Former India skippers Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have a Rs3.6 crore annual contract with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that leads to a conflict of interest in their roles as commentators, news magazine Outlook reveals in its upcoming edition.
As India hurtle from one poor performance to another in England, many questions have emerged over poor scheduling, fitness management and shoddy preparation for the big series.
However, the contract is holding back two of India's prominent voices in the commentators' box from airing their views freely about the board, such as its role in the cramped schedule, and the impact of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that could have left the players drained, mentally and physically.
Outlook magazine has revealed that Gavaskar and Shastri have been signed up directly by the BCCI with the lucrative deal to be renewed annually. The contract allows the board to provide their services to event broadcasters, who cannot refuse to employ them or deny them their daily fee, the weekly says in its cover story.
The contract, Outlook points out, prevents the duo from freely airing their views against the board or the IPL while discussing the team's current plight in England. Such a contract is unheard of elsewhere and has given rise to sharp criticism that the duo is forced to hold back from saying anything that can annoy the influential BCCI.
Some of the conflicts have been glaring. Shastri is a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) cricket committee, which made a unanimous recommendation in May for the use of the Decision Review System in all internationals. However, as a TV commentator, he stepped in line with the BCCI, which staunchly opposed it until agreeing to a modified version.
As India headed towards defeat in Trent Bridge, Gavaskar and Shastri spoke up for the discarded opener Wasim Jaffer, but ignored the cramped schedule for which the board is responsible. Another U-turn came over Ian Bell's recall. They supported India's appeal that led to Bell's run out as he walked away without waiting for the umpire to signal tea. But when Dhoni recalled Bell, they supported that decision, says Outlook.
Kapil, Bedi slam duo
Former skippers Bishan Singh Bedi and Kapil Dev spoke to Outlook and expressed concern. "It's impossible for these guys to be unbiased! If the BCCI shifts its position on the DRS, will these two change their minds? Forget them, there's a greater problem when an institution behaves like this."
Kapil Dev said: "If it's true that Gavaskar and Shastri have a contract with the board, it is their job to look after its interests. Why should they speak out against the board? Will a Congress leader speak against his party in Parliament?" Gavaskar rejected criticism that there was any conflict of interest. In his response to Outlook, he urged his detractors to listen to his commentary and read his newspaper columns before passing their judgment.
The BCCI's Chief Administrative Officer Ratnakar Shetty refused to comment. A board official said part of the money it pays the duo is reimbursed by broadcasters. The cost of the IPL match production is borne by the BCCI, which does not pay them anything extra for doing commentary during the league.
For other internationals at home, Nimbus pays the board a sum equivalent to what it pays other senior commentators. "There is no question of BCCI requiring PR on television," the official, who did not want to be identified, told HT.