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The Abhijit Kale case

Tackle the disease, not the symptom

The Kale case, irrespective of the truth, is only a manifestation of a serious and deep-rooted malaise

Sambit Bal

December 4, 2003

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Irrespective of what the one-man enquiry commission appointed by the BCCI to investigate the bribery scandal has unearthed, it is hard to imagine that a case against Abhijit Kale will stand up in the court of law. Unless Kiran More and Pranab Roy, the two selectors who have taken the case against Kale to the BCCI, had the foresight and the cunning to conduct a sting operation, it will always remain their words against his, and if Kale decides to pursue the case to its legal end, he might win.

Suggestions have been made that the BCCI acted in improper and uncharacteristic haste in punishing a player on a "mere allegation". It has been pointed out, perhaps rightly, that it is unlikely that the board would have acted promptly had a graft charge been levelled at an administrator. Some would go further, to charge the board of inaction against a couple of selectors rumoured to have sent Noel "Who?" David to the West Indies in 1997, for considerations other than cricket. A player, it is argued, is easy meat for the board because he does not threaten to alter power equations and has no bargaining chips.

On a broader level, most of this is true. One of the selectors allegedly involved in the David affair has, in fact, now been entrusted with an important job with the Indian national team. The Indian cricket establishment is an anachronistic beast that feeds on personal aggrandisement, manipulations and powerbroking. But that said, it is important to judge this case on its isolated merit before moving on to its broader ramifications. After all, past wrongs don't make a present right wrong. In this case, the board acted as swiftly as it ought to have and the suspension of Kale, while it might not stand up in a court of law, was in tune with the conduct of a private organisation dealing with a serious charge against one of its constituents.

It is relevant to point out that while the BCCI was well within its rights to probe earlier cases of suspected impropriety in team selection, all those cases were based on insinuations and whispers. Suo moto action would have been wonderful and, indeed, radical - but wonderful things happen rarely. In the Kale case, however, the board was bound to act because the charge, a serious one, was brought, in writing, by two people entrusted with one of the most vital jobs in Indian cricket. National selectors, it can be argued, are not necessarily the most credible set of people in the country, but it is a fact that they occupy a vital position in the hierarchy of cricket administration, and the BCCI president is beholden to take their allegations seriously. At the same time, it is entirely possible that Kale has been wrongly charged and is entitled to seek legal recompense.

This is, however, only one part - and a small one - of the whole story. The Kale case, irrespective of the truth, is only a manifestation of a serious and deep-rooted malaise. If the BCCI chooses, as it is feared, to shut the lid on the case, having patted itself on the back for acting expeditiously with the tabling of the Subba Rao report, the board would be doing cricket a disservice. If we assume the worst to be true - that Kale indeed offered a bribe for a place in the Indian side - the matter doesn't, shouldn't, end with punishing Kale, because it still leaves some uncomfortable questions unanswered.

Corruption is never an isolated phenomenon. In fact, almost invariably it is a product of the system. A bribe is offered when there is an expectation of it being accepted. That a first-class player should have the temerity to offer cash to two national selectors is appalling, and it is a reflection on the system. The BCCI stands to expose itself to the charge that it is only selective in the pursuit of truth if it chooses to shut its eyes to the deeper problems. Ad-hocism, and that's putting it mildly, is ingrained in the selection process in the lower levels, and corruption is not unheard of.

Last year, the Mumbai Cricket Association had to fire a junior coach who was found to have turned team selection into an organised racket. Following the charge against Kale, some other unsavoury tales have surfaced: Ritesh Yadav, vying for a place in the Uttar Pradesh under-17 squad, has alleged that he was left out when he refused to pay for his place, while Vanka Pratap, a former India A player, has alleged that he was approached by an intermediary with an offer for a place in the Indian team in exchange of money. An establishment sincere about addressing a problem would go to the root of it, not merely treat a manifestation at the surface level. But why do we get the feeling that it's never going to happen?

Sambit Bal is the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket and Wisden Cricinfo in India.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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