August 5, 2013

Does credibility matter to the BCCI?

Sanjay Manjrekar and Sambit Bal talk about the sticky situation the Indian board finds itself in, and its president, who has become a magnet for negative opinion

Raunak Kapoor: Indian cricket finds itself facing a serious credibility crisis. Welcome to ESPNcricinfo for a special discussion on that very crisis, I am Raunak Kapoor, and joining me are former India batsman and television commentator Sanjay Manjrekar and ESPNcricinfo's editor-in-chief Sambit Bal.

We'll get the thoughts of Sambit and Sanjay in just a moment but here's what former India captain Rahul Dravid had to say in an exclusive interview when he spoke to Sambit Bal on the importance of credibility, especially when you live the public life.

Rahul Dravid: There are so many fans and so many people who care deeply about this game and it is because of these fans that we are who we are as cricketers. Administrators are there because of the fans and the cricketers to run this game, so credibility of a game, or a board, or even a government for that matter, is important irrespective of what you do. If you are in public life it is important.

Things like this don't help, when we are on the front pages of the newspapers and not on the back. A certain amount of reverence, respect and love for cricketers can diminish, and I think it's a really, really sad thing for cricket in this country if that had to happen.

RK: Sanjay, I'll start with you, Rahul emphasises how important credibility is. Now we seem to be in a situation where everyone seems to know exactly what the BCCI needs to do, except the BCCI themselves. Can we infer from this that the BCCI doesn't really care about establishing credibility or safeguarding it?

Sanjay Manjrekar: Completely agree with what Rahul has said about credibility. I think it is important. But let's not forget India is a very strange country when it comes to cricket and the fans. They follow Indian cricket and - I've said this on public platforms - they follow Indian cricket unconditionally.

When the match-fixing chapter was written in Indian cricket in 1999-2000, when some of the Indian stalwarts were banned, people thought Indian cricket had this severe jolt of credibility and it would all be downhill from then on. I remember there was an India-Zimbabwe series at home immediately after that particular event and every seat in the stadium was taken.

So somewhere I think the administrators know that despite all this, the people will still follow this game passionately. There will still be those kind of numbers that make India such a powerhouse in world cricket, so that is where I think all of us are slightly fortunate: that despite making all kinds of mistakes which take their toll on the credibility of Indian cricket, the fans don't seem to respond as much.

You saw it in the last IPL as well. I know the final match was a bit damp because there were such glaring revelations before it, but it didn't seem to do the kind of damage that one would have expected.

Somewhere the administrators feel that they can get away with this, and I think that doesn't quite help in building enough pressure in the management of Indian cricket.

However, I think it is important to remember that the fan is evolving. New fans coming into the sport will be a lot more demanding on how Indian cricket functions, [especially with] social media coming into full force. I think the Indian fans have loved cricket unconditionally but that is something the administrators or the BCCI cannot take for granted for too long.

RK: Sambit, the fans today seem to have a different approach. They seem to be more angry. They seem to want some kind of reform, but yet they remain loyal, as Sanjay said. The fact that there is such a loyal fan following, does it not add more responsibility on the administration?

Sambit Bal: I think the fans have in their mind somehow separated cricket from BCCI. They seem to think that cricket is something else. If you go out and speak to anybody, sometimes, even unfairly, they blame the BCCI for everything. It's a unique situation in India because you can't do without cricket. There's nothing else beside cricket, there's no other sport.

You don't have an alternative, and sadly it's a reality that credibility is not an aspiration for the Indian cricket board. What they aspire for is money, clout, power, and once those boxes are ticked, credibility hardly comes into the equation. I could say it's a subcontinental trait. Some of them are dysfunctional, some of them are corrupt, and the BCCI are oblivious to everything else.

RK: Sambit mentions about how the BCCI are sometimes prey to accusations that they don't necessarily merit, but that seems to be a reputation that they've created by the way they handle themselves. Sanjay, you drew a comparison earlier with the 2000 match-fixing saga. Indian cricket has been through its highs and lows; this is probably the lowest it has ever hit. What is the difference in the way the BCCI handled both situations? Back then, we don't remember blaming the BCCI as we are doing so right now.

