It is world cricket’s second biggest tournament, just second to the 16- nation World Cup. It has the top eight nations competing for honours. And what’s more, it has M.S. Dhoni’s Indians starting the tournament in cracking form. All of these things point to a growing cricket buzz in the UK centring around the Champions Trophy. This is also because the Ashes series is just a month away and the English, unlike in the past, start as overwhelming favourites. Reality, however, proves otherwise. Yes the India games are a sell-out but the talk among spectators at the grounds is more about the happenings back home than about the action at hand. Here’s a random sampling from the Oval on 11 June 2013:
“If India wins this competition all spot fixing allegations will be thrown into the dust bin. The BCCI will have found a way out.”
“Dhoni will give it his all to deflect attention from the conflict of interest stories. He is a better businessman than a cricketer!”
“No cheerleaders? What’s the point of the IPL! No parties also!”
The best was, however, yet to come. Sample this:
“Jagmohan Dalmiya is the real star. He was ICC President when match fixing came to light with Hansie Cronje confessing to fixing. Now he is being asked to kill the menace as his last contribution to world cricket before he finally retires.”
What the above talk demonstrates is the level of interest in the happenings back in India. Off- the- field issues, more than on- field performances, have taken centre- stage and unless there is evidence of tangible reform things aren’t going to change for the better. The BCCI Working Committee on June 10 has indeed made a start by announcing ‘Operation Clean Up’ but unless these reforms are implemented it is difficult to sit easy.
More than mere banter, the important discussion in the UK at this time centres round India’s failure to stand up to the test of responsibility that comes with being the financial nerve-centre of global cricket. According to recently published estimates the BCCI’s net worth of 295 million USD is five times more than that of any other cricket playing country and its profit of 50 million USD in 2011-2012 is double than that of second placed ECB. However, with opulence comes responsibility and that’s where the BCCI is being found short. Within 5 years, there are more controversies plaguing the cash rich IPL than any other T-20 league in the world. Charges of spot fixing are rife in Indian cricket and issues of morality and propriety are dominating the headlines. Even the captain hasn’t been able to keep himself immune from these accusations. Needless to say, the BCCI is facing one of its toughest challenges ever. The moot question is: Is the BCCI equipped enough to cleanse the game? Can it finally implement the basic tenets of good governance and codes of ethical behaviour? Jagmohan Dalmiya is facing the severest test of his administrative career. Is he canny enough to restore the games’ credibility or will he leave behind a chequered legacy failing to rid the IPL of its associated ills?
Frankly, rhetoric isn’t the need of the hour. Action is. Compromise isn’t the need of the hour, upholding the spirit of the game is. We don’t need to hear that the BCCI has the intent, we want proof. Finally, we need to see in motion a series of steps to cleanse the game, which in turn will help win back the belief of the fans. The June 10 meeting has made a good start. Now we need to see Operation Clean Up going the full distance.
N. Srinivasan, President on vacation, had started the June 2 working committee meeting saying if he stepped down in the face of intense media pressure it will set a bad precedent. He had missed the trees for the woods. It was not the media who put the pressure. It was the fans who did. 65,000 people, for the record, booed Mr. Srinivasan at the Eden Gardens on May 26 and many more millions would have continued to do so had he not stepped aside. The fans were disgusted by his absurd lust for power. And none of these fans make the media. In fact, had it simply been media pressure it would have been a small problem. The media would have moved on to other issues and the story would have died in a day or two. Unfortunately for the BCCI, the cricket fan wouldn’t do so. He or she will continue to mourn the total disregard of the gentleman's game for days and months and it will take a lot of doing to get these people back to the game. These men and women make the game in India and the BCCI, for its own sake, should take into account their points of view going forward.
The fact is the BCCI in trying to protect Srinivasan was on the verge of alienating the cricket fan. For the longest time the BCCI President could get away saying the Board was with him. In doing so, he forced Indian cricket to hang its head in shame. He exposed India to questions from round the world, probing queries doubting India’s status as world cricket’s arbiter. Finally, relentless pressure from the fans, which was reflected by the 24/7 media, forced the hands of the bosses. They couldn’t resist any more and for the first time in the Board’s history there were a series of resignations.
But Srinivasan stepping aside isn’t the solution to the problem. It is just the start. Far more important is the question of the probe. Who formed the probe committee we continue to ask? We know it wasn’t Mr. Srinivasan because he had publicly dissociated himself from the probe in the press conference in Kolkata on May 26. We know it wasn’t Sanjay Jagdale for he had sent a letter to Srinivasan expressing surprise and frustration at being included in the probe committee. Jagdale did not even know he was part of this very important committee appointed to cleanse the game in India. We know Mr. Dalmiya retained the two member probe committee constituted by the two retired judges. But who appointed them in the first place? There is still no clarity on the matter.
In every sense the cricket fan continues to feel apprehensive. Stonewalled and ignored, the fan now knows what he needs to do next. Public opinion, it seems, has finally gathered enough steam to force the conscience of the people who run Indian cricket. Global pressure will further strengthen the hands of these men and women. The media too, it seems, is together on this issue.
June 10, 2013 was a very important day for Indian Cricket. As the BCCI working committee met in Delhi to deliberate on the issues at hand we were waiting to know if the BCCI is serious about reform. Cosmetic changes aren’t enough anymore for the very existence of Indian cricket is at stake. We need the Board to take hard decisions and rise above petty politics. We need good governance, ethical behaviour and sensitivity to our concerns. Anything else and the agitation by the fans will continue. As I have written elsewhere, it is time to stop taking the fan for granted. We have finally seen a start. Now we need proper closure.