India news November 20, 2010

KSCA readies for potentially historic election

February 7, 1999 is a day neither Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath nor umpire AV Jayaprakash will forget. It was when Kumble became only the second man to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings, Srinath was his teammate and Jayaprakash stood at Kumble's end. Twelve years on, November 21, 2010 will be another day that neither Kumble, Srinath nor Jayaprakash are likely to forget.

The two ex-cricketers find themselves opposite the umpire in one of the most closely-watched state cricket elections in India in a long while. Kumble is running for president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) against the incumbent, Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, the former Maharaja of Mysore. Jayaprakash is no longer a neutral observer - he is up against Srinath for the post of secretary.

Jayaprakash, though, does not think of himself as being in opposition to the cricketers, telling ESPNcricinfo, "I am not contesting against them. We are contesting together. It is just for the members to decide."

Of his battle for the post of secretary he says, "Of course it is one post and both of us are there, but whoever wins, we will work as a team, for the association. There is nothing like against or anything. We have nothing against each other."

The elections, Jayaprakash said, was a family matter. "It would be difficult if I had any enmity against them, or if they had any enmity against me. We are members of a family, somebody has to run it, and that's what we have to decide. It's like Sree [Srinath] and me are batting together, it is for the members to take one of us out. Then after the innings, we come back and work as a team."

Apart from such camaraderie, this will be a very different Indian state cricket association election. Three of Karnataka's best cricketers - Venkatesh Prasad is contesting for the vice-president's post - are in it as a team and another, Rahul Dravid, has voiced his support for the trio Earlier this week, just before the third Test versus New Zealand, Dravid flew down to Bangalore from Hyderabad to speak for his campaigning teammates.

On Friday night, Wadiyar's most prominent ally, business tycoon Vijay Mallya, turned up on the other side, somewhat like a safety car on a Formula 1 track, to keep the weight of the cricketers' influence in the election up front. He declared his support for Kumble's team, saying, "Cricketers are the biggest stakeholders in Karnataka cricket, and I think people who can take Karnataka cricket forward are those who have [cricketing] blood in their veins ... We need cricketing people to give it a cricketing framework and I believe this team [Kumble's] can do that."

What makes this election even more significant is the willingness of a cricketer of Kumble's stature to put his reputation on the line instead of accepting a role from the current administration, a strategy the Maharaja's group tried to pursue by entering into discussions with the cricketers. On Wednesday, S Krishna Murthy, one of the candidates for vice-president, told the media, "It is a fallacy to think that only cricketers can run administration. We do need people with financial and engineering skills too... (We) have had discussions with Kumble and Srinath and we told them to join our team, learn how administration works and then take over after a year. We did not want elections, but unfortunately the discussions fell through."

Kumble, Srinath and Prasad have all held administrative posts with the BCCI and the ICC. Kumble was named the chairman of the National Cricket Academy in September, while Srinath has been an ICC match referee since 2006. Prasad, currently the bowling coach with Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, has coached the India Under-17 team and the Karnataka Ranji team and was the bowling coach of the national side for two years. He has an administration management degree from the Asian Cricket Council, and is now on assignment with the ACC to help promote the game and develop talent in countries that do not have a cricket playing tradition.

The stalled discussions between the two rival groups is a reflection of the drive of Karnataka's most contemporary cricket stalwarts to establish a new order. "We are serious about this. This is about cricket first. Recreation and everything else is second," Srinath said. "The aim is to improve the quality of cricket in Karnataka, to continue to throw up world class talent."

Their show of commitment was strong enough to lead to KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel standing down from an association he controlled for over a decade. Wadiyar's men will want to prove that their loyalties within the KSCA are stronger, and therefore able to counter the pull of big names, and with Mallya, big business as well.

Despite Jayaprakash's claim that the elections are a minor family affair, both sides have spent the last two weeks actively campaigning. It has involved dozens of personal meetings and hundreds of phone calls, amongst the 229 clubs and 1200 individual members who make up the KSCA vote bank. The results of one of the most anticipated of Indian cricket elections should be out on the night of November 21.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo, Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo