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BCCI vs cricketers: co-existential angst

The Board and players need to work in sync for the overall good of Indian cricket, writes Rachna Shetty.Not just in India...

india Updated: Jul 19, 2007 12:53 IST
Rachna Shetty

It was supposed to be annus memorabilis, the year in which cricket completed 75 years in a country that defines cricketing passion. And yet, the year hasn't quite turned out to be that way. India's first round exit from a World Cup nearly all expected to at least reach the semifinals, the Board of Control for Cricket in India's problems with finding a coach for the senior team, have made introspection, rather than celebration, the flavour of the season.

The two groups that need the most introspection are the players and the administrators.

The great contract trick

The BCCI introduced central contracts in 2004 after nearly three years of deliberations. Not such a bad thing, considering England also introduced centralised contracts only in 2000. The ambition of centralised contracts during their inception was to provide players with a financial back-up in case of injuries, and to act as a support system. It has instead ended up becoming contentious.

Player vs Board

LalaAmarnath is sent back from India's tour to England in 1952 following a row with the team management.

Prior to the 1987 World Cup, some of the players wear logos of their personal endorsers without the Board's permission. A few weeks before the event, the Board fines these players (Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, Shastri, DilipVengsarkar, KrishnamachariSrikkanth, Kiran More, ShivlalYadav, Maninder Singh and Raman Lamba).

The BCCI selects their 14 players for the 1987 World Cup. Their contracts include clauses preventing them from earning extra income, including display of personal endorsment logo, while making it mandatory to sport the logo of the tournament sponsor. Players protest and the BCCI threatens to select a fresh team. New contracts are finally given to the players.

Skipper DilipVengsarkar takes over post World Cup and flouts BCCI norms by writing columns in a newspaper. He is issued a show cause notice. Vengsarkar hands his reply to BCCI secretary Ranbir Singh Mahendra on the eve of the Kolkata Test, but is injured. He is ruled out for the rest of the series, but continues writing for newspapers and is served another notice by the BCCI. At a BCCI special committee meeting, Vengsarkar is banned for six months from playing for Mumbai and India. Fearing revolt, the Board also says that any player refusing to represent India will not be considered for selection for the next one year.

The BCCI hauls up several players, including Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Kiran More, RaviShastri, Mohammed Azharuddin and ArunLal, for playing friendly matches in the United States and Canada following a disastrous tour of the West Indies. The players take the BCCI to court, and after the court's intervention, the ban on the players is lifted.

A poor performance in the World Cup saw the introduction of performance-based contracts rather than the previous seniority-based model. Add to that, the problem that the BCCI was keen on introducing endorsement caps and checks in the players contracts. This became an issue for both sides, which appears to have been sorted out, for the time being.

One thing is certain though. Both parties involved may have lost out on a chance to effect a positive change in Indian cricket. When centralised contracts were introduced in England, the English Cricket Board made use of their control over players to effect their quality rehabilitation, give their fast bowlers adequate rest by taking charge of their county schedule.

The Australian Board makes it mandatory for international players to play for their state sides in the off-season, and as any cricketer will tell you, the higher the level of competition you face at that level, the better you become. The BCCI has made it mandatory for cricketers to play for their respective state sides when off national duty, but the crammed schedule often doesn't allow players to do so. Scheduling matters merit another article, but it would not be wrong to say that three years into the system, centralised contracts are still facing teething problems, not least because of the doubts both parties have about their content.

Sshhh…Koi hai?

In the fracas after the World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh were issued show cause notices for speaking about the World Cup and Greg Chappell. It was a move that underlined the tough stance that the BCCI had decided to take post the first round exit, but left a lot of people wondering if the BCCI was being draconian.

After all, the Australian and South African cricket boards have let their players get away with nothing more than a warning, for comments which were harsher than the Indian players's. Yet, the BCCI's action found many backers. Former cricketer Anshuman Gaekwad had this to say.

"When you are a part of an organisation, you cannot criticise it in public. So in that sense the action that the Board took was right. But the problem lies deeper. Players need to be trained to deal with the media, and need to be trained on what topics to speak on and what to avoid. It should be made a part of their grooming." But then what about speaking about grievances? Does the BCCI have an open channel of communication with its players across all levels.

The ICPA question

A gala launch apart, the Indian Cricket Players Association has been in the news only for charitable associations. An organisation with some of the senior members of the Indian team has barely been able to stand up for player rights. But Arun Lal, the working vice-president of the ICPA, says that the senior members in the side interact with the board anyhow. "They do it in their capacity as senior players, as leaders," he says.

The senior leaders have in fact taken the initiative on behalf of the players, whether it be initiating a contract system (Anil Kumble played a pivotal role in this) or interacting with the Board during the search for a coach.

The BCCI on its part too has shown consideration to the players. Their opinions (at least that of the senior members) are taken on important issues, and instances like that against Vengsarkar (see box) aren't likely to happen now.

The changes, though gradual, have happened. And as someone very wisely said, better to look at the glass half full rather than half empty.

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