The formation of the Indian Cricket Players Association (ICPA) was always on the cards following the recent stand off between leading players and the Board of Control for Cricket in India over the contentious sponsorship issue. Indeed, there has been talk of such a players' body for some time now and the latest controversy only hastened the formation of the association.
The formation of a cricketers association in India is not a new move. In the seventies, the leading players, then, formed an association and Sunil Gavaskar, Bishen Bedi and S Venkatraghavan were the prominent office bearers. Little, however, was heard of the body thereafter and it is doubtful if anything constructive was done. Over the years it became largely inactive and virtually non-existent.
Traditionally, there has always been more than just a generation gap between players and administrators and this is even more pronounced as far as Indian cricket is concerned. The cricketers have generally felt that administrators live in ivory towers, distancing themselves from the cricketers and not being aware of changing trends in the game or at least being indifferent to them. The officials, for their part, have generally held the view that players are spoilt, ill-behaved brats, too big for their boots and so very often have refused to do anything with them.
Of late, there have been welcome attempts at bridging this gap with the International Cricket Council taking some steps in this direction. Some of their schemes - taking the views of cricketers on various issues, appointing more former players on committees - have been taken in a bid to achieve this objective. But much more needs to be done to bridge the gap if the results of a players' survey conducted by the Federation of International Cricketers (FICA) are to be believed.
According to the results, only 20% of the players polled believe the ICC is doing a good job running cricket, as opposed to 46% who think they aren't. While only four per cent agreed with the notion that the ICC balanced the interests of the game with those of the players, a total of 60% disagreed with that view. And 62 per cent did not think that the ICC was interested in the views of the players.
If such a survey were taken in India, the results would undoubtedly underline the yawning gap that exists in the relationship between players and officials. Cricketers were more inclined to support their governing bodies in their own countries. In the FICA survey, 56 per cent of the players agreed that they had a good relationship with their home board while 41% agreed their officials had the best interests of the game at heart. Indian players obviously did not fall under the purview of the survey and there is little doubt that the figure of cricketers agreeing that they enjoyed a good relationship with the BCCI would not be anywhere as high as 56 per cent.
The formation of a cricketers association in India is not a new move. In the seventies, the leading players then formed an association and Sunil Gavaskar, Bishen Bedi and S Venkatraghavan were the prominent office bearers. Little, however, was heard of the body thereafter and it is doubtful if anything constructive was done. Over the years it became largely inactive and virtually non-existent.
Then in 1989, in the wake of the court case involving the BCCI and the leading cricketers after the players went off to play some unofficial exhibition matches in the USA following the tour of the West Indies, there were fresh moves to give the players association a kick start. But once the crisis was resolved, the Association of Indian Cricketers, as it was called, became defunct.
The body formed on Tuesday, however, promises to be more active and it seems to have certain definite plans and objectives.
For starters, membership would be open to all present and past firstclass cricketers, according to former Indian opening batsman Arun Lal who is the secretary, and that means it will have a large base. Secondly, the situation now is very different than it was about 25 years ago when the first association was formed. The problems these days are manifold and complicated and the cricketers obviously feel that a players' body would help in solving the complex issues. Moreover, with former Indian captain MAK Pataudi as president and with star players like Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble as its founding members, things could be worked out smoothly, even at the top level.
The ICPA may have to get into action sooner than expected. It must not be forgotten that the contracts issue has still to be solved. A hastily conceived ad hoc arrangement was arrived at just prior to the commencement of the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in September. The contentious issue is still pending and requires a long-term solution before the start of the World Cup in South Africa in February.
It must be remembered that the BCCI was even ready to send a secondstring team to Sri Lanka if the leading players did not sign the contract. The BCCI, given its feudal set up, has not taken kindly to player power over the years and it remains to be seen what Jagmohan Dalmiya's reaction will be to the new association. The BCCI has maintained that it would give its approval to a cricketers' association only if all domestic first-class players were its members. And both Pataudi and Arun Lal have done well in making it clear that while raising problems faced by players with the board, the association would not be looking for any confrontation.
"We are looking for a wider acceptance for the association. The ICPA will be non-confrontational. We are for dialogue with the BCCI on issues relating to players and will act only in the interests of the cricketers and the game," Arun Lal is quoted to have said while Pataudi has harped upon the need for such a body to help open a communication channel with the board for better working of the two organizations.
The ICPA has ambitious long-term plans like involving players in raising funds for charities, float a pension fund and an insurance scheme for players and the widows of cricketers and organise benefit matches for them. There are also plans to have a charity dinner to raise funds for the association. In the meantime, their primary objectives should be to gain recognition or at least approval from the BCCI and to find a permanent solution to the contracts issue. If they can achieve this, it would be a good beginning for the new body and as the clich goes, well begun is half done.