'I don't believe you need power to contribute'
In India's transformative generation of cricketers, Anil Kumble stood out: bowler amongst batting galacticos, a spinner with a fast man's ferociousness, and a driven player-activist.
Two years after retirement, he threw himself into administrative politics and was elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). With former Indian fast bowler Javagal Srinath elected secretary, their regime marked a rare recent engagement by international cricketers with hands-on cricket administration. In three years, they introduced technology into KSCA's organisational structures, set up 10 new grounds and upgraded three others, taking first-class cricket to districts across the state. During their tenure, they exchanged frequent verbals with their rivals, particularly over a perceived conflict of interest between Kumble's position as KSCA president, his mentorship with the Bangalore and Mumbai IPL teams and as co-owner of a firm dealing "less than 2%" with player management.
In 2013, Kumble and Srinath decided not to contest the next round of elections, but by then they had demonstrated that state associations could bring about radical change over a short period of time by putting cricketing interests front and centre of operations. Kumble spoke to ESPNcricinfo about his experiences as an administrator in the current Indian cricketing climate.
You came into cricket administration just after retiring from the game. What did you expect and what has it been like?
We always knew it would be a challenge. It's always different looking at cricket administration from the outside. Things look very easy - why is this not happening, this should be done. You tend not to know the back office of a cricket association, because, as a player, you are looking at administration only from the point of view of a team, as a player, looking at your goals.
When you walk into administration, it becomes a totally different perspective. You are dealing with people who possibly don't have the same drive that you have. You come in and suddenly say that this should happen tomorrow, this should happen now, this is the road map and I want you to achieve this. The challenge is: how do you align first all those individuals who have been working in some sort of a format or environment they have been used over the years. It's not easy.
How do you make that happen?
Both Sri [Javagal Srinath] and I decided it [administration in the Karnataka State Cricket Association] needed a course correction. Nothing much was happening in terms of development and the academy, which is the backbone of any growing sport. If you want to sustain it over a period of time, you need the academy in place. We knew that three years is exactly what we are looking at for whatever we want to do. These are the priorities. How are we going to address them? How best can we align the people who are there towards this, so that it continues? At least they also see that: "Oh this can happen, let me now get into it". Whatever we set out to do three years ago, I'm satisfied that 90% or 95% of that work has been completed.
Your core work was around infrastructure?
Our general call was on cricket and cricket development. In India the numbers are huge, there is so much talent. So rather than saying I will find the talent and bring them to one place and train them, it's easier to create hubs, not necessarily in the cities, but in smaller towns. Once you do that, people tend to utilise those facilities.
Why didn't you stand for a second term? Is it because you didn't have the energy to put time into the job, or because you couldn't get the political numbers to win?
No, I don't think we worried about politics or political numbers. If we believed that we need to stay in the system for a longer time, maybe we would have put in a different strategy to manage the voting numbers. In the second term we campaigned for a team that can take our vision forward. We went to street, we went to people, we approached members to vote for the team. I'm not someone who believes you need power to contribute. We needed power to contribute and change the course and we've done that. For us to contribute back [in the future], I don't think we need the power.
Are you confident that the course has been changed and will stay that way?
I don't know. I hope it will continue. It depends on the new set of committees that have come in. At least the infrastructure can't change. As long as new ideas come in for the good of cricket, I'm happy. I'm not saying that whatever we have done is set in stone and you have to follow it to the T. As long as the basic agenda of any cricket association is the development of cricket and cricketers, I'm happy.
In the future, if you think things aren't going well, will you contest for the KSCA office again?
I don't know. For the last three years I focused entirely on KSCA. I believed I had to commit full time to the KSCA to achieve all of that we set out to.
How different or similar is working with an administrative team to working in cricket?
It is very different. I am hands-on, and to some it looks maybe dictatorial. You have to push people if you have to get things done. It's not easy to get things done and you can't do it remote-control. We wanted to put in a system in place in the KSCA where irrespective of who the leader is, the process should continue.
