Opening for a different innings

Sunil Gavaskar BCCI
Photo: AP

Indians do know a thing or two about management. Tick the names of the top honchos of multinational corporations, chances are every third name on the list will be an Indian. Satya Nadella, check; Indra Nooyi, check; Prem Watsa, check; Rajiv Suri, check; Anshu Jain, check; Ajay Banga, check; Harish Manwani, check… the list could go on. Pity then for a country of good managers, we are still not able to find one manager-administrator to run Indian cricket.

That should give some food for thought.

Major sports events and institutions are often taught as case studies to management students in B-schools. Some have acquired folklore status. International Management Group (IMG) founder Mark McCormack’s book What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School has become a virtual Bible for all those who have anything to do with sports, management, both or neither!

Interestingly, Indian cricket administrators too could write their own book. This one could be called How not to run a sports business and yet be successful and could have valuable lessons on putting profit before sports. Not making money while running sports, mind you but, letting sport make money for those who run it. Yes, that could be handy; it could be co-authored by all members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The foreword could even be written by Narayanswami Srinivasan, former president of the BCCI and the man who has mastered the craft.

In all the years that the BCCI has existed, it has, at worst, been an example of crony capitalism, and, at best, a body of self-serving men working for that one singular end: power. In this quest, it has not taken time to bother itself with trivial concerns, like the opinions of other people and the longevity of players. Having taken complete possession of a sport that is essentially public property, they have appropriated all the rights to it. They have then sold those rights for astronomical prices. All because they know that the people of this country are crazy about cricket. Just as there is no substitute for Bollywood films, there is no alternative to cricket in terms of sports entertainment.

If IPL founder Lalit Modi ran the sport like his personal fiefdom — taking a helicopter to airdrop him on the ground and getting out of his Limousine literally at the doorsteps of the pavilion — Srinivasan was the unquestioned lord and master of the sport. That is until 28 March, when the Supreme Court stepped in to wrest the control of the Board from him and place it in the hands of former India opener and batting legend Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. That it took an apex court observation for the Board to do so is another kettle of fish altogether.

For Gavaskar, the ball is in his pitch, albeit for a short time. But he can choose to take some tough decisions and can be sure they will find approval from the country’s highest court of law. He can also work without a care about any opposition Board members might have to his reforms, were he to suggest any. It is an interesting juncture for Indian cricket — and by extension the bigger interests of the game — and for international cricket too. No one can today deny that the BCCI occupies pride of place at the top of the most powerful cricketing nations of the world, even more than England. The question is of taking steps that will not create conditions, which could compromise the integrity of the sport any further. If that means cutting down on a few tournaments then so be it.

During his time at the helm, Lalit Modi was given ‘invaluable’ advice by close associate and Sundar Raman. Later, Raman enjoyed equal proximity to Srinivasan. At the height of Modi’s power, Raman would pull no punches about his privileged position, threatening at times to even take away accreditation of journalists who would question his stature. Under his second boss, the IPL COO enjoyed the same privileges. That Raman managed to wield equal influence despite the change in guard is a story for a different day, but with the recent development, Gavaskar is now in a position of authority to clean up the game. If anything, the trust the apex court has placed in him obliges him to do so.

As interim president of the BCCI, the court wants Gavaskar to take a call on Raman’s future. Last heard, the former batsman had asked franchise owners for their advice. If the team owners have an iota of good sense, they should use this chance to get rid of the man.

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At his zenith, Modi was almost a law unto himself, famously reported to have said that the IPL could not wait for the General Election! This was in 2009, when he flew the tournament out of the country and held it in South Africa, complete with extravagant opening and closing ceremonies. That turned out to be a dangerous move, as he later learnt. The private plane he flew in came under scrutiny. Worse was still to come, when Board members turned against him, forcing him to leave the tournament, and eventually the country. He has since been holed up in London, his passport revoked. The unthinkable had happened for the IPL chairman: the Board that until a few days ago, was catering to his beck and call, threw him out unceremoniously. Repeated attempts to make a comeback to Indian cricket administration — he has thrown his hat in the ring for the chief of the Rajasthan Cricket Association — have been successfully stonewalled.

But the IPL goes on, with or without the man at the helm, who had started the tournament. Too many people had put in too much money to allow for the juggernaut to stop rolling.

Five years after Modi’s exit, it is ironical that the other powerhouse of Indian cricket, Srinivasan, has to go at the time of another General Election. But, perhaps the greater irony lies in the fact that, yet again a part of the tournament will be held outside the country, this time in the UAE.

Srinivasan may not throw his weight around as publicly as Modi, but he controls the Board like no one did. Just as Modi never thought he could be ousted, never in his wildest dreams would Srinivasan have imagined that a man from Chhapra, Bihar, from a board the BCCI refused to recognise, could bring him down.

Aditya Verma, a vice-president of the Cricket Association of Bihar, filed a PIL against the irregularities in the functioning of the BCCI and IPL. It is a culmination of Verma’s PIL that the Supreme Court finally took cognisance of the situation, paving the way for Srinivasan’s ouster from the Board. Otherwise a shrewd businessman, Srinivasan underestimated Verma, but the mighty often fall because of their complacence. So too with Srinivasan.

The Supreme Court’s observations, however, came too late to prevent IPL-7 from being partially held in the UAE. In the ’90s, the Indian government had asked the Board not to send the team to the UAE and neighbouring countries after the game had come under the shadow of “fixing allegations” and the place notorious for its “undesirable elements”.

