The Visionary

Punjab's cricketing visionary speaks about cricket in the state, and more

When people think back to Indian cricket's financial revolution in the early 90s, the name that readily comes to mind is that of Jagmohan Dalmiya. People forget that it was Inderjit Singh Bindra who was BCCI president, the visionary leading the way through the many legal tussles the board needed to fight against government monopolies.
Yet the driving force soon found himself on the other side. He fell out with Dalmiya, who went on to head the ICC, and the animosity grew so strong that Bindra once called a press conference in Delhi with the sole purpose of demonstrating that Dalmiya was the evil of Indian cricket. When he sensationally announced on CNN (in London, in a fit of rage after having been declined an audience by the ICC), that the identity of the man who Manoj Prabhakar had alleged offered him a bribe to underperform, was none other than Kapil Dev, it alienated him further from mainstream Indian administration.
But through all this, Bindra has nurtured Punjab cricket with a passion and foresight perhaps unmatched in the country. As an administrator, he takes pride in his work, and is also the first to take responsibility when things don't work out. "The buck stops with me. I will make sure it doesn't happen again," he said on air about the dead pitch at Mohali that effectively killed the series.
Nevertheless Mohali should serve as an example to the rest of the country. He talks to Wisden Cricinfo about this, and larger issues in Indian administration.

The change a dream can make - The PCA Stadium at Mohali, built on swampland, is today one of the most modern grounds in the world
(c) Getty

Leaving the pitch aside for the moment, Mohali shows us that it is very much possible to have a truly world-class centre in India. Can you tell us the story behind it?
In 1992, when we had this land allotted, this was a swamp; there were 30 feet deep ravines, it was waterlogged totally. It was an area where nothing apart from mosquitoes could grow. We had a vision for it at the time. We made a corporate brochure - `PCA 2002' - where we described a long room like the one we're sitting in now, a video screen like the one across the ground, corporate hospitality boxes, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a clubhouse ... I was surprised when I saw that brochure after exactly 10 years, virtually everything was in position, including our cricket academy. In two things there was a delay of six months: the health club - the second health club, we already had one - and the video screen.
At our academy we have almost 80 junior trainees picked up from all over the state running for about 10 months in a year. We have one of the best practice facilities. We created a third practice ground where the juniors could play their matches, so in this complex we have three grounds.
Why did you choose this swamp land to build upon?
We had this land at that time and the person in charge of urban development and housing was a dear friend and colleague of mine. He told me that this is the most rundown area of Mohali because of the swamp. He told me, if you make a stadium over here, the value-addition will be tremendous. We accepted the challenge, and they said that whatever extra expenses we incur, they would subsidise that.
At the point of time we started the construction, the price of land in this area was 800 rupees per square yard. When we completed the construction in 1993, the price was 3,600 rupees per square yard. The urban development authority which allotted us the land had a gain of 2,800 rupees per square yard for something like 500 acres, which runs into millions and millions of rupees. That's the kind of value addition we are talking about. I was not only the president of the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), I was also associated as a civil servant in the state government. I was conscious of our responsibility to the city and its development.
Traditionally, the centers of cricket in Punjab are Patiala, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Ludhiana. Mohali was a surprising choice in that sense too, was it not?
We thought that proximity to city beautiful, Chandigarh, will bring in dividends in terms of better city infrastructure and airport facility. Jalandhar was a centre, but it didn't have an international aiport. Amritsar at that time was going through a lot of political turmoil and law-and-order disturbances. Ludhiana is a big industrial centre but again, does not have an airport. For an international centre you need city infrastructure, which is equally important. We thought the best infrastructure in Punjab is in Chandigarh.

