Anurag Thakur checks in: Placating SC on Lodha report will be biggest challenge for new BCCI chief
As Anurag Thakur admitted, his biggest challenge is the Justice Lodha Committee report, which seeks to sweep away the board as it is now and rebuild it anew in a more democratic and transparent manner
It used to be that judging a BCCI president was a relatively straightforward task. The metrics that mattered were the performance of the national team, welfare of the players and the growth and development of the game and its infrastructure across the country.
However, for Anurag Thakur, who officially took over on Sunday as the youngest board president in more than 60 years, the task is much more complicated.
As Thakur articulated at the press conference following his election, his biggest challenge is the Justice Lodha Committee report, which seeks to sweep away the board as it is now and rebuild it anew in a more democratic and transparent manner. While the Supreme Court appears inclined to impose the report's conclusions in toto, the board and its member associations have bitterly opposed some of the changes, especially the one-state-one-vote requirement, the three-year cooling off period between terms for office bearers, the ban on ads between overs and age limits for office bearers.
In his press conference, Thakur sought to strike a balance between the pressure from the court on one hand, the pressure from the board's members on the other. "We need to understand what is practical to implement. All I want to say is the world knows how successfully, transparently and effectively we have run the board in the last so many years. If there were any shortcomings, we have overcome that, we have tried to mend our ways. There is always a way or an area to improve and we are not running away from anything."
How well he strikes a balance will determine how Thakur's reign is remembered, no matter what else he might do during his tenure and how the Indian team does on the cricket field. He will have to carefully walk the line between antagonising his constituency and antagonising the court. In this respect, his political connections should come in handy. As an MP and a member of the ruling BJP, Thakur has resources that his predecessor, Shashank Manohar, did not. He also has cache as a successful cricket administrator.
The son of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, Thakur became president of the HP cricket association at the tender age of 25 and set about revitalising the sport's infrastructure. He was the force behind the building of the picturesque Dharamsala Stadium in Himachal Pradesh and organised the building of a handful of others in the state. While there is no doubt being part of the BCCI has raised Thakur's public profile, he has put in the hard work to get to himself noticed and has worked his way up diligently to the top of the board's tree.
There is one other constituency that Thakur will have to keep on his side and that's the viewing public and the media. Under N Srinivasan, the board's public image took the kind of hammering India received on their tours of England and Australia in 2011-12. Thakur can't afford to be seen as obstructive and standing in the way of change, or his public image will suffer.
He's undoubtedly aware of this and has been on the charm offensive for some time. His little tete-a-tete with the media after the press conference shows how willing he is to play the game differently from presidents in the past. Srinivasan, for example, disdained the media and engaged with them as little as possible.
His relative youth is another advantage. Thakur is hipper and cooler than your average board president. Combine that with his skill as a politician and you have a man who knows how to connect with his audience. Whether all this will be enough to stave off a Supreme Court that appears determined to bring the board to heel remains to be seen. Thakur has been elected only until September 2017 because that's when Manohar's term would have ended. He is the third president the board has had in the last 12 months, with the late Jagmohan Dalmiya being the first. The Lodha Committee has hung like the sword of Damocles over all their heads. Manohar resigned and hopped across to the ICC rather face the prospect of implementing a report he did not agree with, so Thakur would now face the fire when the SC finally passes its order, with the next hearing set for 28 June.
You've got to admire Thakur for still wanting to be in the hot seat in these uncertain times. It would have been easy to let someone else take the risk while pulling the strings from behind the scences. If he does manage to convince the court that the board's objections are sound, he will undoubtedly be feted by his peers. However, if the court sees fit to implement the entire report over the objections of the BCCI, Thakur will be forced to act against his beliefs. Will he then have the will to push them through? Either way, these are interesting times for Indian cricket, BCCI and for Thakur.
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