Sharda Ugra

What's the worst that can happen, BCCI?

We are being told that implementing the Lodha recommendations will mark the downfall of Indian cricket. How true is that?

Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra
BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke with BCCI president Anurag Thakur during a press conference at BCCI headquarters, Mumbai, May 22, 2016

To expect the likes of Ajay Shirke and Anurag Thakur to push their state associations to approach the Lodha recommendations with an open mind is to expect them to sack themselves  •  AFP

As the latest chapter in the BCCI's entanglements with the Supreme Court continued to unfold, three doomsday scenarios were put out into the world as to what would happen if the Lodha committee's recommendations were pushed through:
The New Zealand team would go home and Indian cricket would be humiliated.
The Ranji Trophy would be cancelled and Indian cricket would collapse.
The India team would pull out of world events and naturally world cricket would implode.
As of now, Kane Williamson and his men are still around for the ODI series starting Sunday, the Ranji Trophy made its quiet seasonal progress despite impending disaster, and when last heard, the BCCI was still in active engagement with the ICC. The board's officials at the ICC's Cape Town meetings are on a mission, it is reported, to challenge comrade-turned current bête noire, ICC chairman Shashank Manohar.
What were the triple threats of impending cricketing apocalypse meant to do? Get the public out onto the streets protesting against judicial overreach, showing their support for the BCCI and burning a few effigies? While it is said that often judges enjoy "playing to the gallery" with amusing observations, and that their orders are full of references to mighty minds through history, it is safe to assume that public approval or disapproval does not register on their radar.
The BCCI's latest move was to inform the Supreme Court, that apart from their own response to the recommendation - hardly conciliatory - it had proved hard to persuade their members, i.e. the state associations to agree to the proposed changes to their individual associations.
Withholding funding, the BCCI's counsel Kapil Sibal argued, was not an option, because it would put the domestic season in jeopardy. Chief Justice TS Thakur replied, "Season or no season… we don't care about your season. Transparency and fairness must be there. Everyone needs to co-operate with the Lodha panel."
"We don't care about your season" is shiver-me-timbers stuff for Indian cricket. Chief Justice Thakur has no doubt heard many lawyers make many such apocalyptic prophecies, either as diversionary or delaying tactics, and his response carried a brutal message of its own.
The truth is that the state associations in Indian cricket do not function hand to mouth: in the post-IPL world, 25 state associations (excluding Services, Railways, All India Universities, Cricket Club of India and National Cricket Club), have each received between Rs 25 and 30 crores every year. With the accumulated corpus growing over the last seven seasons, most of them could run their cricket for three or four seasons without a sneeze.
The few associations that are cash-strapped have had their BCCI funding held back due to a failure to audit their accounts or supply the ruling body with satisfactory balance sheets. Like the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association or Goa Cricket Association, and the perpetually shambolic Delhi and Districts Cricket Association, which has not held elections for the last three years. The death of the Indian domestic season was therefore offered to the judge like a trial balloon, and it was duly shot down with the response indicating the direction the court was willing to take.
The bogey of recalcitrant associations is not unfounded, but it does not include the entire house. Vidarbha and Tripura have adopted the Lodha recommendations and there is a possibility that a couple of states are contemplating the same but checking the climate before doing so.
The BCCI's argument that they could adopt several Lodha recommendations if only the states acquiesced struck a bum note. The board's four most senior office-bearers - president Anurag Thakur, secretary Ajay Shirke, joint secretary Amitabh Choudhary and treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry - are key functionaries in their state associations - Thakur, Shirke and Choudhary are presidents of Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand respectively, while Chaudhry is secretary of Haryana cricket.
In a world of utopian super-governance, the best way to get state associations to start falling in line would be to have these four key office-bearers issue directives to their associations. Except, one of the key Lodha recommendations is that no official should hold roles in both the BCCI and state associations at the same time. Effectively, asking them to push their state associations to approach the Lodha recommendations with an open mind is to expect four very powerful men - a member of parliament, a successful businessman, a retired senior police officer, and a lawyer from an influential political family - to sack themselves. Not going to happen.
It would cause some disruption at the top, two or three weeks of uncertainty, a period of adjustment, and then a new set of officials would step in. All the while, a well functioning machine will keep moving, and Tests, ODIs and first-class games will continue to be played
The four have played significant roles in their state associations. There are new top-quality venues in each of their four states, and they must be given credit for their part in the creation and development of them. They have used their imagination, wealth and influence in cricket to visible effect. Naturally any challenge to their position will only be resisted.
It is also now being circulated that it would be impossible to replace the top office-bearers of the BCCI with equally capable stand-ins. To turn the many admirable qualities of the top officials in Indian cricket through history into proof of their cast-iron indispensability is both unsuccessful use of spin and a limited understanding of the dynamics of power.
At the level of policy, tours, IPL contracts, relations with the ICC and so on, the BCCI currently is run by a very small group - the top four-office bearers, in this case, with the help of a few political heavyweights in nebulous "vice-presidential" roles. The BCCI's daily cricketing operations are carried out by a number of largely anonymous salaried individuals who keep the machine moving, without the direct involvement or supervision of the office-bearers.
If Jagmohan Dalmiya pulled in the money and kept the BCCI running through his office in Kolkata, with a capable secretary, a typewriter and a fax machine, the post-2005 era of N Srinivasan and Lalit Modi was marked by a retention of centralised power but a decentralisation of operations. The post-Srinivasan era, under Shashank Manohar at first, and now Thakur, has witnessed a greater flow of information, and the arrival of a CEO and an ombudsman - the latter being the result of the court's involvement and interest in the BCCI's functioning.
Were the Lodha panel recommendations to be pushed through, what possible disaster could wreck the BCCI, and Indian and world cricket? No one in Indian cricket can possibly be quoted on this subject, so let's go with this neutral assessment: it would cause some disruption at the top, two or three weeks of uncertainty, a period of adjustment, and then a new set of officials would step in. All the while, a well-functioning machine will keep moving, and Tests, ODIs and first-class games will continue to be played.
In November 2014, when the Supreme Court was told of the enormous role played in the development of Indian cricket by the former BCCI president Srinivasan, its response was, "Recognition comes when one lakh [100,000] people turn up at Eden Gardens to watch a match. That recognition is not because of Srinivasan. The benefit of doubt must go to the game rather than the individual."
That position has not changed. The establishment of a more compact governance structure in Indian cricket is of greater priority to the court than its impact on those currently wielding authority. Between then and now, the individuals in charge at the BCCI have changed but their responses to ceding power have been identical. And so it's back to another round of the courts, and no doubt to another round of filibustering by the BCCI's counsel.
No matter what is offered in public however, the sky in Indian cricket, it must be said, is not about to fall.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo