An English journalist friend and colleague, a veteran of India visits, a man who knows his curry from his Balti and his Kingfisher from his Kalyani Black Label, was frankly mystified just recently. Not by England’s dramatic collapse in the final Twenty20 International against India in Bangalore, where they lost eight wickets for eight runs — he has seen enough and more England implosions than to be taken aback by such mundane events — but by the other big cricket thing that was hogging column inches. The judiciary versus the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) might be a juicy subject, but it is not one the world at large understands too well.
As my learned friend put it, it was obvious that there was something very important, possibly historic, and potentially game-changing happening, but exactly what that was, was unclear. To explain the issue in a nutshell was slightly beyond your correspondent, but the question is worth exploring. The highest courts of the land, backed up with cases as they are and overburdened with mass murders, rapes and the like, should not have any time for something as trivial as how cricket is run.
Except, cricket is anything but trivial in India. It might be about bat and ball for the child playing on the street outside his house, but it is a different beast altogether at the highest level. So, charged with taking a long, hard look at how cricket was being mismanaged, the court-appointed committee of former justices and such legal eagles, came up with a list of non-negotiable recommendations. But, those who were in charge of running the game had little or no interest in putting these well-intentioned if occasionally misguided and sometimes outlandishly impractical diktats into practice.
Turkeys have a long track record of not voting for Christmas. Once the defiance was clear, the courts moved into overdrive, and appointed a panel that included an accountant, a historian and a former cricketer. It has been suggested that politicians and power-hungry administrators did not have either the necessary qualifications or the right intentions to be left in charge of something as important as sport. Exactly how this panel is an improvement, on either count is unclear. Yet, with most dawns, hope f loats. Perhaps Ramachandra Guha will overcome his pathological hatred for the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the most anticipated fixtures in the international cricket calendar. Guha, who called the IPL a “shady operation run by shady characters” and thought it was clear that the tournament was “corrupt from top to bottom (and side to side)” panned the tournament at every chance. Guha said the IPL was “representative of the worst sides of Indian capitalism and Indian society.
Corrupt and cronyist, it has also promoted chamchagiri and compliance.” But, while he enumerated what he thought were the various ills that plagued the tournament, he did not address the issue of how these may be addressed or corrected. Guha’s approach was not so much that of the doctor, whose remit it is to treat a patient, irrespective of how dire or hopeless the case was, but of an executioner.
“What is to be done now?” Guha asked in a column in 2013. “The IPL should be disbanded.” This is an excellent rhetorical question and answer for an acerbic columnist, but this is hardly what anyone might want from an administrator of the game. Known for his integrity and praised for his backbone, Guha now has some serious decisions to make, and the power to make an actual difference, rather than merely exhorting others to do or not do something. But, if the answer to dealing with all that is wrong with the IPL, and by extension Indian cricket, is to disband it, which institution in India would survive? The department of law and order?
The houses of parliament? The halls of justice? In trying to answer my friend’s question, one thing became clear. The rules of engagement in India are something each of us is born with and grow into; the conventions that our lives are ruled by are in our blood; the way we do things is by no means black or white. If, in every walk of life, we are uniquely Indian, for better or worse, why do we expect cricket, and how it is run, to be any different? Perhaps Messrs Guha and Co will be able to answer this question satisfactorily in the days to come.
(This column first appeared in the Economic Times on February, 4, 2017)