That's something I don't think we have as a policy in India. It's all dependent on who the lead is. We didn't want that kind of a situation. People say that you should have continued for another three years so that you can put all these things in place. There is no end to it. But having said that, I strongly believe that the committees - all honorary committees - are there to put policies in place. They are there to ensure that people who are employed drive the entire process. It should not be the other way around - that process is driven depending who the leader is. That is too random. If somebody is there to just sit and say how am I going to be here for the next 15 years, it's not going to help.
Is this an organisational template that should be adopted across the all BCCI state association?
No, I really can't talk on behalf of the other associations. There's a huge difference between BCCI and an association. Although the BCCI runs cricket in India, it is the associations that actually run the cricket in areas of development and infrastructure. It's extremely important that associations are focused on the main objective of game and player development and promotion of the game, which is: taking it to smaller towns so that a youngster comes there, watches an Indian player or state players playing against each other, gets inspired and takes up the game. You can't say that this is a template that everyone should follow. Our idea was to put a process in place in the KSCA, which we believe we have. For us to execute that completely, we would have done that possibly in the next one year. We need not have three more years. It's a never-ending process.
Administration or putting systems in place?
The administration process is never-ending. Systems we have tried to put into place, like an online finance package - at the end of every day you can get a balance sheet for that day. We don't need to wait for people to come back. Reporting is a lot easier. Any information is available at the touch of a button. We've created a proper organisation structure which has various heads, job descriptions for each employee in the organisation, what their responsibility is. If you need to replace anyone, there is a template for the kind of person you are looking for. That itself took close to a year to generate. We have used technology to drive the association. We used professional help. I hope that continues.
How does technology help the cricketing stuff?
We have a cricketing system that is online now, so we have a unique ID for every player, umpire, scorer, stakeholder who is part of the association. Your match ties are done by a system, so there is no manual intervention. It is all policy-driven. The idea of this exercise was to ensure that committees did not look to do day-to-day activities. Their job was to focus on the best policy for development of Karnataka cricket.
If a sub-committee says let us draw up ties, then one member could go: "No, no, I don't want this team to play on this ground." The committee ideally should be saying: All first-division matches should be played on turf wickets, so what's the next step for that? You rate all the various grounds that are under the KCSA, whether it's five-star or four-star, using criteria.
Say, the Chinnaswamy is a five-star ground, which has all the facilities. If it's a four-star ground, you can play a first-class match; if it's a three-star ground, you can play a league match. But a three-star ground has no pavilion, just basic needs, shelter and toilets. The sub-committee can decide that out of the 11 league matches, a minimum two matches should be played on a five-star ground, four in a four-star ground, the rest in a three-star venue, and to get a feel of a matting wicket, play one match on matting.
The ties are drawn up through the programme, which is not biased, because the system generates it. Similarly, posting of umpires - you rate the umpires. These are things that we have been able to bring in as a system. If it is followed and implemented, you don't need a committee to handle the logistical stuff. It's the employees who will handle all that rather than Anil Kumble comes in and changes it, Rahul Dravid comes in and changes it… he can change the policies, not the operational side.
In such a scenario, do honorary posts work? They are central to cricket administration in India and what you are talking of is a move towards a structured professionalisation.
It's not easy, because the KSCA is still a society registered by the Registrar of Societies. It's not easy to change that because you need two-thirds majority in a general meeting for that decision to be accepted. As long as these two are separate, you can bring in professionals to run cricket, but you cannot have committee members or elected members running the day-to-day stuff of the cricket side.
Like bureaucrats and elected members in government…
Yes. It's a thin line, but as long as the processes and system are in place, you cannot and should not tamper with it. That is important. You have an academy, you need to run it 365 days no matter who comes in. You have to run the academy, play so many matches, take the game to the smaller towns, use them as the hub to reach out to populations in those areas.
What qualities does one need to be a cricket administrator in India?
The basic tenet is for you to serve. If you have that thought, anybody can do this. You need to sacrifice. Three years is a lot. I was still actively playing the IPL when the KSCA elections came around. I could have been in the auction and captained one of the teams. At least couple of franchises had sounded me out since I was in the auction and I was not retained, saying we'll be going after you in the auction, would you be open to captaining the team? I kept my answer to: "Look, I don't know". Once I got elected, I decided the KSCA post was something I had to commit to, so I pulled out of the auction. Today, whatever I am is because of the game and what it has given me. This was probably my time to repay it, and I think that both Sri and I have certainly done that.
Would you advise other players to get into administration?
Oh yes, it's a good thing to have that kind of experience, because it certainly brings you back to reality. There are various challenges you have to deal with, whether it is interpersonal or pushing something that you believe is in the good of the game.
It's very easy to get scared of taking a decision in administration. You feel that if I do this, people will possibly look at it not the way I intended but differently. It's like winning the toss and batting first when the popular decision is to field. In administration, every decision you take will be like that. At least on the field you get assessed after the result. Here [in administration], there is no win and loss. It's always a loss. So you have to say I want to do this because it's the right thing to do.
The most important factor is to identify the key elements that you can possibly change and then attack those and do it. You will always get someone saying: "Oh this wall should have been painted yellow, you have painted it white." If you have apprehension about this kind of thing, every time you sit in a meeting and you are taking a decision, you will go nowhere. Probably that is what is a "good" administrator in India. That's a perception that I have got after this [experience] - that if you don't take a decision and are sitting on your seat, you continue to enjoy. A successful administrator is one possibly who has been there for a long time. We just did what we believed should be done and we didn't worry about the consequences.
Why are cricketers needed in administration? The general cliché is that cricketers don't make good administrators.
Of course you need them to bring in fresh perspectives. Ten years down the line you need the younger lot to contribute as well. You need an MS Dhoni to be saying this is how cricket should be run.
Since the time you started playing, what has been the progress? And if given a chance, what would you fix in Indian cricket administration?
That's a bit tricky. If you look at infrastructure, that has been a huge change to what it was 20 years ago. You have grounds in every city now, ODIs are played in more centres across the world, Ranji Trophy matches in smaller towns - who would have known of a Lahli? Those are good, and only because money has come into the game. Some people might agree or disagree with the pace of the development. It's a case-to-case basis. The challenges of every association are different.
Is there anything else that Indian cricket administration needs to fix that can be talked of openly?
We certainly need better PR. I've had good vibes sitting in in BCCI meetings. Sometimes you feel a lot more can be discussed on certain issues and certain issues you don't need to discuss for that long. Yes, you want more participation in those meetings, but that is individually driven. I don't think you can have all 25 people sitting in a meeting participating in a discussion.
I think the general perception [of the BCCI] is not good and that needs to change. A lot of good things have happened: the pension scheme, one-time payment, 200 cricketers have benefited. Show me one sporting body that has done it for their players.. You can't dismiss all that has happened by saying it that everything that comes out of BCCI is bad and evil. The relationship between players and the BCCI is extremely good, which is how it was ten years ago when I went into a working committee meeting as a player and made a presentation. Where else will a player walk into any cricket administration set-up? If they were not receptive, it would not have happened. Also with issues against the ICC in 2002 - it is not that they shut doors and said no, sorry. I believe that good PR would certainly help in bringing out all the positives, because it's only been the negatives that you see.
It's said you asked the working committee about what was happening after India were blanked out 0-4 in Tests in England and Australia.
No, it was just a discussion. I think it is important to have a communication. I was told that a discussion had happened about the two series defeats, so I said, okay fine.
Why did you stand down as the chairman of the National Cricket Academy?
My focus was on the KSCA at that point in time. I wanted certain changes to happen and I gave a presentation about that. That went through a lot of alterations and meetings. Eventually I was told this is something we are not ready for at this point of time. So I backed off. I said, look if I'm a part of the NCA, then it's better if I am in control. At least let me focus on the KSCA. I'm glad that some of the ideas that I presented have borne fruit - like a separate programme and course for curators, and the shortlisting and monitoring the best bowlers, which is where the Shamis and Bhuvis have come from.
Shortly after you got into administration, you were accused of conflict of interest as the KSCA president. You didn't agree with the argument. Did you not think twice about sitting in the IPL dugout for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians?
