Timelines notwithstanding, Eli Wallach’s explanation of the golden rule in the cult 1969 Western movie Mackenna’s Gold, “he who has the gold makes the rule”, could well be BCCI’s abiding principle!
That has been the principle driving the BCCI in its mission to purchase opinions and silence criticism on television, the biggest and most influential of mass media. Disappointingly, the BCCI does not put out a disclaimer during telecast and hence TV viewers are unaware that the views of the hired guns could actually be that of the Board.
The first inkling many had of the deviant relationship was when the betting scandal broke out three years ago and threatened to ravage the credibility of IPL and Indian cricket. Viewers were puzzled by the continued silence on the issue by some of the biggest names in the game who went about their commentary job as though everything was hunky dory with the IPL. This stood out in stark contrast to the daily revelations and outrage on news channels and in print media. These were replete with coverage of the transgressions by some IPL team principals to the extent that there were arrests, police questioning and court orders. On the other hand there was not a peep on these vexing issues from former cricketers in the commentary box.
It was then many came to learn that some commentators were paid handsomely to protect the fair name of the BCCI while others were made aware that criticism or adverse comments were out of place.
Those that did not pay heed, like Danny Morrison and HD Ackerman during the presentation of Virat Kohli at an IPL match, were sent packing. Their introduction of Kohli as future captain of India was taken as criticism of the choice of the selection committee and invited the BCCI’s instant wrath.
Hence if the present disposition wants to do away with the services of Sunil Gavaskar and opt for Sanjay Manjrekar instead, as has been reported, it is hardly any reason to rejoice. Irrespective of the choice, viewers won’t get the whole nine yards, and in terms of cricketing or even commentating credibility Gavaskar is several notches above Manjrekar. But frankly, is the BCCI so insecure that it needs to mute divergent opinions and instead force feed its views?
In the early days of cricket telecast, before satellite channels mushroomed, Doordarshan held sway. Their commentators, probably more beholden to the I&B Ministry than BCCI, were free with their comments, often to the point of running down BCCI, its office bearers, selectors, team, etc.
Later, private production houses entered the fray and put together cricket telecast with temporary staff, borrowed equipment and hired professionals. It was during this period that BCCI decided that it needed to have better control and hence developed its own production house.
While it entered into long-term agreements with channels for telecast rights, it retained the right to produce the images. Alongside it paid its commentators to present its point of view. Its chosen trio, Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and L Sivaramakrishnan were all handsomely paid.
Gavaskar, for instance, was paid Rs 8936104 for the period July to September 2015. Sivaramakrishnan got Rs 26 lakh for the same period, as per reports. The broadcaster too would pay them a professional fee ranging between Rs 35,000 and a lakh per day. Shastri, of course, was by then handling the Indian cricket team and hence out o the commentary scene.
The board briefly utilised the services of other former cricketers, Rahul Dravid, Manjrekar, Sourav Ganguly, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble, et al at various times. And every one of them was aware that speaking out of turn was strictly prohibited. In fact at one stage Manjrekar was banned for a while.
On contentious issues like DRS they had to toe the Board’s line. Other issues like administrative set-up or decisions of BCCI were beyond their purview. If at all they could only praise it.
Commentators were also not allowed to criticise team selection, pitch conditions or many other things for that matter. If they had opinions contrary to the Board’s they were to be safely left behind at home. They could not write or even mention those in social media.
Fair to say that it’s not as if ex-cricketers were raring to have their say on these contentious issues. Most know that it is better to have the Board on their side. The rewards could be plentiful. Foreign ex-cricketers, too, toe the line. In the rarest of rare cases a dissenting Ian Chappell might come along. But he is in a minority of one and certainly cut out of the action.
In short cricketers and their opinions are owned by the board. Those who dare rebel do so at their own peril. Not for nothing is it said, he who pays the piper calls the tune.