"If an owner is arrested by the police on suspicion of either betting or other things, it's a bit like staff in the office found guilty of malpractice, and the CEO, which is a bigger threat to the company"
Sanjay Manjrekar

SM: To be fair, as Sambit said, I think the fans are able to separate the cricket body from the cricket players. So I think the cricket fans were really jolted back in 1999-2000, when some of the famous names were found to be guilty of match-fixing. Now with administrators and fringe players suspected of spot-fixing and being corrupt, I don't think it's as serious a jolt as it was that time when people like Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja who were big stars at the time, and some other names were being dragged in.

That was a much more serious chapter and I thought the Indian cricket board at that time handled that issue much better than all the other cricket boards. Some of the other cricket boards were willing to brush everything under the carpet, which is now attributed more as the Indian style.

In fact, India was the only country at the time willing to take some severe measures, banning Azharuddin for life; Ajay Jadeja as well. I think there was an effort made to tackle the issues.

Hansie Cronje's revelation would not have come had Hansie himself not come out in the open. His conscience started to trouble him. His cricket board actually tried to protect him and cover up the whole issue, so at that time I think the Indian cricket board handled the issue pretty well.

The problem I think for the Indian cricket board is that all the internal inquiries that the BCCI has never hold water in court. Jadeja got his ban overthrown by the courts, Azharuddin did it very recently, and yet again a panel inquiry has been termed illegal by the courts. So I think that's a lesson learned - that perhaps the internal inquiries that happen should have some merit when they are challenged in the courts of India.

SB: It's almost laughable that the inquiry that has been deemed illegal by the court [has been dismissed] really on technical grounds. The question that people should be asking is not about how the inquiry commission was set up but what it was set up to do. That's what I find far more annoying, because this commission seems to have been set up with the singular objective of quickly giving a clean chit.

We don't know what the terms of reference were, and in fact one of the judges came out and said: The evidence can only be given by BCCI. We are not allowed to talk to the media or go out and gather any evidence ourselves. So it's a strange case of the accused trying to form a committee. Who thought the police was actually going to depose before them?

This was a domestic inquiry by a private body. So why did anybody think that the Delhi police and the Bombay police, who are professionally investigating the case, would go and depose?

RK: The merits of it simply are that the court has booted the panel out on the grounds that it was against the operational rules of the BCCI, which required a member of the BCCI's behavioural committee to be on it. If there was a member of the behavioural committee on it, then this panel's findings would have stood.

SB: In fact, BCCI is unlucky that they didn't have a member from their committee on the panel. If they had, then this finding would have been valid and we would have had Mr Srinivasan back as president.

RK: Sambit brought up the point, Sanjay, about what this panel was really set up to do. When this committee was formed, you said earlier that there should be more weight given to these domestic inquiries. What were you expecting this panel to do, and has it really lived up to expectations?

SM: It was an internal inquiry, with all its limitations. It would never have the information or the evidence that you want to make a judgement and decide whether one is clean or guilty. That would have come only if they had police reports, which they weren't going to have.

The Mumbai police, from what we hear, didn't cooperate with the panel, so it had its limitations, and the verdict they've pronounced hasn't taken anyone by surprise.

I think what is going to be critical is getting the real verdict, and the correct action will be seen only once one gets the police reports from Delhi and Mumbai. Once you have that - and I'm sure that will also be challenged in the courts - I think it's only then that you will know whether Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra were guilty and were acting against the IPL and doing some damage to its credibility, and of course because of the relationship to the president of the BCCI.

SB: A false impression has been created. I'm not saying that the BCCI has created that impression, but I think the way the matter has been reported, it is as if these guys were accused of spot-fixing. Nobody knows what they have been cleared of. Nobody accused either Meiyappan or Raj Kundra, forget Mr Srininvasan, he was never accused of anything, so what have they been cleared of? Clearly [information from the] police investigation that has come out in the public domain suggests that both these people have supposedly or reportedly confessed to betting.

