Acts of God are an inescapable factor in all walks of life. But negligence of man is Indian cricket's specialty and any consequent punishment is anything but daunting.
And so it was yet again, this time with the first T20I between India and Sri Lanka at Barsapara Stadium, Guwahati on Sunday where monumental carelessness resulted in another match going down the drain.
The sad part is that this was not the first time that such a casual — almost indifferent — approach of organisers had let the game down and cricket-loving public of the country, not to mention sponsors, broadcasters and a whole lot of support industry staff.
In the past there were instances of poor pitch conditions, ineffective rain covers, shabby drainage system which were due to wanton negligence. This had forced abandonment of international matches. Yet with the BCCI voting system being what it is, no president or secretary had the guts to initiate serious punitive action against brazen affiliated units and their pompous office-bearers.
Instead office-bearers of the richest board in the world conveniently buries their heads in the ground like an ostrich to ensure that they do not find anything amiss in groundsmen armed with hair-dryers and hot iron press attempting to dry a cricket pitch.
In Guwahati the rains had let up, the toss had been completed, yet play could not start even at 9.56pm (the time limit for a minimum of five overs a side match) because the pitch was wet in patches. Apparently, Assam Cricket Association which gets crores of rupees as its share of BCCI revenue each year did not possess proper pitch covers. Its negligence extended to using leaky covers as protection from rain.
Assam could have purchased new efficient covers or even borrowed them from neighbouring states, including Cricket Association of Bengal, to ensure that it was prepared for all eventualities. Instead it came up with hair-dryers and hot iron boxes and its secretary, Devajit Saikia, unmindful of the packed house being deprived of any cricket owing to his association’s irresponsible conduct, haughtily said ‘the official reason for the match being called off is rain.’
Earlier former Test cricketer and television commentator Akash Chopra had described the goof-up as ‘nothing but schoolboy error. The 22-yard is a sacrosanct place and they had holes in the cover. Some amount of water seeped into the pitch. This amounts to negligence. You can't have an excuse at this level’.
Really feel for the fans. Came in huge numbers. Braved the rain and the cold. Stayed there for over 4 hours. And didn’t even get a glimpse of their stars in action. That’s when it didn’t rain after 8pm and the outfield was dry. #IndvSL #Guwahati
— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) January 5, 2020
Pointedly, international cricket involving India is a money spinner for the board and through them for affiliated units. Television channels which bid hundreds of millions of dollars for India rights need to be profitable. Matches which are constantly hit by negligence will affect their bottom lines and in turn impact BCCI and its cricket promotional activities.
Sure, some matches are abandoned by reasons beyond the control of BCCI and its units and this is understandable.
For instance, in 2008 two ODIs against England were scrapped after terrorists struck Mumbai. Then there were cyclones which affected matches in Cuttack and Visakhapatnam. Massive rains also affected matches in Goa and Kochi.
In 2014 BCCI was stunned by West Indies players pulling out of the tour after the fourth ODI. BCCI slammed West Indies cricket board with 42 million dollar damages for this disruption of Tests, ODIs and T20I matches.
But all disruptions were not unavoidable. In the early part of the last decade three successive international matches (ODI, Test and T20) in Chennai were ruined by a poorly executed ground overhaul. But after the third disruption, caused by puddles of water stagnating in the outfield, TNCA re-laid the entire ground and substantially improved the drainage system.
Likewise an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2009 was abandoned at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi as the pitch was considered dangerous for play. Significantly, it was ICC, not BCCI, that slapped a ban on Kotla.
The ICC pitch consultant Andy Atkinson identified the choice of grass variety as the culprit for the dangerous pitch. He said that erstwhile chairman of BCCI’s pitch and grounds committee Daljit Singh’s advice to use Perennial Rye grass had been the right one but DDCA had ignored that advice and used local Cynodon grass instead.
ICC barred Delhi from hosting any international match till the end of the following year.
The problem with BCCI is its voting pattern which does not favour disciplining errant units. In 2016 it had recommended that all grounds in India follow Karnataka State Cricket Association’s lead and install the expensive and highly efficient Sub-Air System which sucks out rainwater at 37 times the usual speed. But beyond such advice, BCCI’s office-bearers try their best not to rub any state unit the wrong way.
Currently, thanks to Lodha reforms, east zone, which includes the newly affiliated North East states with no cricket culture to speak of, has 10 votes in its kitty while the others –North, West, Central and South between them have only 28 votes. This lopsided balance of power will ensure that Assam Cricket Association gets off lightly while others share the blowback of an inefficient unit.
In the meantime another international match has gone down the drain. Not for nothing is it said that more the change, more things stay the same, at least in BCCI.
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