But in a matter of weeks, Indian cricketers will be playing in Dubai. Former cricketers and followers are not sure if that is a good idea. Coming on the back of spot-fixing allegations and an ongoing investigation into them, it might end up harming the game in the long run.

The BCCI could have thought of other options surely, maybe a truncated version of the IPL or even a delayed start to the tournament. But, in the end, IPL is entertainment, a big show, and the show must go on. Never mind, if that means putting the game through a much-avoidable situation.

The interim president can also do precious little at the nth hour. But the change in the management was long-pending. Gavaskar might not be the panacea for Indian cricket, but he is the best man for the job. As a cricketer of immense repute with a mountain of runs behind him, he has already earned the respect of the international cricketing community. As an articulate, frank and earnest observer, his opinions also carry weight. People will listen to what he has to say.

In the past, the former India opener has been criticised for not being very open about his views on the administrative aspect of the game, but then he was also a commentator with BCCI TV, and there were certain clauses in his contract that he had to honour. Now absolved of that responsibility and entrusted with a far more important role, Gavaskar could set precedents for the future of the game.

However, similar attempts made by sportspersons in other disciplines have not met with the desired ends. Former All England champion Prakash Padukone sought to clean the Badminton Association of India, but was never given a chance. Pargat Singh tried that in hockey but failed. Arun Lal, now a prominent commentator, fought and failed in his bid to make a players’ association.

Former players do not necessarily make good administrators, but if there is someone who can deliver for Indian cricket, it has to be Gavaskar. He can handle pressure as deftly as he could handle the West Indian quickies. Often times, he has dropped hints about what is wrong with Indian cricket in his columns and commentary. He was among the first ones to warn that young cricketers needed to be mentored as they are likely to earn unimaginable amounts of money. He wrote this in 2008, when Virat Kohli led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup win in Malaysia.

Moreover, he has been a member of the IPL Governing Council in the initial years, besides being a member of ICC committees. If Gavaskar were to ask for a change in BCCI’s constitution, no one would oppose him. The Supreme Court’s intervention has ensured that. A brave move in cricket could be a giant leap for other sports in the country. The air can be salubrious after all.

Croppers & Survivors 

Kochi Tuskers A consortium of companies bought one of two franchises that added to the original eight. The team was bought for Rs 1,550 crore approximately. Kochi played one season in 2011 from 15 April to 18 May, 2011 and the franchise was terminated for breaching terms of agreement and not paying their dues. As the battle became messy, a bank guarantee was encashed by the BCCI and Kochi were terminated. In 2012, Kochi players were auctioned to other teams.

Pune Warriors The Sahara Group of Companies bought the other new franchise in 2011 and the owners paid approximately Rs 1,450 crore. Hours before the 2012 auction, Pune Warriors said they would withdraw, citing differences in the fee to be paid as the matches had been reduced. They stayed away from the auction, but after compromises, reconciliation and concessions from the Board, they decide to stay. A year later, two days after the end of the 2013 edition, Pune announced they were withdrawing from IPL as the BCCI had encashed the bank guarantee for failing to pay the franchise fee. Sahara also withdrew from the sponsorship of the Indian team.

Deccan Chargers Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd owned one of the original eight founding members of the IPL in 2008. The Chargers finished in the last position in 2008, but bounced back strongly the following year to emerge champions in the 2009 edition in South Africa. In 2012, the group ran into financial problems and tried to sell the franchise but were unable to do so. In September 2012, the IPL Governing Council terminated the contract and in a new bid, Sun TV Network won and rechristened the team Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Rajasthan Royals One of the team owners, Raj Kundra, husband of actor Shilpa Shetty, was questioned by investigating agencies for alleged betting on IPL matches. Three players, including S Sreesanth, were banned. But the Royals are still going to play IPL 7 in 2014.

Chennai Super Kings Despite team principal Gurunath Meiyappan having spent time in jail for alleged betting offences in IPL, the team stays on. The team contends that Meiyappan was only a “cricket enthusiast”. Intriguingly, he was a regular at IPL auctions and seen at every IPL match often on the field with India and CSK skipper MS Dhoni.

Royal Challengers Bangalore The team run by the flamboyant Vijay Mallya has irked the man on the street ever since his company Kingfisher Airlines was grounded and the staff not paid for a very long period. Yet, RCB bid more than Rs 12 crore for Yuvraj Singh in the auctions for IPL 7.

Interesting Conflicts

N Srinivasan The contentious “Conflict of Interest” clause has been one of the problems at the heart of the mess that is called Indian cricket. The president of the BCCI is also the vice-chairman and managing director of India Cements, the company he claims is the owner of the IPL team, Chennai Super Kings. While Srinivasan’s daughter is a director of India Cements, his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested by the investigating authorities in connection with betting allegations in IPL. Until September 2008, the BCCI regulation, Clause 6.2.4, stated that, “No administrator could have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in the matches or events conducted by the Board.” This clause was amended to: “No administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in any of the events of the BCCI, excluding IPL, Champions League or Twenty20.”

Krishnamachari Srikkanth The former India captain became the chief selector of the Indian cricket team in September 2008 and remained in that position till 2012. In February 2008, just before the inaugural IPL, he was also appointed Ambassador of CSK and he had a three-year stint in that position.

Anil Kumble Retiring from international cricket in November 2008, he played IPL for the RCB till late 2011, after which was the mentor of the team for 2012. In 2013, Kumble mentored Mumbai Indians. From November 2011, he was president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association for three years. In September-October 2010, he was appointed chairman of the National Cricket Academy, but resigned after 15 months. The leg spinner also co-founded Tenvic, a sports training and consulting company, which mentored, trained and often managed sportspersons.

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