Thursday, 5 April 2007

Cricket should look for a few good men with no stakes

Harsha Bhogle

Posted online: Thursday, April 05, 2007 at 0000 hrs IST

My father had a very interesting approach to people who came to him for, for want of a better word, “tuition”. He had two conditions. “I will accept no ‘money and you will come at 6 am,” he used to say, and we often wondered why. Much later I realised that this was his way of ensuring his independence. By not accepting money, he was not beholden to these students, and didn’t have to put up with them, and by asking them to come at 6 am, he ensured that only the truly committed came to study.

I remember this story for two reasons. Indian cricket needs help but first, it needs to find people who are not beholden to it and who are committed to it. When you have a financial stake in Indian cricket, your honesty can be threatened, your voice can be stifled. But if you have nothing to gain, and only integrity, pride and commitment to offer, you can speak up for what is right. The BCCI needs such people but I am not sure they are searching for them.

Instead, the BCCI waits while Indian cricket burns; it waits for this rare configuration of elements that will take place on April 6 and 7. For the last four days Indian cricket has been lying wounded with attack after attack made on it. But there has been no attempt to douse the fires, no damage control. If ever you wanted proof that an organisation cannot be run by committees, here it is. If someone finds worms in the chocolates you sell, you don’t wait for five days for people to arrive from different parts of the world to decide what to do. A leader, somewhere, takes ownership of the situation. Who then, leads Indian cricket?

That is why I believe the various vice-presidents and secretaries and holders of other currently irrelevant titles have let themselves down. Not just because they did nothing, but because they fanned the fires themselves by making statements all over the place. The obsession with the media, with the thirty seconds of fame and two days of notoriety, will be the eventual ruin of Indian cricket.

And so we need a dictator, a benevolent dictator, which is really what the head of a family is. Many years ago I had suggested that Indian cricket is a “poor little rich kid” desperately in search of parents. Little has changed to cause me to alter that opinion. The kid is hurt at the moment and has stumbled but is there someone to give it a hand, a warm embrace; is there someone to take ownership of the kid?

So then, who leads Indian cricket? Who is it whose chest puffs with pride and who says “this is my baby”?

And till we find this benevolent dictator, all these meetings will have little value. If, on April 6, many captains and many vice-presidents and many secretaries are going to sit around a huge table wondering what to do next, they might as well call it off now and save everyone a lot of time and money. One person has to decide where Indian cricket goes. He can seek help, advice, opinion, comment, whatever but one person has to decide. Alex Ferguson decides for Manchester United, Ali Bacher did for South African cricket and, at a vital moment, Indira Gandhi did for India in December 1971. Fifteen people talking together in a room will mean, at best, thirty cups of tea and coffee and five packets of biscuits. No more.

There are immediate issues to be decided. The coach, the captain and therefore, the future of many senior players. There are reports to be discussed and the perpetrators of leaks have to be identified and put on television as villains. And someone has to ask: why are the nine players, including, presumably, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, so worked up? What does an admirable person like Rahul Dravid has to say? And most important; even if the manner of delivery of the coach’s message was unpalatable, was the message wrong?

Are we saying that the attitude of the players cannot be questioned? Were players playing to stay in the team? By taking the easy way and sacking the foreigner we cannot bury the questions he has raised for he might be right on many counts. If Chappell goes and there is no enquiry into player attitudes it means we are perpetuating the star system and creating the atmosphere for further decline in our cricket.

There are no overnight answers to these questions for the process must begin with identifying a full-time leader who will take responsibility for the situation. Then you need to appoint a captain, guarantee him freedom, look for a coach, ease tensions in the team and look for a cricket committee of no more than four or five people who have passion, integrity and humility, to meet six times a year to review where Indian cricket is going. Not to take decisions but to check if the plan is on stream for decisions can only come from one leader.

And to prevent hasty decisions, the tour of Bangladesh in May must be rescheduled forthwith. We can issue Bangladesh guarantees, if necessary payments, but a hastily put together team at this stage can do nobody any good.

Oh, and as a postscript, when Australian cricket was faced with a similar situation in 1985, they appointed two honourable, proud men as captain and coach, decided that players would be picked on attitude and that if it meant some good players had to leave, so be it. It served them very well but remember it was backed by a desire to do good. Can Indian cricket take a similar call?

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