Not for nothing will Friday, 4 October, 2019 go down as a red-letter day in Indian cricket. The Committee of Administrators (CoA) had overstayed their welcome and Friday, as the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), the last of the state units to conduct their elections, go to polls, it will signal the CoA’s march into oblivion.
More than four years ago, on 22 January, 2015, when Justice Lodha Committee was set up to usher in reforms in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), public perception was that the swamp had to be drained for the betterment of Indian cricket.
Justice Lodha did his bit – met some folks, took their opinion and compiled a report which the Supreme Court accepted in July 2016. But with BCCI, and later state units, digging in their heels, the Court appointed a CoA on 30 January, 2017 to help BCCI and State associations transit to a Lodha-recommended constitution.
Unfortunately, the chosen four showed little ability to help implement the new constitution. Nor did they have an inkling about the enormity of the task.
This was reflected in a July 2017 interview to Economic Times when Vinod Rai brazenly announced, “We will fix the Annual General Meeting in September (2017). Once the democratic setup takes over by 31 October (2017), we will wind up shop.”
Instead, what followed was a saga of bickering, speaking out of turn, in-fighting, squabbling on policy, email leaks, planted stories, clumsy inquiry into CEO, undermining BCCI, etc. It soon became apparent that the CoA was a body divided and was scarcely giving BCCI the direction it needed.
In fact, had there been an annual performance review, the CoA would have tanked on many parameters.
Cricket Association of Bengal president, Saurav Ganguly was frustrated enough by the turn of events to write a strongly-worded letter to BCCI. He wrote, “With deep sense of worry I beg to state that the way things have gone in the last couple of years, the authority of Indian cricket to the world and the love and belief of millions of fans is on the way down.
“The committee of CoA from four, has come down to two, and now the two seem to be divided... Cricketing rules are changed in the middle of a season, which has never been heard of,” he said, referring to the change of criteria to play for a state. (The CoA relaxed the one-year rule for wards of government employees to be considered local players).
The erstwhile technical committee chairman also recalled his ‘appalling experience’ during the coach selection process for the national men's team. (The women’s team coach being axed was messier)
Ganguly observed that Indian cricket had been built by the ‘hard work’ of some ‘superb’ administrators and greatest of cricketers.
“I, at the present moment, think it's in danger,” he wrote.
Others too expressed their anguish at the way things were going before a two-member SC bench of Justice SA Bobde and AM Sapre appointed senor advocate and amicus curiae PS Narasimha as mediator in the disputes with state administrations.
“The game must go on,” said the bench and Narasimha who met state units which had an issue with implementing Lodha reforms, cut to the chase and ironed a way out of the impasse.
This paved the way for many units, including cricket-vital Karnataka and Mumbai completing formalities in the past 48 hours.
Karnataka, as has been their wont for the past couple of decades, ushered in a cricketers-dominated committee to power. Former Test cricketer Roger Binny was elected president while other first class cricketers, J Abhiram, Thilak Naidu, Shavir Tarapore, Sudhindra Shinde besides former Indian women’s cricket captain Shanta Rangaswamy made the cut.
There were some misgivings about Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra elections but the important issue is that after four long years, state associations, who through their grassroot level promotion of the game are the real drivers of Indian cricket, have been empowered once again.
One KSCA official remarked that their 13 first class grounds which BCCI heavily depended upon to conduct national and international matches financed the activities of the association these past four years.
“Other states were not so well positioned and hence suffered immensely through the drying up of BCCI funds. The damage will tell in the long run.”
KSCA itself hoped to get over Rs 100 crores in past dues from BCCI and this would go towards making the five grounds in Alur, Belgavi, and Hubbali international standard.
The plans to these and the upgradation of KSCA stadium were approved long time ago. Likewise, quite a few state units have a roadmap that now needs to be swiftly activated.
But not all is hunky-dory. To start with, some state units have had ‘hereditary’ successors in the form of son, daughter, brother, etc take charge. This might not always be ideal, though one keen observer pointed out that it is good for continuity. “Checks and balances need to be in place to ensure that abuse of power does not take place.”
Former Board secretary Niranjan Shah stated that reforms were mandated by the Supreme Court and hence had to be complied with. “It is only later we will get to know what the practical problems and real issues are,” he had said.
But for now, with state units’ elections completed, all attention will be on 23 October when BCCI elections are supposed to be held. A good, forward-thinking Board could once again breathe life into state units and get them to intensely focus on grassroots cricket.
A quick return to local tournaments, local and state academies, camps, talent scouting, and cricket-related infrastructure could be just the shot in the arm grassroot-level cricket needs. Thus, Friday is the first day in the long haul of Indian cricket.
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