Grave beginnings, farcical endings
One of the gravest days in Indian cricket in recent years ended on a note of high farce. A long day filled with board officials and committee members meeting behind closed doors, of which four-and-a-half hours constituted a meeting of a committee specifically appointed to review the team's performance and address the issue of a spat between captain and coach that has threatened to cleave Indian cricket in two, was dismissed in four-and-a-half minutes. Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the president of the body that runs cricket in this country, cut a sorry figure, laughing at inappropriate moments, tripping over himself answering simple questions, and dodging the more forthright ones.
But perhaps it was only fitting that no clarity should emerge, and no real decisions be taken, on such a day. A high-powered committee - including three former Indian captains - entered the hotel in cloak and dagger fashion through a side entrance. A posse of photographers were waiting at the main entrance for hours, and it was only after 1:00pm that they gave up the ghost, when news filtered out that the meeting had begun at 12.30pm. There was no-one from the board to disseminate information, and to cap it all, Mahendra announced that, in future, the captain, coach, and players were all gagged from speaking to the media about the issue.
Ironically, the most explosive leak in recent times emerged from a board official, not the captain, the coach or any players. And Mahendra said the matter was being investigated. The gravity of a confidential email from coach to employers being leaked seemed to be lost on Mahendra, who dismissed the matter saying no committee was needed to investigate this matter, and that the board "has its ways" of conducting its own investigations. All the while shushing certain journalists who doggedly followed up one question with five, Mahendra even sported a big grin, a mischievous one, some might say, when he said, "No," to the question of whether Chappell would be communicating to the board via email in the future.
The key questions remained unanswered - were captain and coach sufficiently happy with the situation post the review meeting? Did the board really believe that the two could work together harmoniously? Has there been a softening of stance from coach on the grave misdemeanours he had attributed to the captain?
Mahendra seemed to forget that he was addressing 100-odd journalists who had waited all day in mounting anticipation, amid a mad flurry of reporting every tiny morsel. He spoke like a clown would to a group of toddlers at a birthday party, expecting laughter at the right points, silence at others, and wonder and amazement at the revelations. When asked what was going to be done about the reported indiscipline in the team - a very, very serious matter - Mahendra retorted, "What should we do? Hang them?" If the board president believes indiscipline is a laughing matter, then you have to ask what exactly goes on in his mind.
When he said that Ganguly and Chappell had assured the board they would work together, you had to wonder what miracle this review panel had worked. On the morning of the meeting, neither Ganguly nor Chappell had backed away from the confrontation, and both were waiting for the other to blink first. Does Mahendra expect us to believe that this panel had, with the aid of some witchcraft, cast a spell on these two determined, headstrong individuals, causing them to bury the hatchet, kiss and make up?
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo