Pawns in a larger game
This week two teams made the 600km, ten-and-a-half hour train journey from Jaipur to Indore to take part in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the domestic Twenty20 competition. They represented the two factions claiming to control the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA). After approximately 24 hours in Indore, both sides turned around and headed back to Rajasthan.
The first team to arrive in Indore, one announced by the RCA via a scribbled fax, was led by veteran batsman Gagan Khoda. The second was led by Rohit Jhalani, a batsman with 52 first-class matches to his credit, who called it a proper Rajasthan side with experienced players. The Khoda-led team turned up at the stadium only to be turned away; the second didn't even make the trip from their hotel to the venue.
Welcome to the murky world of Rajasthan cricket, where an ongoing power struggle - primarily between Lalit Modi, one of cricket's most powerful people, and a senior bureaucrat, Sanjay Dixit - threatens the immediate future of its players. While the big men battle it out, the players are collateral damage, caught in the middle and uncertain of the present and future. Last week, two teams sent to the Under-19 National Women's Championship were both refused permission to participate.
The BCCI's stance is that it will not allow either side to participate until a clear governing body is identified. "Since there is no clarity about which is the proper side representing Rajasthan, we can't allow either teams," Ratnakar Shetty, BCCI's chief administrative officer, told Cricinfo.
The origins of this mess can be traced back to March, when Sanjay Dixit defeated Lalit Modi in the RCA elections. Since then the parties have been sniping and plotting, culminating in a sort of coup in September when a group backed by Modi claimed to have removed the incumbent, Dixit, through a no-confidence motion. It was decided that fresh elections would be held on October 14, but that was postponed to November 19.
The seeds of doubt were sown in the players minds in the months following the March election. "We knew there were two parties fighting and we were wary of this affecting our cricket," said one player on condition of anonymity (most players Cricinfo spoke to on this issue didn't want to be quoted, for obvious reasons.) "We were told that matters would be resolved soon but this clearly has not been the case. It's most worrying because we need to plan for our future. A lot of us rely on playing cricket as a means of income."
The prevailing feeling is of confusion, which would be laughable were it not so serious. When the Rajasthan squad assembled in Jaipur earlier this month, says a source close to the RCA, players were unsure of what exactly was happening but, wary of questioning authority, went along with what their closest team-mates were doing. The Modi party, headed by Rajendra Singh Rathore, and the Dixit party each tried to get players on their side, with the result that two teams caught the train to Indore. Each one was led to believe it was representing Rajasthan.
The players weren't even unsure of whom they were representing. "I have no idea whose side I am playing for," one senior player said. Another said he was sent to play for Dixit's side but was named in what the tournament's official scorers say is the Modi-backed group's nomination. The scorers - the final authority in any cricket tournament - can't even confirm which party has faxed copies of a 16-player squad because the A4 heading merely stating the source or origin as the RCA headquarters in Jaipur.
There was no dialogue between the players and their board as to why there being sent back; the directive had come from the BCCI. As it now stands, the two teams have returned to Rajasthan where they hope to understand more about the situation and, more importantly, get an answer about their season prospects.
Former India batsman Hemang Badani, who signed for Rajasthan earlier this year, is less concerned for his own future than for the younger generation of players. "It is very frustrating that cricket is the loser here," he told Cricinfo. "It will have a massive effect on the players, especially the younger ones who have much to offer Rajasthan cricket. We all trained very hard to reach here and then were told to return home. It's totally unfair on the players. I'm told there is a good talent pool in Rajasthan cricket. What happens now? Where do they go? They would have been able to make a case for Ranji selection, push for IPL contracts."
Badani fears the mess will not be sorted out by the time Rajasthan open their Ranji Trophy campaign on November 3.
Manoj Prabhakar, the former India allrounder, who was appointed Rajasthan coach ahead of the season, is similarly wondering what the next chapter will be. Having landed in Indore with Khoda's squad, he is miffed at being turned away. "We just hope the matter gets sorted because it's really disappointing to have been sent out of Indore," he said. "We have a season starting and we need to be in the right frame of mind. This isn't the way cricket should be run."
Jhalani, who has represented Rajasthan for more than a decade, was left to sit with his batch of players and await notice of their fate. "That's really all we could do," he said. "Do we have a say? No. The players, the coaches, the staff, we just waited. The coaches were in contact with the administration in Rajasthan. We were told we are the official side representing Rajasthan, but then we landed and were told there was another. Now we have been disqualified. Will we get any answers? We can only hope."
Fast bowler Pankaj Singh was not with either side due to personal reasons but was in regular contact with some of the players. He too is worried about the Ranji season prospects. "The matter isn't restricted to this one tournament in Indore," he said. "It could easily affect us for the four-day games as well. This is not a good climate to be playing cricket in."
Ajay Jadeja, who played for Rajasthan for two seasons after leaving Delhi in 2005, put the blame squarely on the two factions. "This will definitely affect the morale of players, because sitting there in their hotel rooms they wouldn't have a clue about what has happened. It's not even like a tug of war where the players have a say; it's just down to two arguing parties somewhere else."
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo