These are strange times for Indian cricket, and not just because the courts seek a say in the running of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Rather, those deemed custodians of the game are strutting around like tin-pot dictators taking bizarre decisions that have little or no co-relation to the rules of the game.
Monday morning brought in its wake another ridiculous decision by the BCCI's technical committee — two Ranji Trophy matches scheduled to have been played over the weekend would now be rescheduled because smog over the city of Delhi had ensured no play was possible on the first two days of the match.
The Bengal vs Gujarat match at the Feroze Shah Kotla and Hyderabad vs Tripura at the Karnail Singh Stadium were both called off on Sunday afternoon. However, instead of the teams sharing points, as is the norm in a rain-abandoned or rain-ruined match, the technical committee — headed by former India skipper and Cricket Association of Bengal president Saurav Ganguly — decided that the matches would be rescheduled for a later date. However, a member of the committee later said there was neither a meeting nor a telephone consultation before the decision was arrived at.
Be that as it may, matches are generally rescheduled only if there is physical danger to the lives of players owing to an "act of God". This could be in the form of mega-impact disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. Mundane match spoilers like rains or bad light should not lead to rescheduling of matches.
The smog, which some players claimed "burned their eyes, left a smoky feeling in their mouth and had them gasping for air" can hardly be called a life-threatening "act of God". Smog in Delhi is universally accepted as a result of the city's wretched pollution which hits alarming proportions every winter. However, no person anywhere in the world, including Delhi, has died of air pollution, and to therefore pass off the smog as life-threatening is complete nonsense.
In fact, no foreign consulate or embassy has sent back its staff on account of the Delhi pollution, at least not yet. Nor have any of their personnel died owing to the smog. So, all the fuss leading to the rescheduling of matches is a terrible overreach by the technical committee.
What makes it worse is that the chairman is also the president of CAB, an affected party. If anything, Ganguly should have recused himself from the decision-making. One technical committee member said that he was in the dark about the whole episode. "There was no meeting. Not even a phone call. I don't know how they arrived at this decision. I'm not at all for this. It is a senseless decision," he said.
On the other hand, the BCCI media note alludes to the committee having met or been consulted. "The technical committee of the BCCI recognised the extraordinary circumstances prevailing in Delhi and decided to reschedule the Paytm Ranji Trophy 2016-17 fifth round matches between Hyderabad-Tripura and Gujarat-Bengal after the first two days of play were lost due to smog conditions in New Delhi," the media note said.
"The revised venue and dates for the above matches, which will be played after the league phase of Ranji Tophy, will be announced shortly," the note further added.
However, the BCCI has now set a precedent with this decision. And it's the worst form of precedent to set, as Delhi is prone to a number of smog-filled days during the winter. The city's authorities have tried a number of things, from CNG-run buses to shutting down polluting industries to restricting vehicles on the roads through an odd-even numbered system, all in an effort to reduce pollution and smog. But nothing seems to work, and pollution levels have only increased with each passing year.
Hence, if smog is to be used as a reason to reschedule matches, BCCI would do well to give Delhi hosting matches a wide berth. The city has a history with smog and it will continue to be dogged by it for several years to come. The last thing any team needs is to have its schedule redrawn or wrecked by a typical Delhi winter occurrence.
Actually, instead of rescheduling matches, the board should have just treated these matches on par with rain-ruined or bad-light wrecked matches and split points between the teams. But now, with this unhealthy precedent having been set, fresh turmoil is in store for domestic cricket.
For, if Ranji Trophy matches can be rescheduled owing to smog, so too can women's matches, U-23,U-19 and U-15 matches. Ill-conceived, ill-thought-out short cuts are a sure-fire recipe for disaster.