Wriddhiman Saha Issue Presents BCCI With Opportunity to Set Its House in Order
Wriddhiman Saha had shared a screenshot of messages sent to him by a journalist, demanding an interview.
Most big problems started as small, easily addressed items. By not addressing them, you allowed them to grow into big issues.
This line sits perfectly with the ongoing saga around Wriddhiman Saha.
The former or rather current India wicket-keeper shook the cricket ecosystem when he accused a journalist of threatening him. His screenshots on Twitter drew support from a number of former cricketers and media.
There was enough hue and cry, but Saha stepped back and announced that he would not be naming the journalist just this once!
It appeared as though the matter had died down, but then there were stories about how Saha will be served a show cause notice for discussing dressing room matters as he was a ‘contracted player’ (We will return to this at the end).
This specifically referred to Saha mentioning that head coach Rahul Dravid had told him that his time was up. Saha even mentioned that BCCI president Sourav Ganguly told him not to worry about a thing as long as he was in power.
So, the matter heated up once again. Saha unwittingly found himself at the centre of controversy and that too at the fag end of his career.
Four years ago, as well when he was injured, Saha’s rehab became part of a bigger controversy around injury management at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). That issue led to a bit of course correction at the NCA.
This time too let us hope that Saha’s newest controversy leads to some kind of course correction. The Board has formed a three-member investigation panel who have interviewed Saha.
The panel is aware of the entire issue and they have the name of the journalist. We have the journalist identifying himself on Twitter, but let us not pick on the name because the problem lies elsewhere.
The Lack of a System
The whole issue exposes how amateur the set-up is in Indian cricket because there is just no system in place. Contracted players are employees of the Board, so their well-being and upkeep is the responsibility of the same set-up.
Instead in India, the richest cricket board in the world allows its players to be pawns or free agents because we essentially have a honorary set-up unlike the professional settings all over the globe.
A contracted player would never be approached directly by a journalist in England or Australia or New Zealand or South Africa or even Pakistan. In all these places, a proper protocol is in place with the media department channeling interactions with the contracted players, support staff and even Board management.
India is the only country in the whole cricketing world where this is a free for all where anyone and everyone is free to approach anyone. This is a fine democratic set-up, one that is a birthright of any free media, but as an organisation the BCCI needs to have a protocol in place.
Babar Azam in Pakistan, Steve Smith in Australia or Joe Root in England can and will never be approached individually by any journalist in their country till the Board’s media department has not okayed it. This is the problem here in India because there is just no system to deal with the media for the contracted players or the Board mandarins. For all you know Saha too may have given an interview to the said journalist not too long ago.
In the name of forming media protocols, usually the Board mandarins in India go to the other extreme of gagging the players. During the MS Dhoni-N Srinivasan era, the players were prevented from doing any one-on-one interviews.
Things reached such a stage that during the 2011 World Cup even during the long gaps between India games, the players or staff would not front the media even for press conferences. Their reasoning? The only mandatory media interactions are the ones before and after the game.
So, while the rest of the teams would talk during their longish gaps, India would just make appearances at training, imitate Olympic champion Usain Bolt and return to the hotel.
Modern Day Communication in BCCI
In recent times, the Board has taken this lack of media interaction to another level. Team selection announcements happen at 11 pm, half the announcements are via sources and basic post Apex Council or IPL Governing Council meeting pronouncements are absent. So, everything is a revelation.
The Indian squad’s bowling coach, batting coach and fielding coach are yet to be named officially. Even the appointment of VVS Laxman as National Cricket Academy (NCA) Head of Cricket is something that the man himself announced via Twitter.
The laying of foundation at the new NCA set-up was announced via individual board office-bearers’ social media! Rohit Sharma’s injury fiasco before the Australia tour in 2020-21, the IPL cancellation in 2021, Virat Kohli's captaincy exit were other glorious PR disasters. The most amazing part was that Ranji Trophy’s suspension was announced officially, but it's resumption was not. Similarly, IPL’s retention rules or its date was never announced, but the day it happened it was revealed with much fanfare.
If such a scenario exists in everyday routine issues, the Saha controversy is simply a matter that was bound to come up sometime soon. If you don’t have a system or protocol in place, it is always bound to lead to some prima donnas ruling the roost.
Interestingly, the formation of the panel to investigate the Saha issue was announced via a media release, but not by the Board! That makes the whole matter even more curious because it came from an external party with their own database resulting in not everyone being notified about the panel.
The interesting bit is Saha being handed a show-cause notice for revealing dressing room matters can also not materialise because he or for that none of the current cricketers are centrally contracted right now.
The contracts for the 1 October 2021 to 30 September 2022 period are yet to be announced officially. Though the names and the grades once again were revealed by ‘sources’ just last week.
So, technically, Saha is a free agent till he is formally issued a contract. Therefore, can any ruling of the panel be binding on Saha or even the said journalist?
We will never know till sources notify us.
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