The capital crisis
It needed a player of Virender Sehwag's stature to take on the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), even though all he did by threatening to leave Delhi last week was to reveal the tip of the iceberg. It needed Sehwag because everybody else is too small a fry to even raise allegations of maladministration of cricket - especially in matters of selection at various levels - in a city that runs on connections and clout.
This isn't the first time such allegations have been levelled but it is the first time they've had any resonance; most often no official comes out to deny those stories, no newspaper is sued. It almost seems the DDCA is not bothered about its image. This time, junior players found a voice and threatened to follow him out of Delhi. Meanwhile, Sehwag faced a barrage of counter-charges: he'd been bought over by Haryana for a plot of land, he wanted his cousin in the Delhi team. And so on.
Yet Sehwag held firm and his stand, right or wrong, is important because it involves Delhi, a nursery for leading Indian cricketers over the last 10-odd years. That's a fact the DDCA uses in its defence, but which its detractors feel has happened not because of the system but despite it. The detractors point to Delhi's sole Ranji Trophy win in the past 18 seasons and fear the player supply, like the silverware, will dry up. "There will still be a few talented players who will be at the right place and at the right time," says one. "Even a few of the players supported by the sports committee could be good, but that's not how you want them to come up."
Eventually, the matter boils down to the sports committee and its alleged transgressions. Unlike other state associations, Delhi cricket is run by its sports committee, which was created in 1994 to handle the conduct of the local DDCA league and the welfare of its 112 clubs. But the sports committee has become stronger and stronger because of the indifference of the more powerful body, the executive committee, made up largely of mid-level industrialists and small-time businessmen.
The executive committee's peculiarity is that it can't be voted out. "There is no check on them," says a current Delhi player. "There is no opposition. You can't stop them from doing what they want. They get voted in again and again by proxy system." That's another peculiarity of the DDCA - it allows members to pass on their voting rights to others, and it's anyone's guess what is received in exchange.
The sports committee's power lies in the fact that it proposes selectors for every single age-group team. It's possible that the names may not be accepted, but it doesn't usually happen. These teams are the most sought-after, given the avenues they open up, and consequently the selection process is susceptible to fraud. Sehwag was less ambiguous when he first levelled the charge of corruption. "There is too much interference and manipulation from the sports committee in selection committees," he said. "The sports committee has got too much power. There is more interference at the under-16 and under-19 levels than the Ranji Trophy. In a squad of 15, for instance, the sports committee tries to influence the selectors and slip in one or two of 'their own' boys."
His message is clear: if a new Virender Sehwag is to emerge, he'd better come with connections - or be prepared to move out.
As did Rahul Dewan, or Murali Kartik, Amit Mishra, Yashpal Singh and a long list of others. It's anyone's guess what the future holds for Dron Chhabra, a 15-year-old left-arm bowler whom Wasim Akram loved during a fast-bowlers' camp last year and whom John Buchanan wanted in the Kolkata Knight Riders set-up - but who hasn't made Delhi's Under-16 side.
Two years ago, when the 2006-07 season ended, Delhi faced a rebellion similar to the one at hand. Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Mithun Manhas, Aakash Chopra and Ashish Nehra were all gravitating away from the state, fed up with the political interference and selectorial conspiracies. They stayed on, though, and the team played with unity and flair and were a treat to watch. They went on to win the Ranji Trophy. Vijay Dahiya, the coach, said the crucial - and the most challenging - part of his job then was to take all that stuff off the players' minds and make sure that when they walked out on the field, they were in a mental state conducive to them giving their best.
That championship didn't change things off the field, however. Officials still took the players for granted - Kheloge to Ranji Trophy hi na [all you'll play is Ranji Trophy], they were told - and till date Delhi still doesn't have a single indoor training facility nor have other financial issues been sorted out. The limit on outstation players in Ranji cricket inhibited players' movement and left them feeling shackled.
Former players feel badly about the situation but say it is too big a cultural shock to try and make a change. "I feel so sad that I have played for Delhi and can't do anything about it," says Maninder Singh, the former India left-arm spinner. "You just can't go there and mix with people who are playing politics all the time. Bishan paaji [Bishan Bedi] has been trying for a number of years, but you can't beat them because it is a proxy system. [Only] if people come and vote can you convince them of the need to change things. Everybody adds to the corruption. I hate to say this, but there are people sitting there, who get these proxies by pleasing clubs, by giving somebody a local manager's job, a coach's job, by playing somebody's son or nephew. As far as I am concerned, I can't join them."
It's not as if no other player has protested before but they have made little difference. There is reason to feel that Sehwag might succeed. He meets Arun Jaitley, the DDCA president, on Tuesday to try and end the impasse. There are reports that a compromise has already been worked out. But if Delhi cricket is to turn for the better, Sehwag will have to go the whole hog. Else his protest will just be a reference point for the next time another top player raises his voice.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo