An Indian cricketer recently joked it was time for a new TV show called Coach Ki Khoj. Today, the search for the Indian team's next coach is not just a job vacancy, but a full-fledged news and entertainment industry. Every passing ex-cricketer is being asked whether he wants the job; the desi vs videshi debate is raging again with the fervour that would have mystified even M.K. Gandhi. In the centre of this maelstrom is the BCCI, Indian cricket's governing body, impressively unhurried and unmoved.
Look closer. The BCCI is unmoved because for eight months it has not been able to move at all, hamstrung by litigation. All its activity was caught up in a protracted battle of political agendas and the clash of personalities.
It was-and is-the BCCI's darkest hour. The judgement of the division bench of the Madras High Court in favour of the BCCI in the TV rights case was rare relief. It took the board a step closer to being able to sell rights for international cricket in India. But the two big-ticket series, Australia and Pakistan, were victims of the turmoil, sold to Doordarshan, cricket broadcasting's lowest common entity.
"These past few months have been the worst period I can remember," says Brijesh Patel, secretary of the Karnataka Cricket Association and director of the National Cricket Academy, Bangalore. "Some of the former presidents of the board are responsible for it."
It is the line taken by everyone who is on Jagmohan Dalmiya's side and refers to the trio of his predecessors and bitter rivals I.S. Bindra, Raj Singh Dungarpur and A.C. Muthiah. The fallout of this intra-BCCI wrangle has impacted television rights, the board's annual election, decision-making and, it is rumoured, even the preparation of a Test match wicket. At the end of an eight-month cat-fight, there is still no clarity either at the top of the BCCI or at its most mundane operational level. "For all practical purposes," says one official, "there is no formal board."
Even though the September election anointed Ranbir Singh Mahendra as president, the evidence that Dalmiya, who cast four votes, still runs the show is strong. He was at the forefront of the appeal launched by Indian captain Sourav Ganguly against a six-match ban by the ICC. When the appeal was turned down, it was Dalmiya who declared, "The match is not over yet." Before outgoing coach John Wright left India, he was summoned for one final meeting and he went not to meet Mahendra in Bhiwani but Dalmiya in Kolkata. The new office-beares have done little. The finance committee of the BCCI has not met since October 2004. The working committee, which ratifies important decisions, has not met since February. At the NCA, it has been a struggle to get clearances in time to invite a psychologist or conduct a level III course for coaches. "Everything in the board is last minute," says Patel. "We don't announce venues in time and we have to tell people who want to come that it is because of security reasons."
The court cases-over TV rights, the legitimacy of the elections, the nomination of Dalmiya as patron-in-chief-have diverted the attention. Outside of the TV rights, the cases centre around Dalmiya's drive to hold onto power. When asked how many cases the Board was fighting BCCI Joint Secretary Goutam Dasgupta laughed, "It is difficult to say." Three tiny Chennai cricket clubs Netaji Cricket Club, Bharathi Cricket Club and Thyagaraja Club have introduced many of the cases and Patel is scathing. "These clubs don't have the money to buy balls but can hire lawyers like Harish Salve, Nalini Chidambaram and Fali Nariman." The BCCI and Dalmiya have jetted their own legal luminaries around and the bill for legal expenses on both sides is estimated to be Rs 5 crore. Dalmiya's rivals deny that the shambolic state of Indian cricket is of their making. Dungarpur says, "The chaos in the BCCI has been caused by Mr Dalmiya. We had to go into litigation. The board was being run on the whims and fancies of one man."
In this personality clash real issues have become secondary. Whether it is hiring a coach, debating the selection process, pointedly criticised by the usually uncontroversial Wright before he left, or even the knotty problem of the captaincy till the 2007 World Cup. An insider says, "In the BCCI there is no will to do anything other than stage an international game and show off your importance." There is a reason for everyone in the BCCI to be red-faced. Earlier this year the Ranji Trophy for the country's premier domestic championship was handed out to the Railways' victorious captain Sanjay Bangar by Pakistani great Intikhab Alam. All well and good, but Alam was also coach of losing finalists Punjab.
The fire alarms should have gone off in Indian cricket by now. The unending crises should have provided the BCCI with a big inside tip. Political squabbling is a pastime, a hobby. A Rs 1,000-crore annual industry is a business needing professional management. It is the BCCI's historic opportunity but you know, you just know, that all they are going to do is say pass.
| INTERVIEW | RANBIR SINGH MAHENDRA |
"I see need for a change"
BCCI president Ranbir S. Mahendra spoke to Senior Editor Sharda Ugra about heading a beleaguered and hamstrung cricket board.
Q. This must be the BCCI's worst phase with so much uncertainty.
A. The uncertainty has always been there for the BCCI, particularly because of all the court cases. None of the cases was about cricket.
Q. How do you react to statements that you may be president but it is Jagmohan Dalmiya who is, in fact, running the board?
A. I have already stated on record that I take my own decisions. Those who are behind the court cases are propagating these rumours.
Q. Haven't the events of the past eight months given enough indication that the working of the BCCI needs to change?
A. The board has been functioning on these lines for 75 years.... Yes, I do feel the need for a change but these decisions have to be taken jointly.
Q. When is the Indian team's new coach going to be appointed?
A. We will form a committee to look into the matter within the month. The team will have a coach soon.
Q. Will senior players be consulted?
A. Wait for this committee to be appointed then you will know.
Q. John Wright said selection methods must change. Do you agree?
A. As far as this matter is concerned he has not given any suggestion to me directly. Had he done so we would have discussed it at the working committee. But the board is at liberty to discuss all these matters.
Q. When you became BCCI president, what was it that you wanted to do which has been left undone?
A. I was very serious about junior cricket and the 2007 World Cup. For the World Cup, time is short but we are moving towards it. Junior cricket is our future hope. I wanted to look into junior coaching and have lots of junior tours abroad. But because of the irresponsibility of those who are behind the court cases, we have not been able to go ahead with our programmes.