'I'm honest, and I stand up for what I believe is right'
Can you describe how the last few months have been for you?
Since I had stepped aside from cricket, I was able to play golf. Administering the BCCI and running my own business takes a lot of time. So my spare time got eaten into. So the truth is, during this period I could afford to try to get my swing back again.
You have been a successful businessman for most of your life. In that part of life you are generally in control of your affairs, your writ runs unchallenged. But in the last few months have you found yourself feeling vulnerable, exposed? Was it one of the tougher periods in your life?
I won't call it tough or difficult. I felt I had been unfairly attacked. Continuous attack on me. As I said somewhere, one particular paper had about 90 pieces written about me, 11-12 editorials, and I was occupying the entire front page for 10-11 days. This has never happened in independent India. Am I worth that much of coverage? I am not that big a businessman. BCCI is not that big.
Cricket is big.
Cricket is big, I agree, but not to this extent.
Why do you feel you were unfairly targeted?
Unfair because somewhere along the line I think some amount of focus was lost. I had announced clearly that I was not an accused. I had not done anything wrong, and then I stepped aside. And then the BCCI working committee, at a meeting which I did not attend because I had stepped aside, appointed this probe commission. Somehow it got represented as if I [appointed it]. I did not. They appointed the probe commission, and then events followed. Somebody went to court, then it went to Supreme Court etc. So how am I to be blamed for that?
The perception that was that you were still…
No, I had stepped aside. You must understand this, really. If you talk to members of the BCCI, you will understand very clearly that once I stepped aside, I was away. This meeting was held in Kolkata. The secretary was there, other members were there. I was nowhere to be seen, and neither was I in touch.
They appointed the commission, and they followed up and then the report was given. I didn't see the report, I was not present when the report was given. I was hands off. I was out of the picture. I had stepped aside, the BCCI was run by others.
But these were all your colleagues, a lot of them worked under you and you have influence.
That is wrong. That is where I say it was unfair. Because I was very correct, proper. I was absolutely proper in this matter.
Even when you stepped aside, you suggested that it was unfair to ask you to step aside. You said, "I am not a accused, why should I step aside?"
But then I did [step aside]. That was my initial reaction, but then I said, all right. I did not mind it. The rest is history.
There were two different reactions from the BCCI to two different cases. One involved the players, one involved the team owners.
I was involved in the disciplinary committee, I am not involved in the other one. So that cannot be laid at my doorstep.
I am asking you this question as a matter of your personal opinion. Looking at it from the outside, can you now say that the standards were different?
I cannot comment on this as this is sub judice.
What is sub judice now is the case, not the manner in which the commission was appointed.
Everything is connected. I have to be very careful, and I am, because I do not want in the least bit for anybody to petition - be it the court or anybody - to [say] that I am trying to influence things. So this is hands off for me. I accepted it. Supreme Court has said, you co-operate but stay out. Yes sir. And I genuinely believe that.
It is clear that nobody accused you of anything. The question was how it was perceived. It was a matter of propriety more than anything legal.
Even that propriety, you must understand… If I express myself freely on this, I will again be travelling to certain areas I should not be. Inevitably. Please understand my caution in this. I have to be cautious. I have to watch it.
It has been an issue that has come up repeatedly since the IPL started. And this is a question I have to ask you, again. Legally, technically or constitutionally, there's nothing wrong with India Cements [owning Chennai Super Kings], because the BCCI approved that. But there is the conflict-of-interest question.
That is also before the Supreme Court. AC Muthiah has filed a petition going up and down. That's before the Supreme Court. I can't enter these areas. You have to understand, you are interviewing me at a time when [there are] certain topics I shouldn't speak about.
The fact is that Indian cricket has made news for the wrong reasons in the last three or four years, and that it has dominated the front pages. Would it not be fair to say that it is a reflection on the administration? Most of these issues relate to governance.
I don't think so. Unfortunately I can't elaborate on some of these topics. What I say is, let these matters get settled, and I will address this then. I will address it when I am able to speak. You have to give me that opportunity. I can't talk when matters are sub judice.
When the Supreme Court order came and cleared you to take up office again, what was your immediate feeling?
I was pleased. People who have known me for a long time will believe what I say. In the sense that I am a person who has always focused on what to do next. I don't carry any grudges, I don't have any such feelings at all. That's how I am. People who have known me for years will attest to it. I will just move on. This happened, okay, fine, I dealt with it, I am glad, I am back, I go on.
There's a perception that you never forgive.
First and foremost, I never get upset. Words like "forgive" and things like that, I don't know in what context people are saying that. But those who have moved with me will know that this is not true. Those who have moved with me and know me for a very long time will carry a different impression.
A former colleague of yours, a former BCCI president you have worked with, has called you an autocrat.
Yeah, I read it. But I will not comment on what someone else says.
But I am not an autocrat. I don't want to get into debates. I have a job to do, and I will do my job. I realise this is not a permanent job. This is not my bread and butter, it's an honorary job.
How important was it for you to come back as president for the final year?
I am entitled to a term, and I think I am entitled to finish it. So I do not think it wrong.
Is it right to say you're not somebody who will give up a fight easily? That you're combative, you don't step back?
I'll put it differently. I stand up for what I believe is right. And I think the rest of me all of you have seen. I am honest, very honest. And, I think my character has been seen in the last few months.
Why do you think there is such a different perception of you in the outside world?
I don't know. See, I have generally been a private person. I think anybody in media would agree that I am a private person. I don't have a favourite journalist to whom I give information, or to whom I give a scoop. If I speak, I speak in front of all. This is all that I have done, and I have administered the game.
My background is cricket. India Cements got involved in cricket 50 years ago when there was not a naya paisa for cricketers. We employed cricketers. We ran cricket teams in the league and we continue to do so. Not contracts, actual employment. So that [when] he finishes playing cricket, he works. Now India Cements owns the Chennai Super Kings, it is world known, but it is probably the 14th team we are running. Our interest is not because there is glamour in cricket, my interest is not because of the publicity attached to it. We have been supporting cricket passionately, the whole company is full of cricket enthusiasts, somehow or the other. And for 50 years - this is the second generation, my father was interested and I continued it. So this is where I come from, we enjoy watching the league matches together, so it is [as a] complete enthusiast.
Does public opinion bother you?
See, I can't do anything about that. It doesn't affect me. It doesn't affect me because when I am not in BCCI I will not merit one line in any newspaper, so why must I worry about the 20 lines now?
Since you're the president of the BCCI, I must ask you this: Why does the BCCI feel the need to control the message? Why must the BCCI run its own TV production? The harshest way of putting it is that there is a censorship about what commentators can say, what they cannot.
No, no. This I will address because I think it is important. Why did the BCCI start producing? Television production was disorganised. It wasn't professional. There were lots of freelancers involved, the production house was just coordinating things. We wanted to make it systematic and we wanted domestic cricket covered professionally so that we can monitor performances, evaluate umpires…
But the fallout of this has been a de facto control over the commentators.
We don't censor commentators. This word "censorship" is incorrect. BCCI doesn't tell the commentator, you say this, you cannot say this, and things like that. But if there was an instance and if you were to come to know about it, please feel free to bring to my attention.
Ian Chappell has said it on record.
What has he said? Ian Chappell is not employed by us. We have never said anything to him. We are talking about people employed by us.
He said there are three things you can't talk about. You can't talk about the DRS, the selection, and the administration. He said he was told this by Star.
I can't comment on that. You have to ask Star.
The broad point is that former cricketers and experts are hired to give their opinion. But in the current set-up, they are not allowed to express their opinions freely.
You're asking me the wrong question. You're asking the wrong person. BCCI doesn't tell the commentator anything. We produce domestically. BCCI in no way interferes with the freedom of the press. But a commentator should be a commentator, and a journalist should be a journalist.
What's the difference there?
See, we do not interfere with selection. There is a selection committee. People select. Now if someone comments on it, they are not commenting on BCCI, so it doesn't worry me.
Now BCCI's position on DRS is very well-known. I have articulated on this several times. Many commentators in the western world and other geographies have supported DRS and criticised the BCCI. I have taken it. I have not said anything, I have not got upset, I have noticed it. But that doesn't change our view. Our view was logical. And I am very happy to say we stand vindicated.
So will you go to the board meeting and push for the DRS to be abolished?
I feel the DRS was not sufficiently good. Even assuming it is 100% reliable - which it is not, my view always was that - if you give two referrals, then generally batsmen up the order will take it. And it really may not be [ideal] for eliminating a howler. And I said, if it's only two referrals, then it is a lottery. If you want, first you decide to refer every decision.
So there are a lot of things wrong, apart from the technology - even the two referrals, the one referral in an ODI, how does it help? So there's that luck element, and this was my position and it remains. If India plays, DRS is not there, and if two other teams play and they want a faulty system, why should I stop it?
It's a question of how cricket is played around the world.
This is where I say I am not a bully, I don't force my view on others.
When it comes to the DRS, there's a perception that the BCCI is opposed to the DRS but Indian cricketers aren't. Can you please clarify?
The question of the DRS comes up at the Cricket Committee [CC] meeting in the ICC. At the CC, players give their view, then administrators have their view, etc. The BCCI view is this.
Another controversial topic, the South Africa tour. I know that talks are currently on and maybe the tour will take place. But that's not the point. The point is, why has it come to this?
I am glad you asked this question. One of the reasons was we felt that we should be [playing] more international cricket in India during our season, and there should be a balance between inbound and outbound tours. And we felt that this year we had very little international cricket [in India], and therefore we needed to supplement it, so we invited the West Indies. This was the thought process.
