Five years ago this month, three cricketers, S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila were arrested by Delhi Police on charges of fraud, cheating and alleged spot-fixing. The arrests led to a chain of events with the Supreme Court of India stepping in to oversee cleaning up Indian cricket.
While this was generally welcomed by most people, some of the contentious suggestions made by the SC-appointed Lodha panel were met with stiff resistance. After many hearings and a few adjournments, the apex court has identified 4 July 2018 for the next hearing.
In the meantime, with Committee of Administrators not fully seized by the importance of infrastructure projects, the long term development of Indian cricket has taken a hit.
Of course cricketing activities like staging matches, domestic tournaments, IPL, etc have gone along pretty smoothly. This is owing to the robust system evolved over a long period of time by successive BCCI office-bearers. Their time-tested system needs a bit of tweaking every now and then, but otherwise it should hold good for some time at least.
However, it is issues that are out of the ordinary that are a challenge for they require quick thinking and quicker decision making.
A couple of examples should suffice to show how the inability to latch on to opportunities could affect the state of the game in the coming years.
For instance, it is almost a given that at least a part of next year’s IPL will be staged outside India, either in UAE or South Africa. This would be inevitable as security and other departments would not have the bandwidth to oversee IPL and the 2019 general elections simultaneously.
This shifting of IPL matches outside India presents a golden opportunity for many state associations to upgrade their sagging infrastructure. They could make optimum use of the 16-month interlude between the conclusion of this year’s IPL and the start of next year’s domestic season in October, especially as most of India’s matches this year are overseas.
Next year, the Cricket World Cup in England which falls immediately after the 2019 edition of IPL, concludes in July, thereby providing a few extra months for developing infrastructure projects in Indian stadia. But unless the powers that be take note and seize the opportunity it is just water off a duck's back.
Here, it is worth recounting how the Karnataka State Cricket Association undertook infrastructure projects during off season in the recent past. They had zeroed in on the American Sub-Air system to revolutionize the concept of drainage in a cricket ground. This system sucks water at 37 times the speed of gravity, thereby ensuring that matches are not washed out because of rain-induced slushy or wet outfield.
KSCA completed all paper work and got the contracts regarding movement of men, material and debris in place before the conclusion of the 2016 IPL. Immediately after the final match, the entire outfield was dug up and the Rs 4.5 crore system which can be remotely controlled with a smart phone, was installed in a matter of just a few months.
BCCI in its annual report called attention to KSCA’s Sub-Air system, Stadium roof-top solar power generation, Sewage Treatment Plant, Rainwater harvesting and kitchen waste management and extolled all units to follow their lead. In fact at the end of this month BCCI affiliated units’ representatives are to meet at KSCA to learn more about these green technology initiatives. They are to implement these at their respective stadia at the first opportunity.
These would quell the spate of agitations and court cases related to IPL cricket during the drought months of summer.
However, introduction of these changes hinge on the timely release of funds by the Committee of Administrators. Critically, the work relating to pitch, outfield, drainage system, etc can be done only during the cricket off-season months between May-end and September, which is why timing is so important.
KSCA were lucky that they had already invested in top class cricketing facilities in Alur (outskirts of Bengaluru) and in mofussil centres of Mysuru, Hubbali, Belagavi, Shivamogga, etc and could thus shift many of the age group, Ranji Trophy and other national level tournaments to these centres when work was in progress at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
However, even KSCA has been hit hard by the non-dispersal of regular infrastructure funds, especially those concerning the development of Chinaswamy Stadium’s northern stands. They had done almost all paper work, including getting government and SGM approvals for re-designing the northern stand at the conclusion of the 2017 IPL.
This included construction of world class dressing rooms, modern media centre, conference rooms for press conferences, cricketers, umpires and trainees, office space and an additional seating capacity of around 10,000. But the plans ran aground.
This year presents yet another opportunity. Work could commence as soon as the historic one-off Test against Afghanistan concluded in June.
The best aspect of the coming season is that India are hosts only to a short tour by the West Indies in October. Otherwise all matches are being staged overseas. The national team has matches in England (Tests, ODIs & T20s), in Australia (Tests, ODIs & T20s) and New Zealand (ODIs & T20s) and hence work could have gone on uninterrupted at the stadium till next October. But now with infrastructure funds not flowing in, KSCA might well miss this window of opportunity.
Likewise, other associations too won’t be able to work on their infrastructure projects.
Sadly, it is not just the associations; even the National Cricket Academy has hardly seen any development these past few months. The Karnataka government released 50 acres of land within the proximity of the Bangalore International Airport and Golfshire, a world class golf course. The NCA was supposed to be a state of the art centre, housing top line facilities for training, developing and rehabilitating cricketers. But thus far not even a fence has been erected on the property, let alone cricket grounds, gym, boarding and lodging, swimming pool, etc. Guess their idea of cricket is to just conduct a few matches, disperse money and tie up contracts.
In the immortal words of CLR James, What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?