How far will the BCCI go to clean its stables?
Monday was mired in gloom. It began with Mumbai's far-from-finest citizenry entering the BCCI office, press cameramen in due attendance, and, as true patriots, ensuring that a meeting between Indian and Pakistani cricket officials was cancelled. Then, umpire Aleem Dar, who had officiated in the final of the 2011 ICC World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium, was pulled out of the last two India v South Africa ODIs for concern over his personal safety. An exceptional advertisement for the global megapolis of Mumbai. And finally, at night, Viru retired from international cricket.
Or wait, he didn't. But he is going to.
This is because of one of those oldies T20 shindigs, where you need to be a retired international to compete. When Sehwag was reminded at a press event for the said shindig that he had not exactly retired from international cricket, he slapped over point and said, of course he would be doing so and fulfilling requirements in order to join the oldies.
Cue: Twitter meltdown.
Just another normal day in Indian cricket.
This after there had been a bit of a rumble on Sunday, which was to do, of course, with the BCCI and its methodologies - which are as scintillating as root canals and contain such sleep-inducing buzzwords and phrases as "conflict of interest", "ombudsman" and "Project Transformation". This last is the mighty name of the board's new plan "to support corporate governance and increase transparency in its functioning".
"Project Transformation" has been handed over in part to Deloitte, which will strengthen the BCCI's "organisational and governing structure" related to accounting and "operating practice." (What, no proxy voting anymore?) Maybe there are also invisible men working at cleaning up the board's image, turning it something kinder, gentler and more lovable.
Never mind what Deloitte suggests (and no one has so far claimed responsibility for changing the logos on TV commentators' shirts from "BCCI.tv" to "India cricket") a far more overt radical transformation is being proposed. In the form of a three-page document from current president Shashank Manohar, which, by the looks of it, attempts to derail the BCCI's happily chugging gravy train.
The first signs of such a document were glimpsed in July, in the form of a letter from the then president Jagmohan Dalmiya's office asking everyone to fess up to their conflicts of interest. The folks attending Sunday's working committee meeting were given Manohar's three pages of proposed rules, which will be put before the entire board at its annual general meeting in November.
Manohar's document goes straight to the bottom of the BCCI's power structure - its voting base, the state associations whose fief runs deep at their local levels and wide across the BCCI.
Many years ago, while interviewing Dalmiya, I asked him whether there needed to be uniformity in how state associations were voted in - as opposed to one state association being voted in by individuals, another by clubs, and a third by districts. Dalmiya said he couldn't answer the question. So I asked if his response constituted a "no comment". He said it was best if I didn't mention that the question had been asked. This was Dalmiya at the height of his powers at the top of Indian cricket. Such was the boat he did not want to rock.
The power of state associations rests in their being able to switch allegiances, aka votes, towards anyone who is benevolent to them and won't ask questions about where the BCCI's Rs 25 to 30 crore (approximately US$ 4.1m) annual stipend goes and how the fiefdoms are run. Manohar's conflict-of-interest document is a direct challenge to everyone on that gravy train - administrators, players (former and current), team officials and paid staff.
There are 28 proposed rules in there and these are a few:
- Administrators and their "near relatives" cannot be on the payroll of IPL franchises.
- Retired cricketers on the payroll of the BCCI or holding contracts with the BCCI cannot be on any BCCI committees nor on the IPL's governing council.
- Coaches or selectors cannot be associated with private coaching academies. Members of team management (or their "near relatives") cannot have financial interests in or business association with any member of the team they work with.
- Officials in the BCCI or in state bodies can neither be part of IPL franchises nor can they have any commercial interest in activities related to their own state association.
Immediately questions about various names and cases come tumbling forth:
Does this mean Sourav Ganguly, newly elected CAB president, cannot be an IPL governing council member? Can he work with the Indian team while he occupies his CAB office?
Will Brijesh Patel, KSCA president and head of cricket operations at Royal Challengers Bangalore, have to give up one of those two posts?
Could Ravi Shastri continue to serve as mentor cum advisor on an Indian Premier Tennis League team that is co-owned by Virat Kohli?
What if Dilip Vengsarkar, a fine chairman of selectors during his first term, cannot take up a second because he is an elected member of the Mumbai Cricket Association?
If retired players or those serving as coaches or selectors must dissociate themselves from private academies, how can state association officials be involved in private academies of their own? Particularly when there is no limit on their tenure at the associations? What about contracts to do with signage, food and beverage, electronic screens and so on that one state association official awards to a company owned by another state association official under quid pro quo deals? These aspects are outside the purview of the proposed rules and are loopholes that will allow officials to take unfair advantage of their positions.
It is here that the role of ombudsman comes to the fore. The board's ombudsman will be a kind of all-powerful czar of a redressal forum to do with conflicts over conflicts of interest. There was also mention of bringing in two independent members from outside the BCCI into the IPL governing council. To hear the word "independent" mentioned in a BCCI proposal is like hearing metalheads being asked to turn up for choir practice.
The new BCCI dispensation's total determination to convey that it is far removed from the old regime was full-on, full volume from the time Dalmiya and Anurag Thakur took over in March. With Manohar, it has gone up a notch.
To start with, the BCCI's constitution - as hard to access as details of Swiss bank accounts, with the occasional suspicion that like the unwritten British constitution, it was actually not to be found in a single document - is now online. It appeared following, it is understood, a suggestion from the Lodha commission to Dalmiya's successor. The board's balance sheet is expected to follow suit by the end of the year.
There remains a strong suspicion that the speed of the changes being put in place is due to growing dread over the Lodha panel's recommendations - due out in December - which could dismantle the BCCI's very framework.
To be fair, whatever the motives, pushing for change is not a bad idea, and the current BCCI's acoustics and optics are sounding and looking good.
The many shades of grey that Dalmiya knew about remain, of course: yes, the auditors have been changed, but will the new auditors be able to do what the folks in the business call a "service and performance" audit? That is, ask questions about why the numbers are what they are. Do associations like that of Jammu and Kashmir deserve funding if their focus is dealing with bickering factions rather than cricket development?
Infrastructure stipends for the Uttar Pradesh association without its own ground? (Yes, yes, there is the Noida stadium: as long awaited as an injury-free express Indian paceman.) Then there is the wonder that is the Delhi association. How come nothing severe ever happens to it?
And never mind the auditors, how is the Goa Cricket Association's former president turned secretary, Vinod Phadke, being given Indian team managerships (the 2012 Under-19 World Cup and now with the Indians during the ODI series) despite having been found guilty by a state inquiry commission, along with Dayanand Narvekar, the state association president at the time, of printing, selling and distributing fake tickets for an India v Australia ODI in 2001?
A seasoned BCCI watcher believes there will be pushback against these rule changes. "State fiefdoms will put up with Shashank's stuff as long as it doesn't effect them. The minute it starts affecting them, they will say, 'Goodbye, boss.'" And what if Manohar doesn't want to cling to his office but rather return to his law practice in Nagpur? Will the cat then be belled at all?
Never mind the power games, the most obvious impact on the actual cricket, due to power struggles between the old guard and the current regime, happened when a working committee meeting in August was adjourned. It meant that proposed rule changes in the Ranji Trophy points system had to be put off by a season, and so the current Ranji season is on with the old rules in operation, while better options remain in storage.
Good thing there's a bunch of judges getting set for a sentencing. Maybe Project Transformation will end up being the root canal the BCCI's rank and file did not anticipate.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo