The administrative sickness that governs Indian cricket has festered for so long that the wound has become cancerous. The list of acrimonious fights over control of the game is growing and the more money that pours into the game, the more bitter the fight becomes.
Politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, babus, clerks and their ilk, who have little or no understanding of the game, are running this multi-million dollar industry. More often than not, one scandal or the other breaks out, only to be tapered off by the glib administrator with the standard line, “We are looking into the matter and a solution will be found soon.” These are words that are part of a politician’s dictionary, not of sports administrators who care for the game’s development.
Given this avaricious nature in the way cricket is governed in India, the latest episode involving Chairman of the Selection Committee Dilip Vengsarkar should come as no surprise. On the surface, the issue appears simple. Should a selector be allowed to air his views in print and should he allow his article to be syndicated by an agent, who also happens to be the agent of players? Isn’t there, somewhere down the line, the possibility of the selector compromising his position? The unanimous verdict would be yes. But at the heart of the matter lies something more complex — and sinister.
This agent-player-official nexus needs to be looked into at length as it does not influence just the selection. Anyone who has seen India’s cricket up close will tell you that these agents not only try to get close to the selectors, they are part and parcel of the officialdom as well. They throw lavish parties for the administrators, watch matches with important office-bearers of the Board and there have been reports that players are scared of them because of their proximity to the selectors and officials. With such dangerous liaisons, how can one blame the selectors alone for wrongdoings?
The basic issue is that the selectors in India, like the administrators, are not paid employees and get only allowances during the period they are actively engaged in watching matches and selecting the team. This would imply that a selector has every right to earn his livelihood — and, as Vengsarkar has put it, by banning him from writing, he stands to lose around Rs 40 lakh per year. Shouldn’t the Board compensate him for this loss?
And then, there are a set of guidelines that the Board, all of a sudden, wants to implement now. Some of them, like the one about selectors being required to concentrate on watching first-class cricket, are perfectly justified. But a diktat such as the one forbidding a selector from travelling abroad or another restricting international match-viewing to one selector is a bit difficult to fathom.
There is surely a need for reforms in the manner selections are done in India. There are so many loopholes in the entire process — starting from the manner in which selectors are appointed — that to concentrate on such issues is to really miss the wood for the trees.
The whole idea of choosing selectors on a regional basis may not be as pernicious as some think it to be. India is a huge country and travelling across its length and breadth is not all that easy. So, in many ways, it makes sense to have a player for the same zone as a selector. This could be debated, but what should be non-negotiable is that the selector should not be part of the Board vote politics. He should not be loyal to one group or the other, as this leaves him open to various pulls and pressures of the Board’s own games.
We have had officials of state associations becoming selectors only because they could trade their votes for this ‘lucrative’ post. If we have selectors who are beholden to their state associations for having secured this important position for them — and some of them are part of the officialdom themselves — then the very first principle of fair-play gets compromised.
Former India coach John Wright raised this selectorial issue in his incisive book on Indian cricket, The Indian Summer. No one will disagree with him that if India has to have a fair, long-term selection policy, it needs to change drastically the way selectors are appointed. It needs to appoint three to five — the numbers depend upon how many are needed in a vast country like India — former players for at least a five-to-eight-year period and pay them enough so that they can concentrate completely on the job.
This is so elementary that each time a new set of office-bearers come to power, the first thing they promise is that it would be done. Sharad Pawar and his group say they will fulfil this promise next year. But a year is a lifetime in Indian cricket and, in many ways, we should thank Vengsarkar that the pros and cons of India’s selection policy have become a topic of debate.
Pradeep Magazine is the author of Not Quite Cricket.