Play the Man

National School of Journalism (NSoJ) Bureau, Bangalore: What began as a spot-fixing case in the summer of 2013 is today threatening to send the Board of Control for Cricket in India, popularly called the BCCI, for a toss.

After rolling on in different directions for the last three-plus years, the ball is now fairly and squarely stopping at the doorstep of Anurag Thakur, the incumbent president of BCCI – an organization that has for long been considered a bully in the world of cricket. Thakur is likely to be charged with perjury, or lying under oath in a court of law.

The drama started to unravel in 2013 when corruption charges were leveled against Chennai Super Kings’ team owner Gurunath Meiyappan, India Cements, and Rajasthan Royals team owner Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Ltd. The apex court had suggested the formation of a three-member panel comprising former High Court judge Mukul Mudgal along with additional solicitor general L Nageswara Rao and Nilay Dutta to look into the corruption allegations in IPL 2013.

With a larger mandate of probing ‘allegations around betting and spot-fixing in IPL matches and the involvement of players’, the Mudgal committee became the precursor to the following Lodha-BCCI legal wrangle.

When Meiyappan, also the then BCCI President N. Srinivasan’s son-in-law was found guilty of betting on IPL matches, it threatened to put Srinivasan’s place in the board in jeopardy. But instead of giving a token nod to investigation, he was so busy trying to weasel his way out of the mess that he waved the proverbial red rag to the raging Supreme Court.

And today, it seems that the board has been reduced to a mere pawn in the hands of individuals who sought to play the game by their own rules. If it was N. Srinivasan then, it is Anurag Thakur now. As the Lodha-BCCI stand-off reaches its final stretch, the buck has once again stopped with larger than life individuals.

When the upheaval was still in its infancy, board officials were probably betting on their political and financial clout to bail themselves out. There was no rule that they could not bend. But, by the end of 2014-2015 winters, it was clear that they were on a losing wicket.

Few controversies in Indian cricket have polarized opinion as much or provoked an urgent need for change like the present legal tussle.While the critics condemned the officials as boneheaded, selfish non-conformists, the sympathizers threw their weight behind the board emphasizing that it had been wronged.

And BCCI kept botching up its own case. The Lodha committee’s job was to give the apparently maligned board a fresh coat of paint by suggesting sweeping reforms. However, at a time when they should have sat with former chief justice of India R M Lodha and explained things to him, they chose to play the victim card. Today, it is next to impossible for the board to convince the naysayers of its 'good intentions'.

However, not all is lost. Though the friction with Lodha and his legal luminaries has left the board in a lurch, team India’s spectacular ascent to the top of test cricket remains untouched by the turmoil.

One would assume that Kohli’s new India has played the perfect foil to BCCI’s otherwise tarnished image. But what is it that gnawed at the BCCI from within?

The tipping point, according to many, was the spot-fixing fiasco of IPL season 6 which saw the then president N. Srinivasan resign from his post.  He was propped up as the power-hungry antagonist out to destroy Indian cricket, and the much celebrated Lodha reforms of today are perhaps his only legacy.

But for his brutish, meaningless resistance, the Supreme Court would have never felt the need to intervene and rock the boat. Taking cognizance of the bleak state of affairs within the board, the highest court in the land, in January 2015, formed a three member committee led by former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha with the sole purpose of recommending reforms to usher transparency and accountability inside the board.

As the dark clouds of insecurity gathered over the BCCI, Srini surrendered power to another influential administrator Shashank Manohar. A legal luminary of significant stature, his timely rise to power was touted as a sound move to fill the fissures.

In a detailed chronicling of Shashank Manohar’s time at the helm, and his subsequent exit from the BCCI, Shamik Chakrabarty writes: “As the VCA president, he had once fined his father VR Manohar, the former Advocate General of Maharashtra, for not parking his car at the designated space inside the stadium. Manohar Sr had to pay the fine and was given a receipt.”

While anecdotal evidence may hint at an annoyingly self-righteous person, he was exactly the kind of morally upright guide that the BCCI needed to mend fences. The seemingly squeaky clean image as an administrator helped Manohar mobilize debates on issues hitherto ignored by the board. There was no room for error, no scope for political shenanigans.

When he was appointed president for the second time in 2015, Manohar had highlighted a number of issues that he wished to tackle - regulations on conflict of interest, corruption, independent audit of accounts of state associations, transparency. He had proposed to put BCCI’s constitution and balance sheet online, reinvigorating the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and develop women’s cricket.

Manohar was also the BCCI President in 2008 when Lalit Modi’s brainchild, the Indian Premiere League, was taking baby steps in international cricket. It was during his dispensation that there was a critical amendment that led to the current mess.

At that time, a clause in IPL’s constitution – clause 6.2.4 read: “No administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in the matches and events conducted by the board.”  

It was amended in September 2008 to: “No administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in any of the events of the BCCI, excluding IPL, Champions League and Twenty20.”

This amendment allowed Srinivasan, who was the BCCI treasurer at that time, to win the Chennai IPL franchise when the city-based bids were awarded. Therefore, in a circuitous way, Manohar set this entire wheel of events in motion leading to BCCI’s blistering indictment in recent times.

Those who have seen Manohar work from close quarters know him ‘as an upright administrator who keeps his words’. Returning to administrative duties as International Cricket Council’s independent chairman, Manohar is believed to have sandbagged his ‘friends’ within the board. There are talks abound about a palpable sense of ‘betrayal’ as he turned on them when Indian cricket needed him the most.

Once he made the decision to assume the mantle at ICC, Manohar’s behavior is believed to have changed ‘drastically’. He had gone from a trusted ally to enemy no. 1.

For instance, the Indian board wanted ICC to invoke article 2.9 of the ICC’s Articles of Association which prohibits government interference in a board’s day to day chores. In the light of the recent developments, the board saw it as its only chance of survival.

However, Manohar proved to be an impediment as he wanted the board to write to the ICC about these allegations of judicial interference- a shrewd move from the seasoned administrator.

With the Supreme Court looking over its shoulders, the BCCI had no choice but to step back since any such action would be tantamount to contempt of court.

The BCCI and its current president Anurag Thakur are by now clear in their mind that taking the highest court of the land head-on was a mistake. Thakur finds himself on a sticky wicket with the apex court pressing perjury charges against him, and with Chief Justice of India Justice Thakur in no mood to relent, the end of BCCI, as we know it, is but a foregone conclusion.

The important thing to note is that BCCI’s fate throughout the course of these events has hinged on the fate of individuals associated with it at different stages. While Srinivasan’s tenure was a bespoke piece of how not to lead a cricket board, Manohar’s oversight in 2008 is costing Indian cricket dearly at the moment and Anurag Thakur, for all his daredevilry and upstart ways has become a small cog in the larger scheme of things.

The Manohars and Srinivasans may march to the beat of their own drums, but what about Indian cricket? Is this what is best for the game?