Hardik, Dhoni & Bumrah: ‘Superstar Culture’ Back in Ganguly’s BCCI
In recent months, three Indian cricketers - Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni - have been in the focus for all the wrong reasons. Bumrah and Hardik refused to train or be certified fit by BCCI-appointed trainers/physios and MS Dhoni has been absent from the Indian teams, of his own volition.
It is really amazing that the three cricketers are all centrally contracted high-earning players of the BCCI but there seems to be absolutely no central remit. There is absolute lack of clarity from the BCCI on how they are or were dealing with these players and their different issues.
In the case of Bumrah and his comeback into the Indian team after an injury, he was pulled out of a Ranji Trophy match and straightaway plugged into the T20I series against Sri Lanka, ostensibly under the orders of BCCI president Sourav Ganguly.
Hardik, on the other hand, was being parachuted straight into top-flight cricket, not in India where the Ranji rounds are still in progress, but far away in New Zealand with the India A squad.
But mysteriously, just hours before the India A white-ball squad left for New Zealand, Hardik was replaced by Vijay ‘Mr 360’ Shankar. There was no communication from the BCCI on this change till a day after the India A squad left the shores. Instead, Shankar himself posted pictures on his social media to announce his inclusion!
Different Rules for ‘Special’ Players?
In the case of Bumrah, there has been a definite gamble in playing him straightaway in an international series. Next month, when India play the two-Test series against New Zealand, it will be interesting to see how he is eased back into the longer formats.
However, in the case of both Hardik and Bumrah, they refused to travel to Bengaluru to train at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). Instead they preferred to train in Mumbai with a trainer of their choice.
We were told that the new regime in BCCI will act tough, be hard on erring players and generally enforce the law, but so far the evidence has been to its contrary.
This is part of the superstar culture that noted historian and former Committee of Administrators (CoA) member Ramchandra Guha alluded to in his resignation letter. Both Bumrah and Hardik were centrally contracted players of the BCCI, which means all their activities are to be monitored.
The players cannot take the law into their own hands and decide things for themselves. There was a tug of war between the Board, the players in question and the NCA on these issues. When a similar fitness-related issue of Test wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha cropped up during the regime of CoA, there was massive mayhem all round, but there is all round calm this time around, maybe because of fear of losing access?
Contracts Were Introduced in Ganguly’s Time
The concept of a centrally contracted player was introduced in 2004 with a view to ensure that all the top players are monitored, tracked and taken care of by the Board. But all that has been now forgotten, except of course the monetary benefits.
Incidentally, the central contracts were introduced when current BCCI president Ganguly was the captain of India. His deputy at the time, Rahul Dravid, the current Head of Cricket at NCA, led the protracted negotiations with the then Board for close to seven years with Kumble. But all that effort looks to have come to a nought 15 years later incidentally with both Ganguly and Dravid in charge of affairs!
MS (No) Word
Then there is the curious case of MS Dhoni who has not been seen on any cricket field since the time India got knocked out of the 2019 World Cup. He had every right to excuse himself from being selected in the subsequent series as he needed a break from cricket. But now, it has been close to six months since he has made himself unavailable.
Much ridiculed chief selector MSK Prasad has made it very clear that Dhoni is now no longer the first choice in white ball squads and it is instead Rishabh Pant who is priority for the team think-tank.
Dhoni on his part simply said ‘don’t ask me till Januay 2020’ when asked about his future plans at a press conference in December.
Ganguly and head coach Ravi Shastri have also made some noises about Dhoni. While Ganguly said there have been some discussions about the former captain, Shastri almost made it seem as if asking any question about Dhoni’s immediate future was not appropriate. Instead, recently, the coach announced on behalf of Dhoni that he may have played his last ODI match.
While it is understandable that Dhoni does not have to explicitly announce that he has retired just like the bunch of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh did not. In fact, Harbhajan is still an active player in the Indian Premier League (IPL). But there is a big difference, Dhoni continued to be a centrally contracted player at least till September 2019.
In the case of Dhoni, silence is almost always golden. We still do not know why he retired from Test cricket five years ago, and that too in the middle of a Test series in Australia. Then he quit ODI and T20I captaincy a couple of years ago again via a media release.
It is not a crime to question whether Dhoni is still in the frame or whether he will play for India again in any format. He did not play any white ball tournament for Jharkhand in the domestic circuit, so it is only fair to assume that we have to wait to see how he performs in the IPL.
This lack of clarity is just not good enough. We know what the Board pays its players, its vendors and every other stakeholder, but we still do not have enough clarity of the biggest stakeholder of them all-the players. An average fan cares just about their star cricketers and gives them their demi god status.
Just for that sake, let there be a bit more clarity in all three cases. No one is bigger than the game. And now that there is Sourav Ganguly at the helm, there is a need for the BCCI to answer to the fans and not return to the times of making decisions behind closed doors.