The crowds here don't have trouble walking into the stadiums, they don't have to go without soft drinks, they have toilet facilities
One of the things you feel strongly about is spectator comfort. You've said that the conditions they are subjected to encourages rioting. How did you try and provide for them while building this ground?
I saw the replay of the match last night on TV and I was surprised to see the girls in the general blocks, how they had no problems or apprehensions. This is because the crowds here don't have trouble walking into the stadiums, they don't have to go without soft drinks, they have toilet facilities. But we still want to improve. People say that this is the best facility in the country, but we are not satisfied till our facility is, in terms of public amenities, as good as the facilities existing anywhere in the world. At the moment it is not. Our ground facilities, our practice facilities are as good as anywhere but our public facilities are still lagging behind those in South Africa or Australia.
There have been some progressive measures, like selling beer, for example. Any criticism on that?
Not at all. We take permission, and we haven't had instances of bad behaviour yet. We have never had a match being interrupted - and we don't have fencing in between. Nobody has jumped onto the ground. Coming to the cricket ground is more of a social thing. People take a day off. They don't come here to go through miles and miles of lines and rough it out, and take half an hour to get out of the stadium. I remember at one of the grounds, a former board president had a chest pain, and to escort him from the pavilion to the car took me an hour and thiry minutes. God forbid, if something like a fire were to happen at such a venue, can you imagine what would happen?

I have always maintained we are shortchanging the public
I have always maintained we are shortchanging the public. We are enjoying a total monopoly situation in this country. Cricket is the only game [of mass popularity]. If tomorrow hockey is to become as popular, cricket is bound to lose sponsorship.
Three things are responsible for making this game great. First is public support, second is media support, third is corporate support. We've been shortchanging each one of them. In some of the places the media facilities are inadequate. Corporates have to run from pillar to post. There should be one man who's looking after the corporates, one man who is looking after the TV rights holders ...
You're talking now about the central board?
Well, these rights are sold by the board. The board should have professional people dealing with that. I accept I am equally responsible for that, having been the board president. I'm not putting the blame on anyone. I'm just saying that these are the areas we have to focus on.
A day before this Test, you announced the sponsorship of `centres of excellence' around the state. What is your vision for cricket in Punjab?
We are in the process of formulating a document - `PCA 2020'. It is a masterplan for the next 17 years. And our plan is that in 17 years PCA should be the best. We should be the national champions, we should be as good as New South Wales. A champion state team should be a world beater. Today NSW could beat many countries. Our objective is that by 2020 PCA should be able to open centres of excellence in 400-500 schools in the state, totally financed and funded by us. We have already started. We are funding about 30 schools; by 2020 we want to go practically to every school that has a ground.
What exactly do you mean when you say `centre of excellence'?
Basically, that practice facilities should be as good as they are here at Mohali. You have about 30 nets. You have synthetic wickets. That is our concept of `centre of excellence'. At the moment, we are running them at the district levels. There are 14 in all, where we give coaches, equipment, sprinkler systems, money for infrastructure, a physical trainer. Out of these 14, we have gotten three sponsored by Lifebuoy. The plan is that gradually they will take over all of them. That means more money is being pumped in - our share and an equal share from them [the sponsor] . We want to get the best coaches in the world for our academies. Mr Raj Singh Dungarpur is co-ordinating a meeting in Bombay on November 1 during the one-dayer. We feel that for one centre to get foreign coaches and pay for them is a waste, but if 7-8 academies combine, it would work. Even the NCA could be included. PCA is happy to share the cost, Mr Raj Singh from the CCI academy is willing, Mr Shashank Manohar from Vidharbha is willing. So in Mumbai, eight centers will meet. The plan is also to send our coaches abroad and get them trained. There's no point in getting coaches from abroad for all times to come.
Where do you see the funding for your schools program coming from?
From our sponsors and a share of the money from the board. It's adequate. We feel that money is the least of our constraints. When we conceived the vision for Mohali and started the work, we had [Rupees] 30 or 35 lakhs. In three years between 1993 and 1996, we raised 23 crores and spent it. We had some loans which we paid back within two years.
Would you agree that the Punjab Ranji team has been underperforming? How much an impetus was that to your development program?
It has been underperforming. There is so much of talent but they have a mental block. They reach the semi-final and don't go on. The junior teams have been doing exceedingly well. They have been winning year after year. Yes, the underperformance at the Ranji level is one of the main reasons that we want huge bench strength and cricket at the grassroots level. Once you bring sponsors into coaching and they get mileage they are very happy. At the Patiala district academy Lifebuoy had said we should get at least 400 children; they got 950 children. I'm sure the second and third trials in Amritsar and Jalandhar will have 2000 children. Everything picks up and it is bound to have a cascading effect. We're making a beginning to take cricket to the grassroots level.
Changing track a little bit, you've kept a fairly low profile since 2000 and the Kapil Dev controversy. How do you look back upon that now?
No, I had decided to keep a low profile ever since I had ceased to be the board president. I made a statement at the time that former board presidents should have no role in the day-to-day working of the board and should not accept an office. I was offered chairmanship of a committee or post of treasurer but I said, `nothing doing'.
But when you feel that cricket has reached a stage it could be destroyed, when an issue concerns the very existence of the game, you have to speak. It's not meddling in day-to-day functions. The issue is over. It was accepted by the ICC, they took action, they constituted an anti-corruption unit and they have guidelines in place. The board took cognizance of this. Every board in the world has given its recommendation. I have no reason to say that the board is doing wrong or so-and-so is doing wrong.
What led you at that time to take such a strong step, and to do it so dramatically?
I don't want to look back, I want to look forward. That thing is over.
You would have done it the same way again?
I took a stand, and I always stand by my stand. I'm not one to go back on that.
Are you happy with the ICC measures, though? There's a lot of skepticism about them.
I prefer not to comment on an issue like this. But at least something has happened. It takes time. In baseball they constituted an anti-corruption unit in the 30s, it took another twenty or thirty years for full effect. A beginning has been made; a good beginning has been made. I'm sure things will keep improving.
Are you happy with the way the Indian board is run now?
As I said, a former board president should not have any interference with the functioning of the board. I worked with Mr Dalmiya for a long time, I think he has been an outstanding administrator, and I don't believe otherwise now.

The board is a democratic polity, and any democratic system is not perfect.
Let's look at a couple of the broader issues in Indian administration though. What do you think of our selection setup - the zonal setup?
See, the board is a democratic polity, and any democratic system is not perfect. But still it is the best system that could be conceived. You have drawbacks and you have good points. If you don't want a democratic polity then the only other way is the nominated system of Pakistan. I'll prefer a democratic sytem any day.
Is it not possible to do away with the idea of having zonal representatives on the panel?
I genuinely feel it has pros and cons. India is a vast country and if you have three honorary selectors at least they watch some cricket within the zone. They know the talent existing in the zones. I believe if they are national selectors and they have considerations other than merit then the board has the right to change them. They are not there to represent the zone but the whole idea of having zonal selectors is that they should know what is happening, where the talent is.
The other option is to have full-time paid selectors whose only job is to watch cricket. Unless you watch cricket at junior levels, unless you watch cricket at school level, unless you watch all domestic matches, you can't do justice to selections.
But is there anything stopping us going down that path?
If you have an honorary system, then you have to have the zonal system. If you have full-time selectors whose job is to watch cricket 365 days a year, then it is okay. That will be a better alternative, but till then we have to live with the zonal system.
What do you make of the contract crisis. Do you encourage player bodies?
In my experience we have been the luckiest board. We always had wonderful relationship with the players. I don't know what the existing situation is, I wouldn't like to comment on it, but we've always had a very good equation. If I know Mr Dalmiya - I've known him pretty well - this equation must be continuing. This board has never had a problem - the only hiccup was when the boys went to the US [for exhibition matches, without the permission of the board] and the matter went to the Supreme Court. Otherwise, we've been settling everything across the table. I think we are most fortunate; our players are the most disciplined, the best behaved.
In principle are you in favour of long-term contracts between the board and players?
I think there is no easy option. There was a time when the board had offered contracts to the players but the players were not ready. This was in the early eighties.
Once the contract system is worked out, do you think it would be right or wrong to control player endorsements?
Without full facts at my command, I can't say. I never avoid questions - but I really don't know what the present stage of discussion is and what the points of view and the details are. But I feel that they give their 100% to the game when they are on the field and if they have an opportunity of maximizing their potential commercially, they have every right to do it. The jealousy that cricketers are making too much money is all crap. They have every right to do so; anyone in their position would do the same. I'll be the last person to grudge that.
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
My plan is to enjoy my golf, and look after the PCA for as long as I can continue. The day I feel that I cannot contribute, I will quit, and I'll quit while the going is good.