Only twice in living memory has a cricket tour involving India been called off: The first occasion was in 1984 when, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Indian team, which was batting in an ODI in Sailkot in Pakistan, had to abandon the match and tour and rush back home.
The second time was more recently, when Dwayne Bravo’s West Indies got entangled in a pay dispute with their cricket board and walked out of a tour of India in 2014.
Thus, if Indian cricket aficionados watch the flurry of e-mails, press leaks and statements coming from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Justice Lodha Committee with a sense of foreboding, they cannot really be faulted.
Sure, the England team for the five-Test series is already in India. But, going by the trend of the two abandoned tours, there is no guarantee that they’d still go through with the entire series.
The immediate problem is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which the board claims it has to sign prior to the start of the series. The MoU, among other things, would touch on matters associated with the England team’s accommodation, daily allowances, reimbursement, quality of food, security, travel arrangements, prize money, television money, etc.
The BCCI claims that it needs clearance from the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee to go ahead with the agreement, but the latter would have none of it.
It’s said to have remarked, “The proposed MoU between BCCI and ECB concerns bilateral cricketing policy, the formulation of which is not a part of the mandate of the committee. As far as payments are concerned, if they are to be made directly by the BCCI, no directions can be given by this committee until relevant details are furnished by the BCCI.”
But reacting to the charge that BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke’s “urgent” mails to the committee asking for directions ahead of the England series had been ignored, the committee shot back: “Please note that neither identification nor appointment of vendors or contractors is the task or function of the committee. The committee is only required to fix a threshold value and approve awards of contracts above it.”
Those in the know believe that an MoU would come in handy only in case of a dispute between the parties, and that the same was not really important, given that most of the issues between major teams are on a reciprocal basis. Nevertheless, the current standoff between the BCCI and the Lodha Committee gives an insight into what lies in store in the near future for Indian cricket.
The board has slipped into a policy paralysis after being rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court, which directed its president Anurag Thakkur and secretary Ajay Shirke to appear before the panel to give an undertaking that it would abide by its directions.
The BCCI on its part has listed out the recommendations that it could comply with, and stated that it needed to pass a resolution by three-fourth majority to get some of the others passed. This, it held, was according to its constitution and that of its state units registered under various Acts. This was proving to be difficult, it held.
The issue, however, is not so much about the acceptance or “defiance” of the committee’s directions. What this and a few other issues have proved is that the committee does not have the bandwidth or even the expertise to get into administrative matters.
It could have set up a system of checks and balances to ensure that the board was run in a free, fair and transparent manner. This would have cleaned up the BCCI of its undesirable elements and at the same time empowered others to work productively. But it was not to be.
Actually a super audit, even at this stage, could expose corrupt elements within the BCCI. The Lodha Committee could throw the book at them and ensure that they are punished according to the laws of the land. This could well endear the Lodha panel to the cricket-loving public of India for all time to come.
Instead, the arguments are centered on MoUs, number of selectors, television contracts, tenders, etc, most of which are about putting process and punitive measures in place. Certainly this won’t be the last issue we’d hear of, in this cricket season.