Back in those days when there was little money in Indian sport, they denied a day’s per diem to the Indian team when it made short work of New Zealand in under four days. The Indians were naturally angry at the loss of one-fifth of their daily allowance. The historic Test win ought to have ordinarily fetched greater monetary compensation. Instead, they were penalised. When they protested, the team manager curtly intoned: Who asked you to finish the Test in four days? And, pray, what was the daily allowance? All of Rs 150.
Now, they give them annual Rs 2 crore contracts. In addition, there is a match fee of Rs 15 lakh for each Test, Rs 6 lakh for One-Day, and Rs 3 lakh for a T-20 match. As for the coach of the Indian team, he gets close to Rs 7 crore per annum and reportedly wants that fee doubled. Of course, cricketers do not pay for anything, not even their kits, with all expenses being borne by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Why are we talking of cricketers and their humongous fees in this column? Well, the provocation came from a report in a respected daily. It said that the three-member committee constituted by the Supreme Court-appointed night watchmen of Indian cricket had asked for payment for picking the next coach of Indian team. That all three have got enormously wealthy donning the national colours on the cricket field was neither here nor there. Nor did it seem to matter that they had reputations to protect. One would have thought that Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman could have done without remuneration, especially given the prestigious nature of the assignment. But no, Indian cricket is a milch cow, which must be milked as much as it is humanely possible. Even the court-appointed administrators seem to doing so, as you shall see presently.
That is why public intellectual Ramchandra Guha’s resignation from the Committee of Administrators for cricket is unlikely to change anything. For, barring an honourable exception or two, everyone, from long-standing cricket officials to present and past players, is complicit in the only game in town. Which is to milk the mass sport for personal enrichment. Raising cavil about alleged conflict of interest, as the eminent historian does, in an age of multi-crore scams, is hardly likely to register on the antennae of judicial authorities, which, in a highly controversial decision, have undertaken to micro-manage the BCCI.
Guha clearly found a place on the COA because of his excellent credentials as a follower of the game. He has authored a couple of eminently readable books on cricket and its greats in the sub-continent. His refined sensibilities might have been hurt by the pervasive culture of permissiveness, with iconic stars raking in big bucks, exploiting past glory and current connections with the BCCI bosses. But the charge of conflict of interest against a Sunil Gavaskar or a Rahul Dravid pales into insignificance when over the years Indian cricket is said to have been exploited for private gain by the very people entrusted to safeguard its interests.
In particular, the well-known historian’s lament about conflict of interest is bound to fall on deaf ears given that a retired Supreme Court judge, no less, appointed to run the affairs of the Delhi and District Cricket Association saw nothing wrong in seconding his own lawyer-daughter to the body. According to media reports, she represented him in BCCI meetings and generally stood in for him, micro-managing DDCA affairs. Her being on the panel of lawyers of the Delhi government made her induction in the DDCA doubly troubling, since a few office-bearers of the DDCA have pending criminal defamation cases against the Kejriwal government.
If the truth be told, the malaise of Indian cricket actually afflicts all sports in the country. Vested interests have grabbed control of all sporting bodies. They have so commandeered the membership, that periodic elections of office-bearers have become farcical. Rival groups controlling sizeable voting blocs, take turns to run these associations. It is not hard to find individuals controlling sporting bodies without a break for close to half a century. Dynastic succession in sports is as much a reality as it is in various politics.
Admittedly, cricket’s mass following and, in the television age, the humongous riches ensure that everything connected with it draws public attention. The temptation for professional sports managers and retired cricketers to have a piece of the action is irresistible. From prominent politicians to marquee players, they have all managed to find a place in the BCCI or the provincial cricket bodies. And those who fail to do so owing to their quarrelsome nature or other character flaws, pose as reformers, feigning no other motive than to serve the cause of the game. The world of sport needs to be wary of such pretenders.
However, current players may not be devoid of temptation. They are making big money, but, post-retirement, most of them will like to stretch the earning careers, turning into commentators or coaches or managers. The ones devoid of such talent might wangle subsidised land to run cricket academies or some such thing. The point being that donning national colours virtually guarantees assured life-time incomes.
On his part, Anil Kumble, whose continuation as coach is uncertain, seems to have finally caused Guha, a fellow Bangalorean, to quit the COA, but he may not be entirely innocent of the profit motive himself. He may have had differences over cricketing matters, including team composition, with Virat Kohli, the reigning star of Indian cricket, but a power struggle between the coach and the captain was always going to be disastrous for the team morale and performance.
Incidentally, soon after his retirement, Kumble had offered to coach the Indian team in English speaking. As he put it at that time, the country’s image suffered when players found it hard to field post-match questions from TV journalists. He offered to tutor them in good, spoken English. Mercifully, they did not squander money. Most Indian players acquit fairly well in post-match media interactions, especially when you see the misery the best of Pakistani players go through answering simple questions.
Meanwhile, it is time we stopped commending former players for taking charge of Indian cricket. The experience of the Hyderabad and Karnataka associations is not particularly salutary. There is no point looking for simple solutions. The trouble stems from our collective weakness for easy money. And, of course, from the prevalent sab chalta hai culture.
Time for a Cabinet expansion
Again the talk of Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle is in the air. It may happen after the presidential poll, though no one can say with certainty in the Modi Raj. Yet, there is no denying the urgent need for a revamp of the Central team. If for nothing else than to accord ministers in charge of key economic portfolios, Cabinet berths. You cannot say the ministries of Commerce and Industry; Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines; Petroleum and Gas held respectively by Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goel and Dharmendra Pradhan are unimportant to the health of the economy. And reason dictates that their ministers be part of the Cabinet, rather than their continuing as junior ministers with Independent charges. Besides, after three years they would like to be rewarded for having acquitted themselves reasonably well.
Another reason why an expansion of the Cabinet might have become necessary is that Arun Jaitley continues to be saddled with two king-sized portfolios, that is, Finance and Defence. Even his enormous talents and intellectual grasp would not justify that he divide his time between two crucial ministries, especially when he is routinely expected to help out in myriad other matters. The actual implementation of the GST is set to be a huge challenge, virtually throwing the entire spectrum of economic players, big or small, into a tizzy. Meanwhile, there are those who only half-in-jest dismiss the idea of a Cabinet expansion, suggesting that the government relies more on a few trusted bureaucrats
Money wins over cricket?
Not for nothing they say that the British are a nation of shopkeepers. An India-Pakistan ICC final is bound to fill the coffers of the England and Wales Cricket Board like no other match. And India-England would have generated little gate money.