Money, glamour, sleaze, a nexus between powerful officials and agents, the involvement of the underworld in betting — the Indian cricket story has all the explosive ingredients of a hair-raising Bollywood potboiler. The central character in this sordid saga is the chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI): the mighty N Srinivasan.
The Indian cricket fable certainly doesn't make for pleasant reading. It's a tale of manipulation and ruthlessness in the attempt to wrest control of one of the richest sports bodies in the world.
That the Supreme Court described it as ‘nauseating' says it all. Given the fanatical following of the game, BCCI posts have always been coveted by the rich and powerful, whether politicians or businessmen.
Yet the situation has never been as volatile as since the inception of the domestic T20 league. The overall impact of that single event has been stunning. While the BCCI has minted more money, the league triggered a dirty fight for power that has seen rules bent and norms flouted to suit the lobbies calling the shots. Not to mention the mafia, which has exploited this opportunity to sink its teeth into prime cricket property by targeting players and owners through bookies.
All of this has disastrous consequences for the image and health of the game. The confidence of fans is eroding, the credibility of the BCCI and of Team India plummeting.
Ironically, the Srinivasan and T20 saga are intertwined. His rise in the BCCI coincided with the advent of the league in 2008.
Sensing the potential of the event, the shrewd cement baron, in a clear display of authority, decimated all opposition to become the supreme authority in running the IPL and the BCCI.
His dislike for sharing power was a key reason for his dislike of Lalit Modi. Legend has it that Sharad Pawar, in his capacity as president, gifted the T20 ‘toy' to Modi as a reward for helping him win the presidency battle against Jagmohan Dalmiya, only for Srinivasan to work out a strategy to take control of it when he saw it grow.
Srinivasan's time as head of the BCCI has been dogged by controversy, and at the heart of most of those controversies has been the issue of conflict of interest.
The charges he faces range from owning the Chennai Super Kings even though he was part of BCCI and changing the way presidents were elected to having zones nominating and seconding a candidate that would suit him after his term ended in September.
A weak constitution
Since the T20 betting scandal was exposed last year, uncovering the alleged involvement of his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, there has been tremendous pressure on Srinivasan to step down. He managed to ward off detractors mainly because of the power that the BCCI constitution bestows on its president.
"The president has the last word in our constitution. If he decides something, it will happen," says former BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, who has been vocal in his criticism of the BCCI in recent times and said last week that the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal had damaged the cricket board's reputation. "From the beginning, the post of BCCI president has been armed with enormous power."
Asked about loopholes in the constitution that make it open to misuse and exploitation, Shah adds: "Amending the BCCI constitution to allow the president to have a second term is not a wise decision. The original constitution of one post, one term was better."
But, Shah adds, it's not just about the power granted to the president. "The main question [in the current scenario] is the conflict of interest, with someone who owns a domestic league team being allowed to also function as president of the governing body."
As a result, today the BCCI is basically a one-man show. ‘BCCI is Srinivasan and Srinivasan is BCCI,' is a common refrain.
Another key change has been in the form of the large sums paid to selectors as contract fees. This effectively means that they too may no longer freely express an opinion — as they used to when the post was honorary. One reason the post of selector was unpaid until 2008, in fact, was to ensure that no external factors or considerations influenced their crucial decisions.
In some cases, cooperation is said to be bought. Former players whose voices count are "rewarded" with lakhs of rupees under various BCCI schemes, making it unlikely that they will then speak out against the Board. Firebrand commentators are prohibited, in their contracts, from voicing any opinions critical of the Board's policies.
The state associations' loyalty is ensured by distributing huge annual packages in the name of profit-sharing and infrastructure development. These packages range from Rs 35 crore to Rs 70 crore. Now, the impregnable fortress that is the BCCI has been penetrated, with the Supreme Court taking Srinivasan to task and forcing him to step aside, at least for the time being.
Still, Srinivasan has been shrewd enough to have yes-men as his second-in-command. Former honorary secretary Sanjay Jagdale was an honest official and eventually resigned; he was too gentle to ruffle any feathers. And in Baroda's Sanjay Patel, Srinivasan has a blind supporter.
Even within the Board's powerful top echelons, Srinivasan began making enemies among former allies. Former BCCI president AC Muthiah, who brought Srinivasan into cricket administration, said last year that he had made a mistake in doing so.
Another former Board president, Shashank Manohar, the man who helped Srinivasan evict Modi from the domestic T20 league, is also now a bitter rival and recently described Srinivasan as an autocrat.
The worry now is that there is not enough left of an independent structure within the BCCI to effect a clean-up, even though the conditions would seem to be ideal for one that is now long overdue.
Interim president Shivlal Yadav, a fervent supporter of Srinivasan, has smilingly promised to clean up cricket. But he is himself a tainted name in cricket administration, with cases of corruption pending against him, including one for misappropriation of several crores in the building of a stadium in his home state of Andhra Pradesh.