Betting per se has nothing to do with cricket, but betting is illegal in this country, and what is the most important thing for me in this whole thing is the matter of propriety. There was a ridiculous suggestion made or explanation given that Meiyappan was not a team owner. Maybe technically he was not, but what was he doing in the dugout, wearing "Team Owner" badges? It's on video. If he was not an owner then he was breaking the IPL's rules match after match. The only people who are supposed to be in the dugout according to IPL rules and constitution are team owners.

SM: This is why I made a comment on a public platform, that an owner or somebody senior who was supposedly in charge of a cricket team, if he's arrested by the police on suspicion of either betting or other things - that I think is a more serious threat to the IPL, because it's a bit like staff in the office found guilty of malpractice, and the CEO of the company, which is a bigger threat to the company, and the problem I have with owners getting involved in betting is the logical thought of suspicion that the fans and everybody would have then of: how can you be sure that it's only going to be betting, because it's such a fine line from betting and being able to win your bets by controlling some aspects of the team you are an owner of.

So that's why when you have owners betting on matches where their team is participating, it is a very, very dangerous trend, and that's why I think it should be viewed with gravity and as a serious threat.

I've been a huge fan of the IPL. Last season, when you saw owners being accused of betting in the IPL and one owner actually confessing that he was betting - that, for me, is a huge dent to the image of the IPL.

SB: And you also saw, Sanjay, two kinds of responses that came from the board. When the police accused the players, the action was decisive. The players were suspended immediately. No questions asked. Nobody said, "We will do our own investigations." They appointed a committee, but they took clear and immediate action.

But when it came to the team owners - and I'm going to say that Raj Kundra and Rajasthan Royals were fortunate that Chennai Super Kings were also involved in this - then you saw a different kind of response. They said we will inquire into this, and they have given them a clean chit, [after] an internal inquiry.

So what will happen if Ravi Sawani's commission, which is taking much longer - and that's how it should be; I don't think you can investigate this in 30 days - so if Ravi Sawani's report is clear and the investigation is still going on and these guys are still in jail, will the BCCI take them back?

RK: We've spoke about the propriety issue. The BCCI made all the right noises back then when the players were arrested, and that's probably what created the expectation. They perhaps missed a great opportunity one would think when it came to the team owners.

The police investigation is still ongoing but that will take its course. Sanjay, you mentioned that we must wait to see what course that takes and what the verdict is, but let's get into the three words that seem to have summed up this controversy: conflict of interest. Don't you think it is ideal for Mr Srinivasan - not that we are accusing him of any wrongdoing, as Sambit said, but isn't it right on moral grounds that he simply step aside?

SM: Okay, this is what I have to say about Mr Srinivasan. You know there are lots of things to like about him as an administrator. The first thing is he is an administrator who came from the grassroots. He is not one of those administrators who develop a sudden interest in cricket and want to take the top job in cricket administration.

He had his own company team, and the stories that I've heard is that he would have one of his men sitting there during the club matches and keep him posted on what his team's score was. He was a man who was very interested in his company team, at the club level, so a man genuinely fond of the game.

It took him a long time to climb the ladder, and I'm told he was reluctant to get into the state administration of cricket, but that happened in due course. So he's a guy who has grown through the system, which is excellent.

But I think what has happened in the last few months has become more of a personal thing with the president of the BCCI, and the question he needs to ask himself is: the position that he's taken in the last few months, is it helping the image of Indian cricket? Is it good for Indian cricket? And we know what the answer to that is.

SB: I agree with most of what Sanjay has said. I don't know Mr Srinivasan that well but I've spent about an hour or so with him and it's easy to see his love for cricket. To say that he is a man of cricket - he is, there is no doubt about that.

But I don't think this is a thing that has happened in the last five or six months. I think it started the moment the BCCI's rules allowed a BCCI office bearer to own an IPL team. It was always going to lead to this. I don't [know] how some people think it's not a conflict of interest. I've had this discussion with many people - and these are people I trust and respect - and they don't see it as a conflict of interest.

"When the police accused the players, the action was decisive. The players were suspended immediately. No questions asked. Nobody said we will do our own investigations into this. But when it came to the team owners, you saw a different kind of response"
Sambit Bal

How can you run a board, be the president of a board, and own a team that is supposed to be equal to the other eight teams? You make the rules, you decide on disciplinary matters, and this latest incident is just an extension of that. When Mr Srinivasan's son-in-law was arrested and accused of something, he said, "What have I done?"

He did step aside but he didn't do that voluntarily. He did it after there was enormous pressure on him to do it. I don't know how you do not see a situation where your own board is investigating your son-in-law, and how can you remain president?

It's not a question of whether you have done something wrong, it's a question of propriety, perception, and all those things put together, and it comes with holding a high office and a public office.

SM: I think Sambit is quite right, I think that is the basis of the angst that people have against Mr Srinivasan, because every time they attack him, they go to the clash-of-interest issue, and I think that is something the cricketing community outside of the BCCI has never been comfortable with. I'm sure in the English cricket board and the Australian cricket board, we would never have a situation like this.

So yes, I think that is something that has always gone against him, and if you see in this whole spot-fixing thing, the media has gone more after Srinivasan than [they have] actually put pressure on the BCCI to cleanse Indian cricket or the IPL. So it has become a very personal thing between Srinivasan and the media. I think the clash of interest is the major reason why people are out to attack him.

The other thing that has happened, unfortunately, under his regime is that the image of the BCCI has worsened in the last two years despite, I'm sure, his best efforts. There is an image of arrogance that the BCCI has at the moment, which is unfortunate, and I think the BCCI should realise that they may not like the media, but media is the one channel that gets through to the millions and millions of cricket fans that they have.

If they keep the media in good spirits, they'll have a much healthier relationship with their fans. I'm not saying that suddenly the media will support the BCCI. As an administrative organisation, they should know that they'll get more criticism than praise, but in times like this I think they would have just got a better deal from the media.

Why is the media again making such an issue of the spot-fixing thing? Because Srinivasan has come back into power, it's almost as if they don't care if spot-fixing is erased from IPL or corruption is removed, it's more like they want Srinivasan removed.

SB: In a sense it's deflecting attention from the real issues. Srinivasan is not the real issue. I'm afraid the real issues of spot-fixing and betting will be forgotten and Srinivasan will become the target.

I want to add one little point to what Sanjay was saying on the BCCI's relationship with the media. What I've seen in the last couple of years is that there is a tendency to think, either you're with us or against us, and that is not the media's job, and that is what the BCCI has systematically gone and done with its commentators. "If you work on a BCCI platform, you have to be almost a marketing person for us."

You had to effectively be a cheerleader for Indian cricket and the BCCI, and that is why they've not only destroyed their own credibility, they have single-handedly destroyed the credibility of all cricket commentators in this country. There are a few exceptions. One of them is of course on our show now, and I hope, Sanjay, that you don't lose your job because of this.

RK: Last question to both of you. If all the attention has gone rightly or wrongly to Mr Srinivasan, it is he who is surely in the best position to make it go away, isn't he?

SM: Ideally, yes, he would sense that by him just stepping aside and by the law taking its natural course, that might just help the image of the BCCI at the moment.

You know, somewhere I think Srinivasan would genuinely be feeling, "I have done nothing wrong and I just have this relationship with a person who has been alleged to be betting." So until that is proved, he must be feeling in his own mind that he's got all the right to be president of the BCCI, a position that he's earned, a position that I'm sure is not easy to occupy, with the kind of politicians in the Indian system for somebody who is not a politician. A man who is just a cricket administrator with a very impressive corporate background - I'm sure it's not easy for him to occupy such a position. As I said, the question that he needs to ask himself is: what is in the best interest of the BCCI and Indian cricket?

SB: You know, sometimes it's not easy to do that, but if you can manage to slightly detach yourself from the present and see how history is going to judge you… in fact, I think his dignity and respect will only rise in the eyes of the people if he does what is expected of him. Step aside, let the law take its course, and whether he will come back as BCCI president or not, in the span of a lifetime, it perhaps won't matter. People might remember him as somebody who did the right thing. That should count for something.

RK: We'll end on that note gentlemen. Thank you very much for your time, Sanjay Manjrekar and Sambit Bal.

Do log on to the site for the latest developments on this story, and also do keep an eye out for the full video interview with Rahul Dravid, which should be out soon.