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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Players & superstars (The Indian Express - 03 June 2017)

     Ramachandra Guha’s resignation from cricket administration flags important concerns. It may not be enough

     Ramachandra Guha’s resignation letter to Vinod Rai, chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) to manage Indian cricket, is at once damning and revealing. Guha shines unflattering light on ills that still plague Indian cricket, despite the CoA being in the fourth month of its existence. The biggest issue that Guha has tackled in the letter is the “superstar culture” in Indian cricket — an equivalent of “VIP culture” in Indian society in general.

     The subject of celebrity cricketers, past and present, getting away with much, has been the big elephant in the room, spoken in whispers by Indian cricket watchers but never addressed so specifically, and unequivocally, as it is by Guha. He takes on the holy cows — Sunil Gavaskar (BCCI commentator and director of a player management company), Rahul Dravid (India A coach and IPL team mentor), Sourav Ganguly (Bengal Association’s president with media/broadcast commitments) — for blatant conflicts of interest. He cites previous communications as proof that even though the CoA members were made aware of the issue, they didn’t take any action.

     Guha points out, correctly so, that the superstar culture in the BCCI management is at the root of such conflicts of interest and lack of transparency. But why blame the BCCI and CoA alone? The SC made Gavaskar, despite his conflict of interest, the BCCI’s interim head during IPL 2014. While Guha’s letter is welcome, and the evidence it produces incriminating, will it change anything? The answer, tragically, seems “no”. The letter, in its spirit, doesn’t read different from the findings of the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee and the recommendations of the Justice R.M. Lodha panel, which led to the SC setting up the Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the sport without the encumbrances of a reluctant BCCI.

     It had a sweeping mandate, and the backing of the court. And yet, in a matter of months, the committee appears to have mutated into a subset of the same BCCI it had taken over from. No one would be more thrilled to read Guha’s letter than the board’s old guard. The timing suggests that, for Guha, the tipping point was the ongoing Anil Kumble-Virat Kohli rift, which looms over India’s Champions Trophy campaign.

     Isn’t giving senior players the impression that they may have a veto power over the coach, Guha asks, another example of the superstar culture gone berserk? It’s ironic that the letter appears sympathetic to Kumble, who had in the past benefited from the same culture: He mentored teams in the IPL while running a player management company.


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