There was no argument. One thing I found very strange is there was this huge euphoria when all of us got into administration. Oh great, cricketers are into administration. Six months later you say, you don't want cricketers in administration because, supposedly, they are having some conflict with cricket. How can you be in conflict with cricket? I found it very strange. I can assure you the article that was written was motivated. That's how it started. Until then nobody even bothered about it.
That kind of argument is like saying that a NASSCOM chairman should be a cricketer. Not Kris Gopalakrishnan or Narayana Murthy, because there's a conflict there. To be the head of NASSCOM, he should give up his business. Or a press association president should give up his job because there's a conflict. I'm the president of the press association and if you are one of the members, I can influence your writing. Or if I am working with X newspaper, I can favour X over Y, because I'm the association president. And that's a conflict. The only way I can be president is if I give up X and Y and sit as president in an honorary capacity. But where is that I am getting the money from, because I have to work? At the end of it, an IPL is totally different from the association. It doesn't come under the gambit of the association at all, other than organising the match.
But for a state association president to be in an IPL role is like saying that Arun Jaitley (president of Delhi's state cricket association and member of parliament) is sitting in the Delhi Daredevils dugout.
So what? If he is a cricketer, why not? So you're basically telling Mr Arun Jaitley that you can't sit in parliament because you are in the BCCI. It's the same. You are saying that if you are president of the KSCA, you need to give up everything, be a saint and religiously spend money from your pocket, be in the position and do the job.
Neither was I benefitting monetarily from a business that I run with the KSCA, or for that matter stopping something for cricket in the association because I have a business interest in it. And whatever negotiations that RCB and KSCA had, I was out of it as long as I was with the Royal Challengers. That was disclosed in the meetings and everybody was aware of it. I never sat in any meeting when it came to negotiating about the KSCA academy, where RCB are the sponsors in a five-year deal.
If I am promoting Mumbai cricket sitting as KSCA president, then Virat Kohli should be captain of Delhi, Dhoni should never play in any franchise because there is no franchise from Jharkhand. Why is Dhoni promoting Chennai cricket? He should be promoting Jharkhand cricket. You can't mix IPL with development of a state association. Yes, if I was someone in the BCCI, then maybe. If I was president of BCCI then I can't sit in the Mumbai Indians dugout, I don't know.
I came in to contribute to cricket. I have done that. It's easy for people to sit outside and say lots of things. I could have done the same thing. It was easy for me or Srinath to sit, hold a mike and say whatever I want. Nobody's going to question me. It might raise a headline one day, that's all. It's important to walk in, do whatever you believe is the right thing.
In your Pataudi Memorial lecture, you said India had to wear its power lightly and operate through consensus rather than belligerence. That's a very dramatic thing to say at a time like this. Where did it come from?
I just made a general statement. It was not a case of saying something because it was not happening and it should happen. I am just saying that today India is in a dominant position and the next 20 years cricket will see a lot of changes. I believe that if we adhere to our principles of being Indian and move in that way - where we have always done that and we have always worn our power lightly. That has been our strength. If you look historically at any administration, we have always consulted people, we have always taken people on our side, or taken them along. If that's the way we go about in the next 20 years, I don't see why we can't dominate cricket not just on the field, but also off the field.
The reason that there is money is thanks to an Indian. The Champions Trophy was born because of an idea from an Indian. It's just that we have an opportunity to lead from the front. We didn't have that opportunity at that time, but it has slowly come in. There will always be change in leadership and Indian leadership style is very different to the style that was used all these years. That's the only change we can bring in and I believe that this will take us through.
Do you believe Indian players should form a players' association? It's been a start-stop over the past few decades.
I think you need a players' voice as long as that voice is heard. You don't need an association or a group of people to demonstrate and vote for someone as a leader. As long as there is enough appreciation of the players, which there is, it's fine. The reason we formed an association a few years ago was because there had been a bit of start-stop years ago, so we thought that it was good to have some kind of momentum going. When, at the time, I put everything across the table to the board, it was accepted. Then there was no need to continue it. If it had to continue, it had to have people who had retired to support it, and it's not easy to do. It's not easy for you to drive it. Largely though, whatever initiatives players were suggesting, you listed it out and all of them had been accepted.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo