A chat with a visionary March 6, 2005

Bindra's wishlist



What if IS Bindra had been in command of the BCCI, and not Jagmohan Dalmiya? © Getty Images

One of the most fascinating genres of history is alternative history, where historians ask "What if?" What if Hitler had attacked the middle east instead of Russia? What if Mahatma Gandhi had chosen the free marketer, C Rajagopalachari, as his successor instead of socialist Jawaharlal Nehru? And in terms of cricket, we might well ask: what if IS Bindra had won the power struggle with Jagmohan Dalmiya in the mid-1990s and become the decision-maker in Indian cricket?

That last question is no frivolous one. Bindra and Dalmiya had together begun a process of modernising the BCCI in the early 1990s, and Dalmiya is today given credit for bringing commerce into Indian cricket, and making the board the richest in the world. Yet, is that the whole story? Bindra, the man who has made Mohali such a huge success story as a venue for international cricket, points to Mohali, and the contrast it makes to the rest of India. "[The stadium at] Mohali has one-third the capacity of [Eden Gardens] Kolkata and makes three times the money", he tells me. "What does that tell you?"

We are standing by the practice nets at Mohali, and Bindra is mingling with the journalists, making sure that they get refreshments and are looked after. Impeccably dressed, he is sophisticated but not a sophist, and he speaks crisply, without the jargon and cliches that bureaucrats often pepper their conversation with. One more thing: he refuses to say anything negative about his old rival, Dalmiya, despite being asked about him.

He isn't averse to expressing his dissatisfaction with the way Indian cricket is being run, though. And without saying it in so many words, he implies that too much of the credit for getting big money into Indian cricket is given to one man.

"Madhavrao Scindia was the board president in 1993," he tells me, "when we first sold TV rights to TWI. Jaggu [Dalmiya] and I persuaded him to do so. And then, when we won the battle over uplinking in 1994, I was board president. That's when the money started coming in to Indian cricket, and the graph has gone up steadily since then."

"So what would you have done differently had you continued running the Indian board?" I ask. He looks at me keenly, as if to guage if I am being mischevious, or really want to know. Then he opens up, and begins listing out the items in the to-do list that never was.

Bindra's Wishlist: One - Break out of the honorary system
The BCCI is run by honorary office bearers, who have day jobs that keep them busy, and Bindra would like to see it professionalised. "Set up a board of directors, hire full-time executives, led by a CEO, who are accountable, and the system will run beautifully."

I ask him why he didn't make this transition when he was president.

"I tried," he says, "And [AC] Muttiah tried as well, when he was president. But vested interests came in our way."

"You mean the state associations," I ask. "But why do they oppose it?"

"Oh, they are scared that if a professional structure is established in the BCCI, it will percolate to the state associations as well, and their power will be affected."

"So will this ever change," I ask. "If the state associations, who control the BCCI with their votes, are going to keep blocking these moves, what's the solution?"

"In a democracy," says Bindra, "you have to take the people along. And the state associations can be convinced. After all, it is in their benefit also. Once they see what they are gaining from it, they will surely agree."

Bindra's Wishlist: Two - The BCCI should start a TV Channel
"India is the hub of world cricket," says Bindra, "and we should exploit that. Why sell the TV rights if we can exploit them ourselves? We should start a TV channel. And I have a blueprint for how it would run.

"First, we would show 100 days of international cricket in India. Let the world come here to play. Look at the American sports, they don't go out of the US to play baseball, so why do we have to go out all the time to play cricket?"

"That's 100 days of international cricket," I say. "What about the rest of the year?" And that takes us to the next two points on Bindra's wishlist.

Bindra's Wishlist: Three - Promote domestic cricket
"It is not fair," says Bindra, "that international cricketers make so much money when domestic cricketers get just a lakh a year. Now, why has Sachin become such a star? It is because his face is seen on TV all the time. Before the days of television, great players did not make so much money. Television makes the difference, and that is why we need to promote domestic cricket, to get local cricketers on TV.

"I find it ridiculous that people in India watch US college basketball on TV - college basketball, mind you - and don't watch the Ranji Trophy final."

Bindra's Wishlist: Four - Start an international league
"We should start a league like the European soccer leagues," says Bindra. "Build it around cities or states, and a fierce local following will develop. Invite international players. With the audiences in India, it can reach the level of European soccer.

"It can be bigger than international cricket."

Bindra says that Lalit Modi, who currently runs cricket in Rajasthan, made a proposal just like this recently, planning to get scores of international cricketers at Rs1crore each. The feasability of investing that kind of money was arrived at after talks with a certain TV channel. All the loose ends were tied up, but the BCCI vetoed his idea. "Vested interests again," says Bindra.

Bindra's Wishlist: Five - Get into merchandising
"Do you know that the BCCI hasn't even registered its logo?" says Bindra. He talks of how the Indian colours are valued so highly by fans, and how there is a massive black market in those. Foreign clubs, such as Manchester United, make huge amounts of money through merchandising, and Bindra is amazed that the BCCI is not taking advantage of such a revenue stream.

"They haven't even registered their logo," he repeats. He shakes his head sadly.

Bindra's Wishlist: Six - Make cricket a spectator sport in India
Isn't it already? Not quite. Indian grounds are notoriously spectator-unfriendly, and the PCA Stadium at Mohali, despite a name that doesn't slip easily off the tongue, is a magnificent exception. It is compassionately capitalistic: it takes outstanding care of its spectators; and it makes pots of money, despite having the cheapest seats around.

"Students should be able to come and watch the game without burning their pockets," says Bindra. "At Rs 60 for five days, we sell cheaper tickets than any other ground, and we provide the best facilities. We want them to come and enjoy themslves. Cricket should be like a carnival."

So how does the PCA make money, then? Well, for one, the hoarding around the perimeter of the ground sells for much more than at other grounds. He doesn't chase sponsors; they come to him and he uses his position of strength.

And two: corporate hospitality. In India, he points out that the most expensive tickets, priced at Rs10,000 or more, are the first to sell out. There is clearly a market here that isn't being tapped well enough by the BCCI, but at Mohali, Bindra exploits it to the hilt. It also allows him to sell the the cheapest seats so, well, cheaply.

Bindra's Wishlist: Seven - Beat Cricinfo
"The BCCI doesn't yet have a website," says Bindra, "but we [the PCA] have just started our website. It's early days yet, but we believe that it will do well, and maybe after a year, we'll do better than Cricinfo." He looks at me and smiles. When I'd introduced myself to him I'd told him that I'm covering this series for the Guardian, so he doesn't know that I also write for Cricinfo.

I smile at him and wish him luck.

Amit Varma is contributing editor of Cricinfo. He writes the independent blogs, India Uncut and The Middle Stage.

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