Much like his retirement, the venue of Sachin Tendulkar's 200th Test has kept everyone associated with the gentlemen's game guessing. And the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has kept the 'mystery' alive and kicking by cancelling "by a week" its Tour and Fixtures committee meeting which was scheduled in Mumbai on Thursday. Sources say "by a week" could be much longer.
Tests and other international matches at home are allotted by a rotational system but this time, BCCI is deviating from the normal because Tendulkar's 200th Test has become "special". But the 'fight' to win the right to host the match has now become extra-special with associations either trying to win a return favour from the BCCI's all-powerful chief N. Srinivasan or exploit fractures in Mumbai's cricket administration.
While it is officially Bangalore and Ahmedabad's turn to host Test matches - West Indies are scheduled to play two Tests and three one-dayers in November - Kolkata's Eden Gardens and Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium are keen to host Tendulkar's milestone game out-of-turn. While the Cricket Association of Bengal president Jagmohan Dalmiya is clearly seeking a 'favour' from Srinivasan for having backed the embattled BCCI president during his difficult post-Indian Premier League scandal days, Mumbai Cricket Association is simply exploiting the sentimental factor. (Also read: BCCI rubbishes report it asked Sachin to retire)
Till last week, it was looking like a two-horse race between MCA and CAB, but authorities of the Cricket Club of India, the custodians of the Brabourne Stadium, added a new twist to the tale by throwing their hat into the ring. Taking advantage of the fact that Srinivasan is not in great terms with the MCA bosses, CCI officials said Brabourne should also be considered for the landmark game.
CCI president Sevanthi Parekh has hit out at MCA for objecting to BCCI's decision to reconsider Brabourne Stadium for international matches. "If MCA wants monopoly to host matches in Mumbai, then that has gone. And its demand that CCI should take MCA's permission to host matches is not acceptable. We are a separate body. We are a founder member of the BCCI. MCA was nowhere then. Wankhede came up only in 1975. We are here since 1940," Parekh told Midday newspaper.
With Sharad Pawar expected to back at the helm of MCA, Srinivasan may not be too keen to award Wankhede Tendulkar's 200th Test. In the BCCI's constantly fluctuating power equations, Srinivasan and Pawar are dreaded enemies. Srinivasan's core group saw Pawar's hand when Shashank Manohar's name was doing the rounds as a possible presidential candidate during the Board's elections in Chennai on September 29. Apparently, it was during the Chennai AGM that Brabourne's request to be treated as an independent Test venue was mooted. MCA sees this as a threat because the recognition of a second venue in Mumbai will mean failing to honour corporate commitments and thus suffering massive financial losses.
But CCI is not bothered. Parekh said: "The Board has now given us eligibility (for international matches). Like MCA, even we will get it (matches). So, by (Board's) rotation policy we will also stand a chance to host matches." MCA will stage its elections on October 18 and if Pawar is back in the hotseat, it may queer the pitch for Wankhede. Under the circumstances, the BCCI's Tours and Fixtures committee may meet only after the MCA elections are over.
Interestingly, Brabourne Stadium hosted its first-ever Test match in 1948 and the team was the West Indies. Out of the 18 Tests played here, India have won five with Virender Sehwag's 293 versus Sri Lanka in 2009 as the best by an Indian batsman. Forty-year-old Tendulkar has happy memories of Brabourne. His first double century for Mumbai came here against the Australians in 1998. Ten year before this event, he fielded as a substitute for Pakistan in a one-day practice match.
Having played 18 Test innings at Wankhede, compared to just one versus Sri Lanka in 2009 at Brabourne, Tendulkar may just be inclined to prefer familiar conditions. Privately, Tendulkar wants to play his 200th Test in Mumbai and Eden Gardens should gracefully accept that. One of CAB's senior officials said: "Sourav Ganguly would have never played his 200th Test at Mumbai...so why should Tendulkar want to play at Eden?" (Read full report here)
Historically, CCI and MCA have been at loggerheads. Matters came to a head when CCI (headed by Vijay Merchant) and MCA (led by S. K. Wankhede) fought over seat sharing arrangement during Test matches. CCI shot down MCA's demand for extra seats and Wankhede, who was a minister in the then Maharashtra state government, took it as a challenge and built the Wankhede Stadium in a record six months, just in time for the fifth and final Test of the 1974-75 home series against the West Indies.
Over time, Wankhede became the main cricket venue while Brabourne became more of a private club, but with wonderful cricket facilities. Brabourne, of course, hosted a Test match and IPL matches when Wankhede underwent a Rs 300 crore renovation ahead of the 2011 World Cup. But two years down the line, CCI and MCA are back to those acrimonious days each seeking its pound of 'international' flesh. The sad influence of BCCI's dirty politics has indeed disturbed the calm and the happy co-existence of two monumental cricket stadiums.
CCI's candidature is certainly making the climax exciting. The BCCI will have to decide the venue at some stage and the manner in which Srinivasan clinically chopped off a couple of his vice-presidents (Watch: It's NCP vs BJP vs Congress in Mumbai Cricket Association) Pawar allies Niranjan Shah of Saurashtra and Sudhir Dabir of Vidarbha) in the AGM is any yardstick, Wankhede's prospects don't look too bright. Tendulkar's wish could just turn out to be a blessing in disguise for historic Brabourne. Eden, of course, will be waiting for the good news with bated breath!