Lodha panel recommends forming players' association
Among the more sweeping of the Lodha committee's recommendations is a players' association, intended as a "necessary" mechanism for addressing player concerns. It would be radical because India is the only Test-playing nation not to have a players' association - and has not contemplated one in the recent past. The BCCI has historically opposed the idea and two earlier attempts have come to naught; this latest venture, if mandated, will be financed by the board and comprise only those players who have retired from competitive cricket in all forms.
The committee has appointed a four-member standing committee, comprising former union home secretary GK Pillai (chairperson) and former India cricketers Mohinder Amarnath, Anil Kumble and former India women captain Diana Edulji, to "identify and invite all eligible ex-cricketers to be members, to open bank accounts, receive funds from the BCCI, conduct the first elections for office bearers, communicate the names of BCCI player nominees to the board."
The committee, having taken note of the BCCI's "apprehension of unionisation", has deemed it important to give the players "a voice to raise their concerns" while barring them from forming a "trade union of any sort." It recommends the need to advance the welfare of players, including insurance, medical and other commercial benefits.
In the early 2000s, a group of players, including MAK Pataudi (president), Arun Lal (secretary), Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Ravi Shastri and Abbas Ali Baig were the founding members of a players' association, but that eventually served as no more than a means to the end of player contracts.
"The BCCI would tell the senior players 'we will give you what you want, why do you need an association?'," a source privy to the formation of the association then told ESPNcricinfo. "They would talk to Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Kumble as senior players but not as representatives of a players' association."
He said there was an effort to organise a body under Kapil Dev as the president in the late 80s as well to put forward genuine concerns. "Playing cricket was not a career then. Ranji Trophy cricketers would only get Rs 50 a day to play a match. This was not [an attempt to get] a larger share of the pie, it's just genuine concerns."
The source said the board always looked at players' associations as "anti-establishment" bodies, and would discourage them overtly and covertly. "Everybody didn't join because they were scared. I don't blame them. If my state association secretary warns me against joining such an association, how will I dare join then?"
Former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath felt the players' association was a greater responsibility of the players than the board. "It's up to the boys," he said. "At that time we felt there was a need for all of us to come together. We started cricket as a profession [for the first time]. Anything of that sort is always a start and stop kind of thing in India.
"Even if it was started by someone there have to be reasons for players to see what could be achieved from players' association."
The source, however, felt the senior players in the early 2000s didn't carry forward the early momentum that was achieved. "It's also the fault of the players because you start something with conviction and you don't follow it through," he said. "They were the power base at the time and owed it to the next generation to carry it through.
"The BCCI was willing to help out as long as you approached them as players and not as players' association representatives. The best way to kill an association is give them what they want so that there is no need for one for a while, and it dies a natural death."
Srinath, though, was of the belief the time was ripe for such an association to come into being, given that players have a more professional outlook.
"Cricket has taken such a big professional dimension in India. It will be good for the game, the board and the players," he said. "I think more than addressing the rights, it's players coming under the umbrella, players starting to accept various contracts.
"It's just not about fighting for your rights alone, because most things are taken care of. The odd incident has to be customised, but I don't think any player is put under any financial discomfort. "
A BCCI official took a contrarian view and suggested that the creation of such associations would encourage politicisation and politicking among players.
"Such politics is already there in the BCCI and a lot of state associations, and you curse it day in and day out," he said. "You will have a situation where this will happen among players as well. Why would you want that? Won't these associations have control over players and create lobbies? In any case, the interests of the players have been traditionally looked after by the BCCI more than anybody else."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo