The 'dodgy' working of India's cash-rich cricket board

Ramachandra Guha is one of India's most respected contemporary historians and has been a cricket fanatic since his formative years - he is now 62 - and a harsh critic of the BCCI (Board of Control of Cricket in India) for the "shady nature if its financial operations" accentuated by the IPL

Feb 04, 2021

Ramachandra Guha is one of India's most respected contemporary historians and has been a cricket fanatic since his formative years - he is now 62 - and a harsh critic of the BCCI (Board of Control of Cricket in India) for the "shady nature if its financial operations" accentuated by the IPL. Thus, when he laments that when his attempts to clean up the Augean Stables, as it were, were stymied by the other members of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA) of which he was a member prompted him to quit and that the situation was returning to "normal", its time to sit up and take notice.

"There was no trace of ambivalence in how I saw the apex body of the game in India, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. I had long detested the control over the BCCI of scheming politicians and self-important ex-Maharajas. The shady nature of its financial operations stank. Then the Indian Premier League began, and the BCCI's operations became even more dodgy," Guha writes in "The Commonwealth Of Cricket" (HarperCollins).

The book works at two levels e his "lifelong affair with the most subtle and sophisticated game known to humankind" and his BCCI stint that lasted just five months but the pain it caused has led him to devote two of the book's 11 chapters or some 80 of its 347 pages to this episode.

Guha is, however, happy that his resignation helped bring two "superstars" of the game down to earth and end their "conflict of interests" with the game.

The Supreme Court had appointed the COA in January 2017 after a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, acting on the findings of another committee headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, formerly of the Delhi High Court, had recommended far-reaching reforms in the country's cricket administration in the wake of the match fixing scandal centering around the son-in-law of then BCCI President N. Srinivasan erupted in 2013.

In appointing the COA, headed by Vinod Rai, a former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and its members - Guha, Diana Eduljee, who, during her time, had taken women's cricket to new heights, and banker Vikram Limaye - the Supreme Court dismissed the then BCCI President, Anurag Thakur, now the junior finance minister at the centre, for obstructing justice.

The going was never smooth, with the COA turning down Guha's proposal made at its first meeting that veteran pacer Javagal Srinath be co-opted as there was the "absence of a respected male cricketer" in the committee.

"It seemed to me that (the intense) publicity (around the constitution of the COA) had got to my colleagues, who did not want to open this exclusive club of four to other (even if extremely well-qualified) members," Guha writes.

Also at this meeting, the BCCI Manager in charge of the IPL made a long presentation on the Board's showpiece tournament and cash cow.

"This was a super hard-sell of the product, making fantastic claims for its contributions to cricket and to society. Corporate boxes, those testimonies to greed and cronyism, were described gushingly as taking cricket watching to a higher level, through the new and unique experience' they allegedly facilitated," Guha writes, adding: "Through this presentation the Board official looked largely at me, perhaps because of my reputation as an IPL baiter."

Nonetheless, 2017 IPL went ahead as scheduled, with Guha holding his horses for the 2018 season to resolve issues like "why couldn't revenues from the IPL be used to greatly enhance fees and prize money for players in the Ranji Trophy, and be used to fund and promote women's cricket too?"

There were also issues like the BCCI-ICC relationship, described as "very poor e no trust at all".

"An example of BCCI bullying was our refusal to accept the Decision Review System, because of pressure from our shorter players (such as Sachin Tendulkar and M.S. Dhoni) e for it would make them more vulnerable to lbw decisions, rather than for any more logical reason. Another was the foisting of L. Sivaramakrishnan as the international players' representative to the ICC, not on the basis of his cricketing record or cricketing intelligence, but merely because he was a long-term loyalist of N. Srinivasan," Guha writes.

There was also the question of rolling back the Big Three (India, England, Australia) model in favour of a more inclusive structure that Guha advocated, and his colleagues in the COA largely agreed with, "but, as the nationalist hysteria rose higher, and grew more shrill, they found it difficult to articulate this egalitarian position in public. Meanwhile, N. Srinivasan was seeking to make a comeback to the BCCI on the back of such jingoism. Although he was clearly disqualified under the Lodha guidelines - being over seventy and having served more than nine years as an office-bearer - he attended meetings of the BCCI's state associations, where he dominated proceedings. I urged our chairman, Vinod Rai, to issue a public statement saying this was illegal, but he was too nervous to do so. His silence emboldened the Old Guard further. They now called for a boycott of the Champions Trophy, due to be played in England that June", Guha writes, adding:"The scoundrels who now sought to wear the garb of patriotism found support in the hyper-nationalistic press."

In the end, India did send a team to the Champions Trophy, the last time the tournament was played in line with the ICC's policy of only one Trophy for each of the three formats of the game.

There was also the question of the C.K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award that "apparently" Srinivasan and (sacked BCCI Secretary Ajay Shirke) wanted to confer it on Ravi Shastri. Goaded by Guha, the COA prevailed and not only did the award go jointly to Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar but an annual award was also instituted for a woman cricket and Shanta Rangaswamy was chosen as the first recipient.

Matters came to a head on BCCI draft Constitution' apportioning to itself the production and controlling the telecasting of all matches played by the Indian cricket team rather than farming this out to professional TV or media companies.

"In fact, this practice was followed by the BCCI itself until the advent of the Indian Premier League, after which the then BCCI bosses sought to make cricket telecasts a vehicle for their own greater glory. Commentators became propagandists for the Board, some willingly, others enticed by what were effectively hush payments (as paid members of the IPL Council, earning several crores a year). Match-fixing, conflict of interest (a senior BCCI office-bearer owning an IPL team, etc.), and much else flourished. The BCCI's TV commentators knew of these practices; but did not report or comment on them, for obvious reasons.

"Due to public pressure, the pernicious open bribing of commentators was stopped. They could no longer be paid members of the IPL Council. However, because they were directly employed by the BCCI, cricket commentators in India were still compromised. They lived in fear of their contract being terminated if, for example, they mentioned that the crowd at a match was less

than expected, or even mildly criticized a tactical decision by an Indian player or (especially) an Indian captain. Sycophancy was rife; one had only to study the footage of how BCCI TV cameras had panned so often to IPL commissioners, BCCI presidents and secretaries, and the sheer obsequiousness with which they had been interviewed," Guha points out.

He wrote to colleagues but was "met with a resounding silence. Once more, the status quo would prevail", he adds.

As his "disenchantment" grew, Guha found Rai and Limaye "excessively cautious in effecting reform, and Rai and Edulji too keen to talk to the press. My colleagues were also not immune to the publicity that went with the job. They availed of VIP treatment at IPL matches, and Vinod Rai even released a book about Tendulkar, with the superstar sitting next to him - perks that would not have ever come our way had the Supreme Court not appointed us, and thus perks that we should have rigorously eschewed. But since Rai and company did not, the wily BCCI management plied them with more photo-ops, further defanging our committee".

And, with "powerful politicians on their side, the Old Guard remained hopeful that the government would enact a Sports Bill rendering the Lodha proposals redundant and restoring control of the BCCI to them.

"Because they believed they would soon be back e despite being currently disqualified as well as discredited - N. Srinivasan and company continued to attend, and direct, Special General Meetings of the BCCI's constituent associations," Guha writes.

He urged Rai, to issue clear directions prohibiting this; he did not. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, which, under Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, had once strongly supported the cleaning up of the BCCI, began to go slow on the matter after Justice Thakur retired, taking its time to hold hearings and issue orders while recalcitrant state associations prevaricated in implementing the Lodha Reforms, Guha states.

In April, three months into his term, Guha wrote to Gopal Subramaniam, the amicus curie in the Supreme Court, saying he wanted to step down but was persuaded against doing so for the moment.

Finally, on June 1, he asked the Supreme Court to relieve of his membership of the Committee.

"I also wrote a formal letter of resignation to Vinod Rai, where I foregrounded the COA's failure to address the conflict of interest issue, to assure a fair deal for domestic cricket and Ranji Trophy cricketers, to stem or reverse the superstar culture, and to keep the discredited and disqualified Old Guard from attending BCCI meetings. I ascribed these failures in part to the absence of a senior and respected male cricketer on our Committee'. I quoted my letter of 1 February suggesting that such a cricketer be asked to join the Committee, recalled my mentioning it in a formal meeting of the COA, and deplored the fact that the proposal was not acted upon,".

That was the end of Guha's association with India's cricket administration.

Who are the two "superstars" he has written about?

Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid - the former for continuing to head the PMG sports management company while being a BCCI commentator (among his many hats) and the latter for being the mentor of the Delhi Daredevils IPL team (since renamed) while also being the coach of the Under-19 and India A teams.

"Dravid acted quickly and responsibly, whereas the other great cricketing legend, Sunny Gavaskar, took his these two instances, if in nothing else, my resignation had served a purpose," Guha writes.


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