Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

A moment of truth for cricket in India

The Supreme Court verdict could prove to be transformational for the BCCI

The Indian Premier League was conceived of and run as the symbol and executor of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) global suzerainty. But with the 2013 edition’s scandal involving Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, it also became the catalyst for a sustained judicial effort to curb the BCCI’s power, reform it structurally and operationally and introduce accountability. The irony runs deep. With the Supreme Court accepting the majority of the Lodha Committee’s recommendations towards these ends on Monday, root-and-branch reforms are now all but unavoidable.

A number of the major recommendations are aimed at shaking up the clique that has ruled Indian cricket at the state and central levels for decades now: barring ministers and serving bureaucrats from holding office; an age limit of 70; a maximum of three 3-year terms with a cooling-off period between each; barring individuals from holding office simultaneously at the state and central levels. The casualty list is set to be substantial. Administrators such as Sharad Pawar and N. Srinivasan, to name just a few, will be out in the cold after a long history of being power centres.

Back in May, former BCCI president Shashank Manohar had pointed out that some of the measures were problematic. The cooling-off period, for instance, would mean a lack of administrative continuity, which comes with its own set of problems. He had a point there. But the BCCI has only itself to blame for the Supreme Court ignoring its objections.

The body has always inhabited a grey area. It is private in nature but fields a team that represents the nation and utilizes taxpayer-funded services such as security arrangements on a massive scale. There is a case to be made for keeping it free from overt state interference; it is no coincidence that it is the only one of India’s apex sports bodies that has truly been successful. But the traditional opacity and arrogance of its functioning, coupled with corruption and administrative issues in various state boards, had left it in a position where state intervention was always just one misstep away.

The BCCI’s original response to the Lodha committee report compounded the problem. With the Supreme Court involved at that point, the BCCI’s best bet was a cooperative approach that could have secured it a more sympathetic hearing. Instead, as Sharda Ugra points out on ESPN Cricinfo, it doubled down on the private body argument, choosing to contend that the committee’s recommendations were not binding, instead of addressing their substance. That was never going to end well.

There are now two options available to the BCCI. The first is stalling for time and seeking ways around the verdict in order to maintain the status quo. The second is a good faith effort to study the recommendations and consider how best to implement them. The latter would be preferable. Measures such as one state, one vote—the BCCI has argued against this citing tradition, but that is never a good reason by itself to maintain the status quo—will mean system-wide shake-ups. The Supreme Court has allowed some leeway in how they are to be operationalized. The BCCI has the administrative nous and the resources to manage the transition effectively, and an obligation to its players to do so.

Under Manohar, before he moved on to the International Cricket Council, the BCCI had begun to distance itself from the N. Srinivasan days. Manohar’s functioning was both blunter and more transparent than the norm. And in bringing on board iconic ex-cricketers with unimpeachable public images—deep thinkers of the game and potentially canny administrators among them—the BCCI has shown that it recognizes the value of involving various stakeholders. Its response to the verdict will now determine if it is truly committed to the idea of deeper reform—as it has insisted it is—or more inclined to protect its turf. With the full impact of T20 cricket on the shape of the sport yet to be determined and major changes to Test cricket on the horizon, a streamlined, effective BCCI is crucial for the sport, and not just in India.

Will the Supreme Court verdict be good for Indian cricket? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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