If you look at our calendar, we'll be hosting Australia, then the West Indies, then we are supposed to go to South Africa, then New Zealand, come back and play Asia Cup, play the World Twenty20, come for IPL, go to England. It was a very long, tough programme, so we also wanted to lessen the strain if possible. Unfortunately there was a lot of media speculation on whether the tour is on etc, and on news emanating from South Africa. We did not make any comment. We did not say anything about this. In fact, until now we have said nothing. But so much has been written, so much been said, things attributed, so how would I summarise it? There are some challenges.
You have announced the New Zealand schedule, the England schedule was announced, and the South Africa tour is before that, and that's the only thing that is stuck.
There are some challenges, as I said. We are meeting them. Let us see what happens.
How much has it got to do with Haroon Lorgat?
I want to make one thing clear. We are not anyone to say who should or should not be the chief executive of another board. But there are some challenges. Maybe after discussions I might talk about it. I should not prejudice the discussions by talking about it now. So talk to me in a few days' time. I don't want to discuss it now.
In your final year, what's your vision for Indian cricket?
The last several years have been very good for Indian cricket. If you look at the positives, we won the World Cup, we won the Champions Trophy.
India also lost two series - 8-0.
In retrospect, we probably didn't have enough preparatory time in England when we went there. The injury list was a little long, we had fitness problems for our major players. The Indian team was in transition.
I think we have come out strongly after that. It has recouped well, as has been seen from the recent form. A lot of development for cricket has happened - infrastructure, new stadiums, cricket has gone to all states, our development programmes are very good, our age-group programmes are doing very well, we are encouraging our senior players to play domestic leagues also, we have a lot of A team tours to other countries so that they can acclimatise themselves to different conditions, particularly South Africa, Australia. We have won the U-19 World Cup, our bench strength is strong. IPL has improved our players. For example, the Champions Trophy was an example where in the last-over finishes our team displayed tremendous capacity.
There are a lot of positives. Indian cricket is looking good, spectator support has been good, people have come and watched matches. We are also putting in place systems, NCA is getting more active, zonal academies are also functioning. So it's a beehive of activities going on here. All of it is coordinated. There is an umpire's academy that is in place.
I know you are a fan of Test cricket. Do you have concerns about Test cricket's future?
Not in India alone but all around the world. Because if it has to survive, it has to survive globally.
I always say the total eyeballs on cricket has increased substantially. We have three products: Test cricket, ODI cricket and now T20 cricket. What some people seem to be disappointed in is that not all three products are market leaders in all parts of the world. That is not possible. There are some places where these products might not find acceptance. But in India, all three are good. India contributes a lot to the cricket economy. All three of them are doing well here. It is also for those people [in other countries] locally to address why this is happening.
As far as I am concerned, for me Test cricket is always the best.
Are you satisfied with where Indian Test cricket is? Do you think the next set of players will be as passionate about Test cricket in India? Tell me that as a cricket lover and not as the president of the BCCI.
I don't see lack of enthusiasm. But if you say, will you produce the Dravids, Laxmans, Tendulkars and Gangulys immediately, I don't know. But I think there is enough talent that the players will keep coming.
Will the BCCI make it a priority to focus on Test cricket?
BCCI focuses on Test cricket.
But do you also have a vision for the global game? Or do you want to solely focus on Indian cricket?
The ICC are focusing on the global game. They want to give primacy to Test cricket, which I fully support. The reaction of the spectator is different in different geographies. People are trying their level best in seeing how to increase the level of enthusiasm for the game.
India is the leader in the global game, but the feeling is India doesn't do enough in the global arena. It is not a global leader in that sense.
The problem here is, one group of people says we are taking too much leadership, we are throwing our weight around. Other group says we are not doing enough.
I think we are acting responsibly. India is a very responsible member of the ICC.
Cricket is a small game. But there is a clear divide between the rich and the poor. And there are only three boards in the world who are self-sufficient. There are four or five countries that are literally on the dole. That disparity is becoming bigger and bigger.
The fact that cricket doesn't evoke the same enthusiasm and response from spectators in all geographies is a matter of concern. There are countries where cricket was so popular once upon a time and now you find empty stadiums. At the ICC level we are looking into this very seriously to see what are the issues that have to be addressed to remedy and set this right.
Rahul Dravid recently made a suggestion that each of the boards that has money and players could adopt a board each, like India could adopt Bangladesh, Australia could adopt New Zealand, to bring them up to standard.
You are talking about two different things now. One is, you are talking about the global game and how to bring the spectator back. The other aspect is the quality of the teams. The ICC has now put in place a targeted assistance programme to assist some of these nations to better develop their cricket, if funding was an issue, which India has supported. This funding is for facilities, training academies. This has been started recently and the BCCI has supported it fully. And this is possibly not far from what Rahul is saying.
What would you want your legacy to be in Indian cricket and world cricket?
I don't consider myself such a great leader or something to talk about legacies. As long as people realise that our interest was solely cricket, and we worked hard for Indian cricket, and thereby also helped consolidate world cricket, I would be happy.
Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo