'We will bring out something that will incentivise Test players'
The past few months have been a whirlwind for Anurag Thakur. Elevated to BCCI president after Shashank Manohar resigned the post, the 41-year-old has taken over at a tricky time, given the Supreme Court is keen on revamping the workings of the Indian board using the Lodha panel's recommendations. In this wide-ranging interview, Thakur reflects on the impending court order, India's place in the ICC, day-night Test cricket, and improving the team's overseas Test record, among other things.
Did you ever think you would be one of the youngest presidents in the history of the BCCI?
I never thought about positions. All I wanted in life was to play for the country. When that dream ended - especially after I did well in junior cricket, played against England Under-19s, and in the Ranji trophy - I was totally disconnected from the game. Since my re-entry into cricket as the president of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, I have given my 100%. Posts never mattered to me. I was offered the position of [BCCI] vice-president way back in 2001, which I did not accept because I wanted to do something for Himachal cricket. Once I felt Himachal could thrive and survive on its own, only then did I switch over to BCCI positions.
In some ways this job is an accident. Mr Dalmiya died, unfortunately, and Mr Manohar decided to move on to the ICC. Do you sometimes think that you would have liked a bit more experience before becoming president?
Destiny plays its role. Many people in the BCCI know that things could have happened a year and a half back but, as I said, it was never the position that mattered to me. At the time we thought Mr Dalmiya was the best person, and then Mr Manohar. But then others decided that I should take over and run the board.
You have got the job at perhaps the most challenging phase in the history of the BCCI; in a couple of months a court order could come that will fundamentally change the way the board is run. Has that ever entered your thought process?
Life throws us a challenge every day, so we have to accept that [and think] how do we convert this into an opportunity. From my playing days I have believed hard work and sincerity works. Despite limited means in Himachal, what we [in the state association] delivered in the first five years was much more than could be expected.
Even today, when many see it is a negative, I feel the courts will also understand what the BCCI has contributed in the last eight decades; they won't overlook it. I agree one or two mistakes may have been made in the past, but then there are shortcomings in every organisation. We can't go for an overhaul in everything. Is there an overhaul of the judiciary or the bureaucracy? No.
It does appear, though, that the courts aren't in a very receptive frame of mind to the BCCI's position on most things these days. We saw what happened with the Bombay High Court, for instance, regarding moving IPL games out of Maharashtra.
I have highest respect for the judiciary. But at times you need to sit back and look at the judgement also. What has Maharashtra gained from that? Or lost? I am nobody to comment, let people judge it.
Yes, but that's one specific instance. On the larger point, it does appear that judges aren't really in the mood to listen to the BCCI's point of view. Does that worry you?
I think there are many important issues in this country that are pending for the last several years. You take the Nirbhaya case, for instance, there has been a lot of hue and cry but justice has still not been delivered. Many issues about things like government formation etc are yet to be decided. So it depends what is important for the country and what isn't.
So you think the court is spending too much time on BCCI matters?
That is for the court to decide, I am nobody to. What I am trying to say is, there are many important things in society and the court takes a call from time to time.
Let us talk a bit about the Lodha report. If there were three things in the recommendations that you believe cannot work at all, what would they be?
I will not comment on that since the matter is sub judice.
But Mr Manohar held a long press conference recently and elaborated on the concerns.
He did that after he quit the position of BCCI president, not before.
So is it safe to say that you agree with all the observations Mr Manohar made?
I think most of us were on the same page when we discussed that internally. He is no more BCCI president and he understands, as ICC chief, how the game will suffer, how the ICC and BCCI will suffer, if the recommendations are implemented in their totality. He has been very open, and it's nice of him to have expressed his point of view.
So largely you are on the same page?
It's not about being on the same page or not. He has been president of the BCCI and he has tried to, during his term, bring in reforms. After his experience of doing that, and being a lawyer himself, it was nice of him to express his point.
Since we are talking about Mr Manohar, was there a tinge of disappointment when he informed you that he was going to leave his term midway and go over to the ICC at this challenging time?
You have to look at cricket from a global perspective. The ICC is also looking at the BCCI for some kind of leadership, to take cricket to the next level. So the ICC is incomplete without the BCCI.
Should I interpret this as you saying Mr Manohar should have stayed on as BCCI chief?
I was very happy working with him. We had a very good equation, which continues even today. Every decision we took in the last nine months, or even before with Mr Dalmiya, we were on the same page. There were hardly one or two areas where we had a difference of opinion.
Let me ask the question another way. Would you rather have Mr Manohar as BCCI chief, or are you fine with him being ICC president?
He is a friend and was a colleague, now he is ICC chairman, and I would love to work with him in any position he takes, because ultimately you have to serve the game of cricket wherever you are: ICC or BCCI.
Mr Manohar has led the way in taking steps towards a very significant change. A certain revenue structure was put in place by the so-called "Big Three", which is now being dismantled. This will lead to losses in the BCCI's revenue. Were you, as a senior BCCI official, okay with that decision?
Let the time come, we will let you know what our position is.
But the position had been taken by the ICC chairman when he was BCCI president...
The house authorised the president and secretary to negotiate and discuss the matter with the ICC.
Not decide on it?
But it has been decided...
No, not really. The power has been given to the president and secretary.
So what you are saying is, the BCCI's final word hasn't been spoken on the ICC's decision to do away with the revenue structure the Big Three came up with.
Yes. It is just at the discussion stage.
Returning to the Lodha panel, do you feel that the BCCI should have adopted a different legal strategy, offered less resistance in the courts and shown more acceptance?
We started the reformation process well before the recommendations came in. So you can't say what reforms have [already] been put in place, we will go through the recommendations again and do that [again]. Many practical things that are required to be a part of the system, that has been done. Every institution goes through reform from time to time. Wherever we find reform practical and in the interest of cricket, we will do that.
Have you had any contact with the amicus curiae Gopal Subramaniam, who has also apparently said some of the recommendations are not possible to implement?
I have never met him in my life.
It was felt that the BCCI allowed a lot of state associations to go along their merry ways unhindered because of the way the voting structure is.
Like the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). The proxy system, no one is sure how the votes are secured etc...
Is that as per law? The established law of the land will work.
But different associations follow different systems, there is no uniformity. Among the Lodha recommendations is to have strong structures in place for local associations. Do you feel that has been a long-standing problem in the BCCI?
Again, I don't want to go into the recommendations. If you look at the other side of the DDCA story, in a short space of time they hosted two IPL knockout matches, World T20 matches, and an India-South Africa Test. You can't see only one side of the story.
The India-South Africa Test is a case in point. For the first time in 20 years, after Justice Mudgal was appointed to oversee the organisation of the match, the DDCA finally showed a profit from the game. Isn't that an indication that, if things were run professionally by the associations, they can be better?
We have a federal structure in India. The states have independent powers. From time to time, if any state association has any problems, they can learn.
Another thing people wonder about is: does the BCCI really care about the fan? For example, the ticketing situation during the World T20 - till the last minute, it wasn't clear where tickets were available. Fans want to make plans, they had no idea where to buy tickets. Do you concede that kind of situation creates resentment towards the BCCI?
I understand what you are saying, but many times things were beyond our control. During the IPL, for instance, many people had bought tickets for matches in Mumbai, Pune or Nagpur, but what happened - was it in my hands? The courts jumped in and passed an order. Similarly, in other associations a lot of politics has been brought in. In Himachal itself, a clothing exhibition from Pakistan was held but the [Pakistan] team wasn't allowed to play. So a Pakistani exhibition can go on but the match can't be held. It's a large country, you have to face these situations and live with it.
Fans say they feel shortchanged by the BCCI sometimes because of such issues, or because of the way grounds are. People go in and they don't feel like they have as much fun as in other countries.
The first thing I said on taking over as president is that we want to enhance the fan experience. Whether it is to have a separate area for old or specially abled people, 10% tickets to students especially during Tests, clean stadiums and green stadiums - I have earmarked Rs 100 crore (US$ 14.8m approximately) for green stadiums.
So you are giving an assurance that during your tenure you will put the fans at the top of your priority list?
We will do whatever is required for the fan. For example, seat numbering. Anyone can say, what is the big deal in this? But for someone who buys a ticket and goes to the ground and doesn't find his seat, it is a big deal. This may look small, but I have said, without seat numbers associations won't get games.
You wear various hats. You aren't just the BCCI president but also a prominent member of parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party [one of India's two main national political parties]. How hard is it to compartmentalise? Where does the politician end and the BCCI president begin?
If I am somewhere for cricket, then that is my focus. Hardly 1-2% of my time will be dedicated to political activity then.
This question comes up because what you have to say as a politician is not necessarily in the best interests of Indian cricket. Let us assume it is in the best interests of Indian cricket to play a Test series against Pakistan but the BJP's position is different. Does that create a difficulty for you?
The BCCI represents India, we form a team for India. So whatever decision we take, it is in the interest of the country. As a BJP MP, I will think along the same lines. As I've said about this matter, for a multilateral tournament we have never said no [to Pakistan's participation]. For a bilateral series, though, if there is any commitment, you have to look at the situation between the two countries. If both the governments agree only then can we play, because there are security and diplomatic reasons involved.
What is your vision for the BCCI in the world game, especially as a leader of the world game?
I think we have not invested enough in research and development. For example, if you look at our National Cricket Academy (NCA), we still look at Australia for any new technology or new systems that they have put in place. The BCCI has to do that [research and development] for Indian cricket, and that can further help world cricket. I think we can't be followers, we have to become leaders in that direction. We have appointed professionals in various jobs. I think the next challenge is to bring in more efficiency at the state level.
We also have to make the Indian team No. 1 in all formats. To do that we need good coaching staff and a good domestic structure that should help create good cricketers.
One of the concerns is that an ecosystem has been created that encourages young players to focus on T20 and not focus on the longest format.
You sell what is liked by your viewer. If the fan wants to see T20s and ODIs, you have to play those formats. But at the same time you have to put in efforts to generate interest in Test cricket.
Are you committed to that?
Of course. I have already put systems in place to give me suggestions on how to incentivise Test players. Like Cheteshwar Pujara isn't picked by a [IPL] franchise, how do we incentivise those good-quality players?
Let us take Pujara, who plays only Tests. In a year he will make only a fraction of what Pawan Negi will make in six weeks of the IPL.
Within a month or so we will be able to bring out something that will incentivise the Test players.
You are experimenting this season with the Duleep Trophy being a day-night competition. Are you excited by the idea of Test cricket under lights? Do you believe it can work in India?
I have my doubts. Three areas concern me. One, the conditions such as Indian pitches and the dew factor. Second, in tier-two cities how can we expect crowds to come every day with play ending after 11pm five days in a row? Three, is this the only way to encourage Test cricket or could there be some other way? In the last few years, perhaps through the influence of T20 and ODI cricket, the attitude [of players in Tests] has changed and we are getting more results. How are countries to be incentivised to win more games? But globally, day-night Test cricket is being tried, so we can't sit back and say we won't.
Over the next 18 months there is a lot of Test cricket to be played in India. Can we expect a day-night Test?
Depends on the Duleep Trophy. If the feedback from there is good, then we will take a call.
Since we are talking about Test cricket, it is well known that India travels poorly. Is that one of the big focus areas - to develop a team that wins consistently overseas?
I think you need to expose the India A and Under-19 teams to the conditions where the national team will be playing the following year. For example, the Indian team will be playing in England in 2018, so the India A and Under-19 teams must travel to England in 2017, so the players who are your bench strength get enough exposure to play in those conditions. Since becoming secretary, I have introduced that concept. Over the last 15 months, India A and Under-19 teams have played a fair bit overseas.
And you've managed to convince Rahul Dravid to coach these teams.
I am glad that both Ravi Shastri [as India team director] and Rahul Dravid accepted the offer and came forward to take on these roles. It is important because after the introduction of the IPL, many ex-players have become coaches [for the franchises] but they don't see working with a national side as a lucrative option since it is a time-consuming and challenging option. So that's a new challenge we are facing.
Has there been any change in the BCCI's position on the DRS?
We are waiting for the results of the tests the ICC is conducting at MIT. Once they come out with a report, we will take a call. I personally feel that if the technology isn't 100% - after spending thousands of dollars per match, you still aren't sure - then why introduce it?
Ravi Shastri has said that he thinks the time is right for Virat Kohli to replace MS Dhoni as captain across formats. What is your view as the BCCI president?
I think it is for the selectors to decide who will lead the team. None of us told Dhoni to retire when he did from Test cricket.
But no one is asking him to retire. The question is if he should stay on as captain.
I think it is not up to you and me to decide, it is up to the selectors. We have given them the responsibility, they are being paid for this job. They have taken the right decisions in the past and they will do justice on this one too.
Before we finish, the post of ICC chairman that Mr Manohar now holds is an independent position, not bound to the person's home board. How do you see that changing the dynamics of the way cricket is governed?
I personally supported that when it was discussed at the ICC meetings. And I insisted that if there is only a single nomination, allow that person to take over as ICC chairman from that day only, otherwise for 15-20 days [more, while the election process played out] the BCCI representative would have been the ICC chairman.
In the case of a difference of opinion, like there seems to be between you and Mr Manohar on the ICC's wealth distribution, do you feel you could be heading for a situation of conflict with him?
I simply said let the situation [play out], the power has been given to president and secretary. As to whether we agree or disagree, Mr Manohar also hadn't taken a decision at that time, so how do you say we disagree? (laughs)
When your term ends in 2017, what would you like to leave behind?
Every administrator who works with responsibility leaves something behind. Look at the past presidents, they have all given something to the game. We learn from their experiences and we take decisions in the best interests of the game. There is a lot of criticism of Mr Srinivasan but he should also get due credit for the work he did.
Do you have clear goals as well?
I want to see the Indian team as No. 1 in all formats. We [the BCCI] want to be more transparent, accountable and bring in more professionalism. Apart from that, we want to look at green initiatives, support deaf and dumb cricket etc. There will be many reforms that will change the people's perception of the BCCI.
The board does a great job, organises 800-plus matches over a year. This is not easy. How many associations can manage to shift matches between venues in the space of seven days? We have created good infrastructure over the years, that is our asset. I have to take all the state units together and strengthen them, so that we can easily handle any situation the BCCI comes across.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75