Okay, Indian cricket fans... hell, Indian sports fans, lend me your ears. At some point over the next few days a decision is expected from a bench of the Indian Supreme Court with which - if recent courtroom goings-on indicate correctly - the current Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, could fundamentally overturn the process of reform of the BCCI set in motion by two previous Chief Justices.
Let's start at the beginning. One of those former Chief Justices, Rajendra Mal Lodha, recommended internal administrative reform within the BCCI, and the other Chief Justice, Tirath Singh Thakur ordered the implementation of those reforms.
Now if you or I challenged one Chief Justice, let alone two, straight into the clink we'd go. At the highest levels of the judiciary, while this - one Chief Justice acting contrary to what another Chief Justice has ordered - is most unusual, it is, it appears, most certainly possible.
On July 5, the three-judge bench (CJI Misra, AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud) involved in the BCCI case, reserved its order over the Lodha recommendations. It stated that the bench was "finalising" the reworked BCCI constitution and that the world would soon hear the latest (and final final?) chapter of the soggy BCCI drama born of the IPL 2013 corruption scandal. During that July 5 hearing, CJI Misra was reported as saying that prima facie the court did not accept a three-year "cooling-off" period for Indian cricket administrators between their finishing a term in office at either the BCCI or one of its associations and their next term.
This statement sent the BCCI's Old Guard Officials (BOGOs) cartwheeling across their drawing rooms and social media in delight. They have spent close to two years contesting the Lodha reforms, particularly the stipulations that directly affect their presence in the BCCI's power structure: the age and tenure limitations. Also the one-state-one-vote rule, and the concept of having five selectors instead of three. Grant the BOGOs their wishes in regards to the first three of those four and they wouldn't care if selection panels had five selectors or fifteen.
Okay, that is an exaggeration. In the latest round of legal hearings, the three state associations fighting in favour of scrapping the cooling-off period between stints for elected officials were: the Tamil Nadu Cricket Associaton (TNCA), whose former president N Srinivasan, also president of the BCCI when the IPL corruption scandal broke, was once barred from contesting BCCI elections; the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA), whose former president Ajay Shirke was removed as BCCI secretary in January 2017 for failure to implement the Lodha reforms; and the Haryana Cricket Association, whose website is stripped of any details about the association's administrative structure, and whose former president Anirudh Chaudhry currently serves as the BCCI's treasurer. The counsel for Maharashtra and Haryana associations in this matter happened to be Tushar Mehta, also additional solicitor general (or the third-highest ranking lawyer for the government of India).
The government's lawyers are permitted to fight private cases, and Mehta's appearance for the cricket establishment is not surprising. He once previously appeared as counsel in a high-profile defamation case on behalf of the son of the Gujarat Cricket Association president Amit Shah. The case Mehta is arguing on behalf of the BOGOs has already been argued over by a pantheon of lawyers in the two years leading up to the July 5, 2018 hearing. Those arguments - similar to those being offered by Mehta - and petitions had been dismissed already by the court to a point of non-negotiable standstill.
Maybe this is a particular kind of legal tactic, built on the notion that if a case is kept forever in motion, stumbling from hearing to hearing, the lawyers on one side are allowed to keep arguing the same arguments till finally the bench changes its mind. Like the kindergarten toddler who wants only one seat in the classroom, or a particular toy, and won't give up throwing a fit until he gets it. This is how bizarre the latest round of developments in the BCCI's case now appear.
Former CJI Lodha, whose committee did the hard labour and formulated a new structure for the BCCI, is not amused. His response to the possibility of the dilution of the recommendations was: "It is disgusting, as far as I am concerned."
Why does this matter to cricket fans - the case, the cooling-off-shooling-off, the yada yada? It's not as if it settled the playing XI for the Headingley ODI on Tuesday.
Cricket fans won't understand it now but the impact of a loosening of rules pertaining to administrators will be felt not merely in Indian cricket but across Indian sport. The age and tenure restrictions and the cooling-off periods stipulated in the Lodha recommendations were meant to negate aspects of Indian sports administration that have been its bane for decades: entrenched officials with a sense of entitlement, decision-making based on patronage and ego, and feudalism in place of any attempt at professionalism.
The Lodha recommendations stated that an individual can only serve a maximum of nine years across three tenures (of three years each) at a state association or at the BCCI. The three terms cannot be back to back; each stint will be followed by a three-year cooling off period, during which the official is allowed to serve at the BCCI if he just finished a stint with a state association, or vice versa. This provides for a total of 18 years in cricket administration for an official, alternating between state associations and the BCCI. Nine years each in three-year chunks, providing the individual concerned with an understanding of the differences between thinking regional and thinking national, and for working out how positions at board and state level can function as parts of a greater whole in order to serve the game.
An Indian cricket insider of an older generation once said that people needed to enter cricket administration "to give to the game, not to take from it". The BOGOs will collapse into peals of laughter at his utopian view of Indian cricket. Ever got paid US$750 as per diem, tax-free, for ICC meetings, dude? That is how giving Indian cricket is, we can't help but take.
Implementing reforms in an organisation with cross-party political clout and financial strength was always going to be difficult. The court has itself recently been of no assistance to the Committee of Administrators who it originally appointed to get the reforms implemented. The strength of the COA was cut down to half its size after two of its four members left, but appeals for replacements have been ignored. There are envelopes sitting in the Supreme Court premises with names of suggested replacements, but no one is going down that path.
Abandoning the cooling-off period, and thus diluting the Lodha reforms, will cause ripples of damage. The BOGOs will return with enthusiasm and a vengeance, getting rid of the hired professionals who have run Indian cricket in the last couple of years, struck lucrative rights and sponsorship deals, overseen a 13-Test home season and IPLs. The BCCI will proudly return to medieval-style management. Administrators in other sports in India, who are intrinsically medieval, incapable of generating their own income and thus freeing themselves from government dependence, will see this as a green light, and look to use the BCCI's case as a precedent, to try and dilute whatever demands of accountability and transparency the government and judiciary have made of them.
The first noise against the Lodha reforms was that a new Sports Bill would override them. That has not come to pass, because the last seen draft of this bill appeared to be more severe than even the Lodha report. Last January, the Supreme Court accepted a petition to implement the Lodha recommendations across all sports in India. And now, in a baffling u-turn, the Supreme Court is saying no, sorry, Justice Thakur got it all wrong.
If the petulant toddler is allowed to win the kindergarten standoff, it is the adults who eventually lose.