With just over a fortnight left for India to stage the World Twenty20 for the first time, anxiety is mounting, but almost entirely in the corridors of power within the nation’s cricket Board.
Although the BCCI administrators were braced for severe strictures by the Supreme Court-appointed Justice RM Lodha Committee, the recommendations for a root-and-branch shake-up of the administration has left it gasping.
Conflict of interest was the focus as then president N Srinivasan had defiantly contested charges against him in the Apex court following the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal. Now, powerful Board members are on the verge of being stripped of most of their control assiduously built in the world’s richest cricket body.
WINDS OF CHANGE
It is not that the BCCI wasn’t braced for the onslaught. Even before the Lodha panel gave its verdict on January 4, it had begun to take some action to bring in transparency, like uploading its constitution and financial details on the website. It also appointed a retired former High Court Chief Justice as ombudsman to tackle conflict of interest complaints.
However, any hope for mitigation will depend on how the Apex court views the affidavit it plans to file, well before the March 3 deadline given for responding to the report. While important administrative changes seem inevitable, there is dismay over the panel leaving little elbow room even in departments that have functioned smoothly.
Some of the recommendations though deserve a fresh look. The directive to reduce the five-man national selection committee to a three-member panel would mean changing a system that has worked very well. The current zonal representation of selectors has had its critics, but it allows them to watch more matches and spot talent, considering the volume of cricket being played across the vast country.
IT AIN’T BROKE
Team selection is one area the BCCI has been spot on for many years. The recommendation that only Test players are eligible to become selectors, while ideal on paper, need not necessarily lead to better choices. Recommending the appointment of fresh managers to run cricket is a similar issue while the panel itself has praised how the Board currently organises the huge volume of matches.
The Lodha panel report has acknowledged the prescriptions it found in the David Crawford and Colin Carter report of 2011, commissioned by Cricket Australia to suggest governance reforms. Many recommendations mirror those of the Aussie panel. However, the focus in Australia was to introduce ‘best practices’ of major companies into cricket, essentially addressing the growing business challenges in the game.
The situation is different here, and the Indian Board has been a successful business enterprise despite governance issues. The Carter and Crawford report recommended equal voting powers but there had to contend with only six states, the main stake-holders in Aussie cricket. It wanted governance and administration to be separated, to avoid duplication of work and fix responsibility. But it was flexible, allowing CA Board members with skills to take up administrative posts. A gradual transition across many months was also recommended.
Resistance to change within the BCCI, and cricket’s loss of credibility, has led to the stringent steps recommended by the Lodha panel. But it is hardly ideal to have an “independent players’ association” funded by the Board or insisting that it should not function as a union.
ON FREE WILL
For a players’ body to be independent, the effort should come from within. India is the only country without a cricketers’ body. That is because its national squad members have not faced financial or contractual concerns like their counterparts in the last two decades. That raises questions over what the two player representatives in the nine-member Apex Council or the one in the IPL Governing Council can contribute.
Australia has a vibrant players’ body, but the Carter and Crawford report didn’t support players in the Board. It said: “As co-owners and with a position on the Board, they (players) would have an uncomfortable conflict of interest. Their long-term position is best served by working in partnership with CA rather than being viewed as a co-owner along with the states.”
The IPL spot-fixing is what led to the Supreme Court’s intervention, but the report has not directed the Board to provide details of the ownership pattern in the teams. The league being a BCCI tournament, including two franchise members in the IPL Governing Council could give rise to conflict when the body acts against a team or player.
The BCCI is unlikely to accept the ‘one state, one vote’ and ‘one person, one post’ directives without exhausting all legal avenues. While its office-bearers will have to live with three three-year terms, the ‘cooling off’ period will affect continuity and natural progress in the Board.