The fires Srinivasan must fight

There was a feeling of déjà vu at the BCCI's press conference following its annual general meeting (AGM) where new president N Srinivasan announced the termination of the Kochi Tuskers Kerala franchise.

Updated: September 26, 2011 17:39 IST
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New Delhi: There was a feeling of déj vu at the BCCI's press conference following its annual general meeting (AGM) where new president N Srinivasan announced the termination of the Kochi Tuskers Kerala franchise. A year ago Shashank Manohar gave the Kochi owners an ultimatum to either register themselves as a company or risk being scrapped. While the presidents have changed, the Kochi story has not, or at least not much.

The saga is emblematic of the problems the board has faced, and will continue to face, as it deals with the extended fallout of the controversies surrounding the IPL.

Last year the board responded by forming a protective ring around its turf and downgrading the IPL governing council to the status of a committee. At the time Chirayu Amin, a man known for his business sense and desire to keep a low profile, was the ideal replacement for the deposed Lalit Modi. But the times are changing. Not only have the IPL's fires proved rather difficult to put out, the board also faces threats from the government as well as the courts. These battles represent Srinivasan's biggest challenge as president, not least because as a major shareholder in and managing director of India Cements, the company that owns the Chennai Super Kings, he has a personal stake in the outcome.

Under the harsh glare of the political spotlight, with governmental heat increasing, the BCCI has grasped the need to do more to control its house, and has replaced Amin with a politician. Rajiv Shukla, a union minister in India's federal government, is perhaps the key appointment under Srinivasan. It indicates a new strategy for the board, one that acknowledges that a political solution must be found for what has become a political problem.

Another signal of change was the appointment of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the former chief minister of Maharashtra and new president of the Mumbai Cricket Association, who sat between Srinivasan and Shukla during the post-AGM press conference, as the chairman of the media committee. Also at that press conference was Anurag Thakur, the BCCI joint secretary and one of the board's rising stars. Thakur, the president of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, is largely responsible for developing the Dharamsala stadium, and significantly, is also a politician.

In recounting the BCCI's annus horribilis, it must be remembered that Kochi was not the first franchise to be expelled from the league. Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were terminated last year but fought their way back through the courts to play in the 2011 tournament. Both teams' cases are still under arbitration, with a final judgement still to be handed down, more than a year after the original decision. To make matters worse, in 2010 the BCCI lost another of its battles, getting its generous income-tax exemption revoked.

The scale of the board's recent tangles with governmental authority was made apparent by Srinivasan's contrite comments earlier this month to the Parliamentary Standing Committee investigating the IPL's finances. "We were taken for a ride," Srinivasan said. "I know we cannot plead before you that we did not know all this was happening. Your question would be, were you not vigilant? What did you do? I am sorry, sir, there is no defence for me (...) We just put our heads down." It is not something Srinivasan is used to doing.

Other battles he must face include former BCCI president AC Muthiah's case, currently before India's Supreme Court, that seeks to prevent Srinivasan from holding office while he is involved with an IPL team. A two-person bench reached a split verdict in April, requiring a three-person bench to hear the case anew. Then there is the sports minister Ajay Maken's push to make the BCCI subject to a new sports bill that could open the board up to the Right to Information Act. For now, a committee of ministers has sent the bill back to the ministry to be redrafted, but Maken remains adamant that the board will not escape scrutiny.

The BCCI would have probably found it easier to deal with its off-field problems had it been able to fall back on an India Test team that was ranked No. 1 in the world, but after the disastrous tour of England, India have slipped to third. Yes, they are one-day world champions but they are still only ranked fifth in ODIs. Though Srinivasan did his best to minimise the implications of the poor tour of England, on which India failed to win a single international game, and the players suffered a string of injuries, it is clear the team is in need of reinforcements. The bowling attack without Zaheer Khan lacked bite, and the three titans of the batting line-up, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, are unlikely to all last the duration of Srinivasan's three-year term.

At the press conference the board was adamant that its injury management system was working well, despite losing eight players on the tour of England. And the selection process for the Rest of India XI for the Irani Cup, where the selectors picked an injured player to replace a player who was fit, suggests the system needs a lot of improvement.

Having the right players waiting in the wings is clearly the biggest cricketing test for the board. It seems to have realised this, as evidenced by the setting up of new academies over the past year - one each for batting and wicketkeeping, spin bowling, pace bowling, and an umpires' academy. A new committee, headed by MP Pandove, a former Ranji Trophy player and a board insider, has been created to oversee the functioning of these and that of the National Cricket Academy. Talent in India has tended to simply find its way to the national side, like a river snaking a path to the sea; there is no telling how many tributaries simply dried up along the way. The new committee suggests the beginning of a more efficient means of ensuring the river doesn't run dry.

The appointment of Sanjay Jagdale as board secretary could be another asset. Jagdale is known to have a keen eye for talent, having spotted Narendra Hirwani, VVS Laxman, Murali Kartik and Naman Ohja while working as a junior selector. Mohinder Amarnath's addition to the selection committee is another positive move. Not only does Amarnath have credibility as a former India player, but as someone who has made more comebacks than Madonna, he can counsel the next generation on what it takes to be an international cricketer. He is also being tipped to succeed Kris Srikkanth as chairman of selectors, and is seen as a man who can balance the power Srikkanth now wields in the selection committee. Likewise, the board's intention of having Sourav Ganguly succeed Sunil Gavaskar as head of the board's technical committee could, in theory, infuse fresh thinking and help create a more structured approach to the game in the country.

The challenges are many and varied, the potential solutions hard and uncertain. The big question is whether the BCCI can put out so many fires at the same time. How well Srinivasan and his team manage will determine their legacy.

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