Ramchandra Guha’s letter has expectedly created quite a stir. In a sense Guha has attacked India’s holy cows, cricketers, who are meant to be above questioning in India. Guha’s letter has not just exposed the rot in the system, but also of how we run our sport in general.
Essentially it boils down to one single factor: Money.
Every example pointed out by Guha in his letter is about money pocketed by Sunil Gavaskar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an unnamed coach/physio moonlighting in the IPL (Rahul Dravid, R Sridhar, Andrew Leipus) and president of a state association (Sourav Ganguly).
Essentially the problem arises because we in India have continued to run our sport in an archaic fashion. The crux of the matter is the business of not paying administrators because they are working ‘for the love of the sport’.
Nowhere else will you find this skewed system of operation. It is very simple, if you have multiple ‘honorary’ committees, with ‘honorary’ members then they will continue doing everything else that you want.
If you allow this ‘for the love of the sport’ business, you are bound to have people wanting to create avenues to earn hard-earned money.
It is very simple, pay them to perform and fulfil key responsibilities. Instead we are going around in circles.
Focus on Ganguly
Take the case of Ganguly for example. He is playing multiple roles in Indian cricket, as president of a state association, chairman of technical committee, member of IPL Governing Council and also a member of the now-defunct-now-functioning Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC).
But for all this, Ganguly gets paid absolutely nothing! Can anything be more illogical than that?
However, even the cricketers are happy to be tied to such a system because it gives them a veil of freedom. So essentially, Ganguly and Virender Sehwag will be in the same commentary box during the Champions Trophy. Then the duo will be across the table for a coach selection interview.
Contrast this with England for example where a former captain, Andrew Strauss, is a full-time Director of Cricket. Strauss’ role involves managing all England teams (men, women, boys and girls), appointing coaches, selectors etc. It is a paid position, so no questions are asked and he carries out his role as a professional.
But we in India are happy to continue being stuck in a time warp, because it is self-serving.
The Dravid Dilemma
In Dravid’s case, there was absolutely no cricket for the junior sides during the IPL. He is again a professional who is paid to do a job for 10 months with the under-19 and India-A sides. He surely cannot be held responsible for a contract offered to him from the IPL. In any case there are two full-time coaches at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in WV Raman and Narendra Hirwani. Dravid’s remit is the under-19 and A sides, which plays matches from June-March annually.
If Dravid or others associated with the NCA/Indian set up have not been offered long-term contracts, it is a systemic issue. The recipients of the contract are just benefiting from an opaque system. Instead of targeting the system, we are taking aim at the easiest targets.
Go for Gavaskar
The other easy target is Gavaskar because essentially he is an entrepreneur. Perhaps it is not well-known that the first sports management company in India, Professional Management Group (PMG), was actually started by Gavaskar back when he was a player in 1985-86. Gavaskar has been a TV pundit since 1989 and has a BCCI commentary contract from 2007.
PMG has been associated with Indian and world cricket for over three decades in varied capacities. Gavaskar’s association with the PMG has been open, so raising an issue at this stage is clearly not just about cricket!
For the record, PMG manages not just Shikhar Dhawan, but also Rishabh Pant and had previously also managed Sehwag.
Elsewhere in the world, former England captain Michael Vaughan is also associated with a player management agency and also calls on the game. The only difference is that England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) does not produce its own feed, unlike the BCCI. But that is hardly Gavaskar’s fault!
Premium Salary for MS Dhoni
Dhoni has clearly chosen to give up his Test career to prolong his white-ball innings. With the powers that be only providing lip service on the primacy of Test cricket, it is hypocritical to say that white ball players need to be in a lower grade.
It was purely by coincidence that India played 13 Tests at home in the 2016-17 season. There was no real plan to make Test cricket the prime sport in India. With vague noises being made about it, how can Dhoni’s presence in a Grade A contract be held against him?
The conflict is more in the system than in the interest of the players. Have a well-defined system, where you have qualified and paid professionals running your sport. The cricketers too will then be forced to adhere to the system.
Guha’s raised some apt questions, but the anomalies that he pointed out have been allowed to fester for long because it suits the interest of a few. As long as this is not demolished, no amount of self-righteous talk will help matters.
(Chandresh Narayanan is ex-cricket writer for The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator)