Someday in the distant future, the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators could end up agreeing — pun intended — that they could have dealt with the Hardik Pandya-KL Rahul episode better. Appointed to oversee the changes to Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) constitution and to conduct elections, CoA now finds itself squabbling at just about everything.
Indeed, if Pandya was apparently immature with his comments on the TV show, there has been no great show of maturity from the CoA so far. Not for the first time in recent weeks, the CoA has tied itself up in knots, unclear about how it would proceed in this disciplinary case. In the absence of an elected apex council, it is up to the CoA to ensure a quick resolution to the case.
Whoever came up with the idea of placing the cricketers under suspension pending inquiry and recalling them from Australia perhaps did not understand that the architects of the BCCI constitution had put down that the concerned member, administrator, player, umpire, team official, selector or any person associated with the BCCI may be suspended by the apex Council.
By all accounts, the suspension is not mandatory. So, to suspend the two cricketers and leave them dealing with uncertainty about how soon the wheels of justice would spin in place is against the principles of natural justice. The conflict within CoA has not augured well for anyone, least of all for the players and the CoA itself.
Make no mistake, the episode has reaffirmed the belief that CoA is unable to think on its feet and find solutions. To say that it is incapable of making quick decisions is to extend the argument to an extreme level. But it is clear that the two members do not have Indian cricket as the primary focus. Instead, they are seeking opportunities to score points over one another.
It would have helped if they sat down to read the board constitution that specifies the procedures. It will help to reproduce the applicable portions here.
In the event of any complaint being received from any quarter or based on any report published or circulated or on its motion, of any act of indiscipline or misconduct or violation of any of the rules and regulations by any player, umpire, team official, selector or any person associated with the BCCI, the apex council shall refer the same within 48 hours to the CEO to make a preliminary enquiry.
Procedure: The CEO shall forthwith make a preliminary inquiry and call for an explanation from the concerned person(s) and submit his report to the apex council not later than 15 days from the date of reference being made by the apex council. On receipt of the report, the apex council shall forward the same to the ombudsman, who shall call for all particulars and unless it decides that there is no prima facie case and accordingly drops the case and the same shall be completed as expeditiously as possible by providing a reasonable opportunity to the parties of being heard.
If, despite due notice, any party fails to submit any cause or submits insufficient cause, the ombudsman shall, after providing reasonable opportunity of hearing to the parties concerned, pass appropriate order. In the event any party refuses or fails to appear despite notice, the ombudsman shall be at liberty to proceed ex-parte on the basis of available records and evidence.
The problem with this is that there is no apex council for anyone to fall back on (and that is the biggest of CoA's failures). And despite that body being conspicuous by its absence, the CoA has to ensure that the procedure is followed. If it means the CEO has to conduct a preliminary inquiry as the first step, so be it.
The other problem is that there is no appointed ombudsman. While the BCCI CEO is completing his preliminary inquiry, CoA could have nominated a three-member disciplinary panel to carry out the role of the ombudsman, laid down the terms of reference and set a really short deadline for an order to be passed.
After all, the Indian cricket team is preparing for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and it is important that the team management knows if and when Pandya would be available for selection. There cannot be any doubt that he is a pivotal player in the team's scheme of things, contributing both with bat and ball.
The simplest thing would have been to decide to hold back their payments until the completion of the hearing. And, in any case, this hearing could have been conducted in a day. And the inquiry commission — or ombudsman as per the BCCI's new constitution — could have heard the two players from Australia itself. The order could have been ready in a day or two.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take suo motu notice of how the CoA has handled this case and denied the Indian cricket team the opportunity of knowing whether it could draw the services of its first-choice all-rounder. And, even more hopefully, the Supreme Court would appoint a third member to the CoA so that such stalemates as in this case can be avoided.
Until that happens, cricketers and the Indian team management can join fans in hoping that the CoA will stop squabbling and get on with the game. The most important thing is for them to come to an agreement now. And not many moons later, when they look back at their term in administering BCCI.