Helpless Rajasthan's players 'in a dilemma'
The continuing impasse between the BCCI and the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) has left the players confused and distressed. The players feel both sides, which are charged with protecting their interests, have let them down. They feel they are caught between the vague offers of the BCCI and the silence of RCA president Lalit Modi.
"The RCA is trying to challenge the BCCI ban. But neither the RCA nor the BCCI are coming up with any options for the players," a senior Rajasthan player told ESPNcricinfo. He said in the current situation players should be told they will get some sort of help, and in case things are not sorted out the players should still be shown some direction rather than being forced to sit at home. He pointed out that most of the year players "are waiting" to play the domestic season and then, suddenly, they are now faced a situation where "we can't do anything".
On Sunday players got a call from the RCA, asking them to report to the preparatory camp starting at the academy grounds inside the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur from Tuesday. That was not really news to the players since, during the pre-season fitness camp in July, they had been told training sessions would commence on August 20. But it was the timing of the call that surprised the players, and confused them too, seeing as just last week the BCCI had omitted Rajasthan from Ranji Trophy, women's tournaments and all age-group cricket - Under-16, Under-19, Under-23. Following that, the RCA did not feature in the central zone meeting organised to finalise venues for zonal age-group tournaments.
Mehmood Abdi, a senior member of the RCA executive board, called the BCCI move a PR exercise. According to him the RCA was sticking to its activity calendar. Accordingly, the camp for the senior team started today and will go on till September 8. The Challenger Trophy for Under-19s will be held between September 4 and 6 in Jaipur, from which the ODI colts team will be picked.
Despite Abdi's words, the sidelining of the RCA has not been lost on the players, who questioned the usefulness of the camp. The senior player, who was spending time with his family, said he and his team-mates had no other alternative but to attend the camp. "What else can we do?" he pointed out, adding if he did not it could harm his chances.
Through all this Modi, expelled by the BCCI but elected as RCA president in May, has made himself scarce. The Rajasthan players want Modi to address them directly. According to the senior player, there has been no proper communication till date "explaining the situation to us". He felt "the simplest thing" that can be done is to speak to the players.
Even the assurances of BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel, who had said that if a Rajasthan player wanted to turn professional (meaning, sign up with another domestic team) he would keep that option open to them till the very last minute before the season starts in October, has not offered much comfort. According to a few Rajasthan players it was not such a straightforward decision to turn professional and turn up for another state.
For some, shifting teams is not the preferred option; one of the players pointed out that he could have turned professional a few years ago but representing Rajasthan remained his priority. The player said: "Nothing is clear about till when the ban on RCA will last. In such a scenario, to decide whether to play as professional is not so easy. To run away is not the answer."
Another reason the players do not want to risk moving out is, "what if by next month the problem is sorted out"? There is no clear-cut answer. The players say they are "in a dilemma". They "definitely" want to play for Rajasthan, that remains their "first" preference. But more than anything "we want to play cricket", a player explained.
After Modi assumed the RCA presidency, he immediately declared no amount of coercion from the BCCI would defeat him. He assured the elected members as well as players that the issues that developed under his predecessor, CP Joshi, would be turned around.
While addressing the executive committee in the last week of August, Modi, speaking from London via video conferencing, assured the various district units and the RCA administration that he would handle the situation and asked them to stay put. Exactly what - if any sort - of truce he is willing to sign or concessions he is open to, no one was aware of. But his combative attitude has only added to the confusion.
Despite having suspended the RCA the BCCI had said that it would not neglect the players and would keep the slot for Rajasthan open in case the Brijesh Patel-led committee could resolve the deadlock between BCCI, RCA and the Rajasthan government.
In early August three members of the ad-hoc committee, appointed by the BCCI to oversee disputed states, met Rajeev Maharshi (chief secretary) and JC Mohanty (principal secretary, sports) of the Rajasthan government, to seek some clarifications and assurances as well as highlight the issues between the BCCI and the RCA. It is understood that the committee explained the BCCI's plan to remedy the situation to the government officials.
Modi had utilised the Rajasthan Sports Act, which governs the constitution of the RCA, to come back to power in spite of his BCCI ban. Hence the committee was obliged to keep the state government in the loop. Even if the BCCI believes the issue is between the board and the RCA, it wanted to make sure it would not be faced with any future legal implications if it were to go ahead and select players for various teams itself, under the Rajasthan banner.
Apparently, the Rajasthan Sports Act prohibits the use of word Rajasthan without permission. It also states that the only a body affiliated and registered with the registrar can manage and govern the game, which in this case is RCA.
Despite that meeting, though, things have not moved forward on the legal front for the BCCI. "Currently things are just languishing. The sub-committee has not got any directions from the board's legal cell yet," a BCCI official said.
The official said he was confident about the players' future being secure. "I am sure the teams will play ultimately. Whatever happens, the players will not lose out. I can understand their anxiety, that the season is approaching and there is lack of clarity. But in the end I do not think there is no Rajasthan. Because it is bad for everyone: BCCI, RCA, Rajasthan government, for everybody involved. Nobody wants that to happen."
These may well remain empty words to the players, though, till both the BCCI and the RCA personally speak to them.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo