BCCI should have acted on time, been more mature

There is an intriguing possibility of the government—ranged against the judiciary for a while now—stepping in, though it would be catastrophic if the board were to lose its independence

BCCI chief Anurag Thakur. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
BCCI chief Anurag Thakur. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

On Monday, after beating New Zealand comprehensively at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the second Test too, India became the No.1 Test-playing nation (International Cricket Council rankings) once again, after Pakistan's brief occupation of that pedestal. 

Test rankings—more than in other formats—have been volatile in recent years, with five-six teams locked in intense competition. But if current form is maintained in the long home season, India’s tenure at the top should be secure for a while. 

In One Day Internationals, India have been pushed down to No.4 by a resurgent South Africa (New Zealand are No.2), who have been pulverizing top-notch Australia in the last couple of weeks. In Twenty20 (T20), India are a strong No.2. 

All things considered, India emerge as the best performing side across formats currently. Ironically, when it should be basking in this success, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)—as we know it—faces extinction. 

The Supreme Court’s decision on the review petition filed by the BCCI against reforms mooted by the Justice R.M. Lodha panel is scheduled for today, the climax to a noisy (and newsy) conflict that has lasted over a year. 

Recent statements suggest the BCCI finds itself between a rock and a hard place. If it refuses to accept the reforms in toto, the Supreme Court may throw out office-bearers; if reforms are accepted, these mandarins become irrelevant anyway. 

Over the past couple of weeks, this has raised the tenor of the conflict between the BCCI and the Lodha panel. The fracas over the board’s accounts being frozen, and whether the third Test against New Zealand would be scrapped, only sullied Indian cricket. Both parties were playing an all-or-nothing “end game” against each other even while trying to salvage Indian cricket. It was a situation screaming for cool-headed mediation between mistrustful parties ranged against each other.

All things considered though, the BCCI would be ruing the manner in which it has managed its (off-field) affairs since the Indian Premier League 2013 spot-fixing scandal. For instance, had there been a swift and transparent initial internal inquiry—say, then president N. Srinivasan stepping aside till an independent panel cleared him—the matter may never have reached the courts. 

Even when it did, the BCCI immediately took refuge in its status as a registered society, believing that this would ward off threat, as it had in the past. This time, however, it had not gauged the mood of the country correctly. 

There was public outrage and demands for accountability became strident. A case filed by the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA) showed up fissures within the BCCI itself. Complaints of poor governance by others, including former players, compounded matters. 

This clearly led to the hardening of attitudes in the judiciary too and was reflected in the Lodha panel’s recommendations, sweeping in nature, given last year. Since then, the BCCI has been like a ship caught in a stormy sea. 

The BCCI has now challenged the Lodha panel reforms as judicial overreach. That is perhaps overstating the case, though some of the reforms mooted are undoubtedly contentious. For example, the “one state-one member-one vote” provision is impractical to implement for reasons of legacy and continuity—at least immediately. A 10-year-plan to make this possible would be more reasonable.

However, this issue (and a few others) could have been tackled better. Former captains Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri speaking up about this only two weeks ago seemed a futile afterthought. The BCCI, oscillating between sulks and supercilious disregard, should have engaged the Lodha panel through dialogue at the very outset. After all, the reforms were based on inputs received from stakeholders, not plucked out of thin air.

The fact that the BCCI has had three presidents (Jagmohan Dalmiya, Shashank Manohar and Anurag Thakur) in the past year has unfortunately also contributed led to a jerky, disjointed approach in finding a solution, resulting in the current stand-off.

How the Supreme Court reacts today is difficult to conjecture. Presumably, the BCCI, advised by retired justice Markandey Katju, would have a game plan in place, though not much has been revealed yet.

There is an intriguing possibility of the government—ranged against the judiciary for a while now—stepping in, though it would be catastrophic if the board were to lose its independence. Hopefully, whatever decision emerges will work to Indian cricket’s benefit.

Meanwhile, there is the No.1 Test ranking to savour.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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