September 6, 2013

The BCCI owes people an explanation

The board must make clear why India's Test series in South Africa has been curtailed, or everyone will be justified in assuming it was all done for one cricketer

Some might think it is the by-product of games played on another field, some might believe that he is the primary reason, but at the end of it all, Sachin Tendulkar will play his 200th Test in India, most likely at the Wankhede Stadium, where he scored a first-class century on debut.

You'll never know the real reason, the BCCI won't say anything, and Tendulkar, well, he tends to keep his cards close to his chest, doesn't he?

If indeed the upheaval in itineraries is to allow Tendulkar to play that 200th at home, then I'm afraid it is wrong. It is an astonishing landmark, even for a staggering cricketer, and let's be honest, we don't know if he asked for it, but if everyone began moving schedules around to accommodate people, there would be more variables than in a political scenario. But if this is to allow him to play his last game at the Wankhede Stadium (and again, Tendulkar hasn't even indicated thus), I think we can look at it differently. Yes, the argument against moving schedules for one person is still valid, but we are an emotional people and to that extent our sporting ethos is a bit different, and we are talking of someone who has given more joy to Indians than almost anyone else. A farewell before the fans is not wrong. It is, in fact, quite a nice thing to do. And it would give all those who benefit from the Tendulkar industry one last opportunity as well.

But there is, in fact, a more valid, more commercial, reason for playing a series at home. The BCCI has very lucrative television and sponsorship deals, and anyone who invests a large amount has a commercial interest too. Marketing and promotion plans are created around sponsorship, income forecasts are made, profit and loss statements can be affected. You cannot tell people who are heavily invested that there will be no activity this year. But you also cannot tell that to the South Africans, because they will argue it should have been thought of earlier. After all everyone is committed to the Future Tours Programme and other countries are entitled to make their plans, have their marketing tie-ups and protect their profit and loss statements too. So if India need to play a series at home it shouldn't come at the cost of another.

It seems fairly clear, though, that there is a third reason why South Africa will only face India for a very short tour. Two countries that were fairly close allies - South Africa helped India take the IPL there within three weeks in 2009 - have now drifted so far apart that I suspect neither is picking up the phone and speaking to the other. Clearly, the BCCI is not in love with Haroon Lorgat, who now heads Cricket South Africa, and whispers of unfair and unreasonable actions during the 2011 World Cup (when he was head of the ICC) have been around for a while now. So there is a suggestion that this is indeed a personal tit-for-tat.

I don't know how true that is but the fact remains that the issues are coming in the way of a marquee series. Test cricket is in peril, there are more romantics than realists in its corner, and more words than cheques come its way. For Test cricket to survive and hopefully to flourish, it needs as many contests among the best teams as possible. South Africa v India is World No. 1 v World No. 3. The last time these two teams played in South Africa they produced some brilliant cricket, and Tendulkar v Steyn in Cape Town will always be among the game's more lasting memories. It isn't just contests like these but the build-up too that draws people in. A two-Test series is like settling down after starters only to be presented with the bill.

It is imperative that personal differences do not come in the way of cricket. If the BCCI has a valid reason, it is important that the fans know of it, because if it doesn't, everyone in Indian cricket has to stand up to the outrage. There have been times in the past, like with the DRS, when the BCCI has taken an unpopular stand that has been proven to be largely right. But by not coming out with its argument in time the board let the world assume that the objection came from the captain and Tendulkar alone.

Solutions can sometimes be found if you put the non-negotiables first and try working around them. On this matter, three Test matches in South Africa should be the non-negotiable. And hopefully that 200th is not the reason for all this change.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is here

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