Silly-Point: Winds of Change

The winds of change are blowing as far as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is concerned. And the august body isn't too happy about it. There has been plenty of action off the green field that's keeping members of the body busy. As usual, the general public keeps getting nuggets of information through what that media term ‘sources within the BCCI.’

More often than not, it is these ‘sources’ that keep planting information that suits their purpose. Take for example the curious case of Karun Nair. The second Indian triple centurion didn't get a look in during the Test series against England. When the opportunity did arise for him to walk out in the middle in the last Test match at the Oval, Hanuma Vihari, a newbie brought into the team as a last minute replacement was included. Poor Nair was relegated, once again, to the sidelines doing 'throw downs' for the fortunate few picked in the playing eleven.

The Nair issue has been (and still is) debated in the national media with Indian cricket legends questioning the team management why the Karnataka middle order batsman was sidelined. Sections of the media; read lapdogs of the 'sources' within the BCCI, have given the reason citing it was Vihari's ability to bowl off spin that tilted the team management in his favour. Once again, this planted nugget came from 'sources' and not from a spokesperson representing either the BCCI or the team management.

The whole equation of planting stories that suit the purpose of interested parties within the BCCI is set for a change with the body being brought under the sphere of the right to information act (RTI) by the central information commission (CIC). The BCCI will now be listed as a National Sports Federation (NSF) under the RTI Act along with its member associations — the state cricket bodies.

The BCCI will certainly challenge the diktat in a higher court to maintain that they are an 'autonomous' body that does not rely on any state funding to regulate the game of cricket in India. The organization, which undoubtedly is one of the best run sports bodies in India, thanks to the visionaries of the past, has (over the past decade or so) become an arrogant bully and is an old boys club rather than an organisation intent on taking the game to a higher level.

One of the biggest banes of true cricket lovers and the media has been the lack of transparency from the BCCI. Unlike Cricket Australia, who ate humble pie and acknowledged the shenanigans by their top players (including skipper Steve Smith) in South Africa, the BCCI treated the entire match/spot fixing case during the Indian Premier League (IPL) as a minor incident until the matter went to the highest court of the land.

The RTI, hopefully, will now put the BCCI under the scanner for the various contentions and vague issues that have never been clarified to date. The body will cite 'confidentiality' as a reason to oppose them being under the RTI Act particularly team selection and reports. The main issues (one suspects) dealing with the IPL, sponsorship and more importantly broadcast rights etc. being made public is a nightmare the BCCI wants to avoid.

Till date, no one really knows the holding pattern of most (not all) franchisees of the IPL and theories (concocted or otherwise) of slush funds into the biggest domestic tournaments of the world of cricket keep doing the rounds. Even as one writes this, bare details of running of BCCI's Bengaluru-based National Cricket Academy as well as the fitness status of senior cricketers (including that of Wriddhiman Saha, India’s number one wicket keeper) are unknown.

The media and cricket fans continue to be taken for a ride with no explanation on any of the issues that affect the game in the country. BCCI's arrogance when the spot fixing scandal broke is enough reason for the body to be under the ambit of an Act such as the RTI. BCCI 'sources' claim that they are not happy being part of the anti doping rule followed by all sports not just in India but around the world.

It is believed (sources again) that the organisation is shying away from the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) because of the 'whereabouts cause,' an important part of NADA. So far, over the past few years, BCCI have been opposing NADA simply because top players do not want to sign a document which will disclose their location at any given point in time. If international superstars like Usain Bolt, Roger Federer and Lionel Messi don't have a problem signing the whereabouts clause, one wonders why our prima donnas are uncomfortable with signing this pertinent clause.

For many years the Indian cricket fan has been taken for granted and has never been on top of the list as far as BCCI are concerned. Vote catching gimmicks like sending administrators on junkets (read cricket tours) and giving plum matches to favoured associations have been rampant within the organisation. With BCCI coming under the RTI Act, fans will have a clear idea of various such issues that have kept being swept under the dark carpet.

While one does understand that sharing the minutes of the meeting of selection committees and series reports are confidential in nature given the uproar they can cause thanks to the explosive social media. If the BCCI has nothing to hide and call them a 'transparent organisation,' why can't the fan be told reasons for picking and sacking players.

Wouldn't the Indian cricket fan want to know if the players are happy (or otherwise) playing day-night Test matches with a pink ball? Isn't it in the best interest of saving (and furthering) Test cricket that the best players are picked for Test matches and to try out playing Tests under lights to get more footfalls into empty stadiums?

The fan would also love to know why BCCI keeps scheduling series against lesser teams like Sri Lanka and the West Indies (with due respect to both sides) on the cusp of important tours like South Africa and Australia. Is the BCCI under any kind of pressure from the broadcasters to schedule more home matches for a good return on their investment? One does understand the world of cricket has a packed schedule but one does not see other countries squeezing their cricketers like the BCCI does.

One recently read about an audacious letter to the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) written by the broadcaster to include Indian skipper Virat Kohli (who was rested from the Asia Cup) in the team. BCCI needs to be wary of star as well as money power which can throw a spanner in the works of taking Indian cricket to the next level.

Getting the BCCI under the RTI Act is a good move from the perspective of the Indian cricket fan. For years, he has been watching his favourite players sitting uncomfortably on hard benches in conditions that are far from being called spectator friendly that too at an exorbitant price. The suffering fan is the primary reason for the glory and power than the BCCI wields today. The RTI Act will be the first step for the BCCI to get back to its original name and stop it from becoming the 'Boys in Cahoots Club of India.'

(The writer is a former Cricket Club of India captain and Bombay University cricketer)