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News Analysis

BCCI awards - a joyful confluence of talent

Despite a boycott by the state associations, and other controversies, the star-studded function went off without a hitch

Arun Venugopal
Ramachandra Guha is clapping wildly as Bishan Bedi is invited onto the stage. There are several other hands coming together in applause but Guha's stands out, accompanied by a violent bobbing of the head. Guha is a writer, historian and now, of the volition of India's Supreme Court, a cricket administrator, if only temporarily. But on Thursday evening, at the fifth MAK Pataudi memorial lecture and the annual BCCI awards, he better resembles the awestruck teenager who had met a whiskey-guzzling Bedi for the first time in 1974.
In another corner, Vikram Limaye, a financial expert and Guha's colleague in the BCCI's Committee of Administrators, is reliving his cricketing fantasies. He had grown up in Mumbai's Shivaji Park and his boyhood idols - GR Viswanath and EAS Prasanna - are only a few feet away. A little further away sit three of the evening's most important people - VV Kumar, Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar.
Goel and Shivalkar receive the CK Nayudu lifetime achievement award, while Kumar is given a special award along with the late Ramakant Desai. In the alternate history of India's spinners, they would be the chief protagonists. Even Mohammad Azharuddin is in attendance - it is understood that he is invited to every BCCI function.
It isn't only about nostalgia, though. The current Indian team is here in crisp white shirts and blazers, cooling off after a draining win over Australia that Virat Kohli predicts will be a great "YouTube memory" in the years to come. Farokh Engineer, the former wicketkeeper-batsman, is here to deliver the Pataudi lecture. Instead, he delivers a series of gags in an after-dinner speech-meets-stand-up comedy show. Kohli laughs. So does the rest of the team. There is easy exchange of old-world conventions and new-age fads. R Ashwin gushes about Engineer's "romantic" speech even as the Bedis and Viswanaths click selfies.
Hang on. Isn't this supposed to be a low-key function? Many state associations - the lifeblood of the BCCI - "boycott" it. The BCCI itself is in a state of flux; only a few of the officials from previous administrations are around. And now there are on-field controversies as well. Australia do not turn up for the awards with it being a day after Kohli, BCCI and CA have sparred at each other about DRS gate. It is understood, though, that Steven Smith and his team are supposed to attend a function as part of a pre-series MoU between the two boards.
Despite the no-show from several member associations, there is barely an empty seat. And, as a former legendary spinner remarks, it is probably one of the few occasions that past greats, not BCCI officials, are giving out the awards. The most conspicuous change is it is no longer a predominantly male gathering with the token presence of one or two women in the winners list.
Shanta Rangaswamy, the first recipient of the BCCI's lifetime achievement award for women, uses the podium to expand on the rough ride that she has been on. While Engineer narrates a story of how the India players of his vintage made INR 250 per Test match, she put it in perspective by revealing in a tremulous voice how the women's team could have done with the "fortune." Rangaswamy and many of her team-mates played without remuneration for a number of years. The strides made since are best reflected in how two members of the current team - Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur, who are in the crowd - are freelancing in the women's Big Bash League.
There is the customary photo of all the awardees together at the end of the event. But it is the postscript that makes the evening a departure from what it is and turns it into something better. A joyful confluence of talent with the promise of change. Women cricketers of different eras, ranging from Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, who is also a member of the CoA, Mandhana and Harmanpreet huddle together for photographs, with Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Bedi making charming guest appearances.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun