Names and faces have the power of reviving memories of a past long forgotten. One such memory surfaced while attending the hearings in a court of law, where the issue being argued is whether the Lodha Panel recommendations have the legal sanctity for their implementation.
Court proceedings can be very tedious and repetitive, which is why one lawyer’s forceful arguments against a few panel recommendations caught one’s attention. The man in black robes in the court of the Chief Justice of India, T S Thakur, was not only articulate but passionate and expressed concern at what havoc these recommendations could cause to the “wonderful running” of affairs cricketing in Haryana.
That the lawyer himself has represented Haryana in the Ranji Trophy Championship and his son plays for the state’s junior side, even lent a touch of credibility to the man’s arguments. Once the face acquired a name – Puneet Bali – memories came flooding back.
I was a young reporter in the early nineties, when Puneet played three Ranji games for Haryana at an average of six runs. I had written a very critical piece on his and many other such selections as Haryana, more than any state then, was notorious for bias and favouritism in team selection. Puneet, whose father was a judge in the Haryana and Punjab High Court, just faded out after those failed three appearances and seeing him revived in me memories of a time when it seemed very possible to change the world with one’s journalistic writings.
Today, the Lodha Panel’s recommendations are being furiously debated in the Chief Justice of India’s court and from myriad court observations, it does appear that cricket governance in India is at the cusp of a revolutionary change.
Just like Puneet, who with all the words at his command, defended Haryana and argued against capping 70 as the age when a Board office-bearer should retire, another energetic young man did the same while representing Saurashtra. If you go by the court proceedings, it will become obvious that almost all states have “wise, sagacious, committed” office-bearers above the age of 70 who are not only “indispensible” but without whom cricket administration will “collapse” in the country.
Notwithstanding the subtle hints and at times even caustic remarks of the judges, lawyers of the Board and the various states have opposed the age-limit of 70 more vigorously than probably any other recommendation of the Lodha panel. In fact, the Saurashtra lawyer spoke of their veteran administrator and secretary, Niranjan Shah, and his more than four decades of service to cricket in such glowing terms, that it may have forced even the cruelest of cynics present in the court to shed a tear for the injustice that will befall not only Shah but the nation itself, if he is forced to step down!
If the lawyer is to be taken at face value, then Shah it would appear, has single-handedly guided players from Salim Durrani to Cheteshwar Pujara, in becoming the great cricketers they have and does not deserve to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
But justice, as they say, is blind and goes more by reason than emotion. As the court proceeding are nearing an end, the Board officials, despite their spirited defence, have seen the writing on the wall and are preparing for a change the cricketing world awaits, but which they never wished for.
(The views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @pradeepmagazine.)