injured Srinath carried on till the point of actual collapse. When he finally contacted an expert (in South Africa, after one day in the Caribbean nets), Srinath was in a desperate case, needing surgery and a long layoff to recover. And off this left the Board in very poor light -- how could it be ignorant about the health of its main bowler?

The Prasad episode was equally worrying -- the Board declaring him unfit on the basis of its doctor's opinion, Prasad angrily refuting it, and it finally turning out that what he had was a swelling from a fall, not rotator cuff tear from overwork.

All of this created an impression that the Board was no longer in control of either itself, or the game it is supposed to administer. And the feeling got magnified as another row, this time about the selection of the team, came up.

In an unprecedented move, the captain denounced team selection and accused the selectors of disregarding his suggestions. The selectors themselves came under a cloud as rumours spread that the team was picked not on the basis of runs and wickets, but on considerations of regions and rupees. Which is extremely serious, because selections rest on complete integrity, and even a hint of scandal about the national squad is unacceptable.

What is more, for the first time, confidentiality of team selection was breached as all concerned rushed to the press with their views. As a result, every detail of what went on in the committee meeting was prominently reported in newspapers.

All this has considerably tarnished the cricket board image. Indian sport is full of horrible stories of selection injustice, of favouritism and every form of nepotism. Cricket had kept itself distanced from this problem but now it also seemed destined for the gutter.

If this wasn't bad enough, the recent squabble among top officials in the Board, which led to the postponement of the annual general body meeting, has added another sorry dimension to the chaos. Postponement of the Board elections is unprecedented in its history -- and for it to happen at this stage means that just when Indian cricket is facing crisis after crisis, there is effectively no administration in place. And worse, the game suffers as pressing issues (wickets, development of a junior programme, plight of first class players) are neglected.

All this is why the upcoming BCCI AGM, rescheduled for November 6, assumes enormous importance. For only when, and if, the BCCI puts its house in order can sense, and sensibility, return to Indian cricket.

Amrit Mathur

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