Superstar Culture Coupled With No System Stunting Indian Cricket
Indian cricket has always been about those two or three superstars reigning at one time and getting what they want.
This past week, women’s cricket has been much in focus in India, finally!
But all this has been for the wrong reasons. The reason women’s cricket gets mileage in India is usually for controversies and some news about mismanagement.
Well, we had more of the same when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) interviewed candidates and finally named a new head coach for the women’s team.
They had a wide variety of names to pick from, both male and female. Finally, the CAC which had the likes of former India cricketer and coach Madan Lal, former women’s player Sulakshana Naik, once again named Ramesh Powar as the new head coach.
Powar had previously been the head coach, but once his term ended, reports of a fall out with senior players, especially the ODI captain Mithali Raj came to the fore. Hence, Powar had to go in 2018-19.
In his place came WV Raman, another former India cricketer. During his term, India made the final of the T20 World Cup in 2020, but generally had long periods of inaction, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was expected that Raman would be retained but what followed was yet another clear case of ‘player power,’ which decided his fate. Some senior players, this time unnamed, again were not in favour of Raman – claiming he was distracted and took cigarette breaks quite regularly.
CAC went in favour of Powar and brought him back to the role from which the senior pros had wanted him out. Women’s cricket stars dictated the course of action and this forced Raman to write a scathing letter marked to Board president Sourav Ganguly and Head of Cricket at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) Rahul Dravid. Raman alluded to the player power and prima donna culture.
This kind of prima donna culture also led to the exit of Anil Kumble as the head coach of the Indian men’s team back in 2017.
The culture persists when you have a feudal set-up, which serves the interest of a few superstars. They are beyond questioning and can do what they want because of the kind of status they share in cricket.
This culture emerges from a set-up where the entire system is based on an honorary set-up which allows for officials to be elected on the basis of votes. What it does is that it serves the interests of a few and is based on satisfying the needs of a few. In this, what happens is that the superstars get away, because they choose to look the other way.
They get their way in what they want and the officials elected on the basis of favour, find it convenient to keep them happy. So, their demands are met and the superstars are kept happy.
There is no system or method to the madness because if there was, the superstars would be part of the same. They would have to follow the rules and not get what they want by just picking up the phone.
Hence, Indian cricket has always been about those two or three superstars reigning at one time and getting what they want. The expulsion or exit of coaches rightly or wrongly over the last few years in women’s cricket is a result of the same.
The men’s cricket team also has had this phenomenon – in not just picking coaches but also in various other matters.
In the late 1980s, when strong players were around in men’s cricket, they took on the Board. But a few lost their captaincy, some others lost their places and the matter went right up to the Supreme Court in 1989. Players have never been the same again in Indian cricket.
For a brief period, in the early 2000s, Dravid and Kumble led negotiations on behalf of the players to bring in the player contracts, but after that, it has all been downhill. So, when 300 cricketers were banned for joining the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) in 2007, the superstars went quiet.
The Supreme Court also appointed the Justice Lodha committee – intended to bring in a system of professionalism in the way Indian cricket was run. A system where qualified professionals are involved in various departments to look after different aspects of the sport. Today, cricket is not an amateur sport but instead a professional corporation which yields billions of dollars. The system that India has is outdated and can no longer sustain.
What you instead need is a modern, 21st century method of professionals from top to bottom, run by a well-paid CEO to manage the show with various checks and balances.
When you have a Team India off the field which is as good as the ones on the field, this country will be unbeatable in all formats, across age groups and genders. There would be a strategic document to go by, some long-term vision and indeed a road map charted out.
What we instead have is a timid approach which is decided quietly behind closed doors, with no clear vision or strategy. This serves the interests of the superstar cricketers (both men and women) and of course the officials themselves, because no one has anything at stake. All that is being done is for the ‘love of the sport,’ as earning legitimate money is a crime!
Since their interests are served, the superstar cricketers have desisted from getting involved in creating a players’ association as well. We have one created as per the mandate of the Lodha committee, but it has its fangs removed as they represent only the former players.
Even among the former players, the superstars of the past, out of fear, have stayed away because they have interests linked to the Board.
Hence, the Indian Cricketers Association (ICA) has no real teeth. We have had three previous editions of player associations in the 1970s, 1980s and later in 2002. But all that was again to serve the interests of the superstars at the time.
Everyone has legitimate reasons for not wanting to rock the boat, but superstar cricketers surely have the might to withstand the backlash, if any.
Former Australian cricketer Lisa Sthalekar recently lamented about the lack of support for Indian star Veda Krishnamurthy, for the loss of her mother and sister to COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the support for Veda would have come if there was a proper system in place. A full-fledged women’s cricket department headed by someone, who would be in communication with all and sundry. In the absence of a system, you are forced to depend on handouts from unnamed men and women who hide behind the curtain.
Since Veda is a current player, she also misses out on support from the ICA. This would not happen in some other countries. Even the likes of Pakistan, where their Board has announced support measures for its female players.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has announced maternity leave and support for their female players. They were even quicker off the blocks in naming contracts for their female players, even before India.
Also, all their male contracted players were recently vaccinated by the PCB on their recent Zimbabwe tour because, as contracted players, the cricketers become employees of a Board.
Perhaps historian Ramachandra Guha was right after all – Indian cricket is being destroyed by this superstar culture. Sooner they get a fix on this, the better it will be. But a lack of a proper system ensures the interests of a few are served and the others ignored.
Wonder who will bell the cat!
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