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Wankhede has always been in the thick of it

Readers will know by now that the Wankhede is a recurring theme in these columns. In many ways it's been like a home in Sobo, since I have spent a substantial part of my professional life catching the action there.

india Updated: May 20, 2012 01:39 IST
Ayaz Memon

Readers will know by now that the Wankhede is a recurring theme in these columns. In many ways it's been like a home in Sobo, since I have spent a substantial part of my professional life catching the action there.

Wednesday last, however, I seem to have missed out on perhaps the most newsworthy contest in recent times. Having watched Kolkata Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians, I left soon after the game. Talk about missed opportunity...

That said, the spat between Shah Rukh Khan and Mumbai Cricket Association officials was unseemly and has led to embarrassment for the IPL, the BCCI and the team owner, who now faces an over-the-top five-year ban.

Was this a storm in a teacup, a serious issue of megalomania in public, overzealousness on the part of stodgy MCA officials, or just an avoidable clash of egos that flared up into an international headline-grabber? There is some of all of the above in the issue, but the heart of the problem lies elsewhere - in the weak protocol set down for the IPL.

As the tournament has grown into a $4 billion property, the hype surrounding it has increased correspondingly, but the need for tighter controls over all that goes into the making of a mega event continue to be ignored.

Processes and systems have not been put in place to ensure as seamless an experience as possible for spectators, team owners, players and state associations.

Take the Shah Rukh controversy. Just passes with different colour codes to determine who is allowed where in the stadium would have prevented the incident; or, if such passes exist, proper implementation of the rule, since in India, this is usually exercised in the breach.

All major tournaments are stringent about access, even for the very famous and the kith and kin of players.

Roger Federer's wife, for instance, is not allowed to step on to the courts where he is playing. The IPL seems to be free of such protocol; in fact, sometimes it seems almost like a free-for-all. On a given day you can see legendary Sunil Gavaskar being interviewed on the ground as well as a starlet giving facile and pointless 'sound bytes' to gushing TV hosts.

I am all for entertainment in the IPL, but should Gavaskar and the starlet have similar access to the ground, I wonder. Why can't the latter be spoken to elsewhere in the stadium? Clear-cut access rules provide order to a tournament and a hierarchy that puts sports culture above all else. Once everyone knows the privileges they are entitled to, the scope for any mishaps is instantly reduced. On the other hand, if the ambiguity remains year after year, disorder becomes the norm.

There are other issues in the IPL that need to be addressed too. Going by the interviews with some owners, they seem to not only sit in on strategy meetings but also tell their players how to play! Elsewhere, a team owner argues (even if unwittingly) with a third umpire over a decision that goes against her team.

This tends to diminish the perceived seriousness of the tournament.

Lack of rigour in such matters is compounded by the fact that there seems to be no proper system of redressal either. To play devil's advocate, if Shah Rukh wants to appeal against the ban, there is no owners' representative on the governing council. Players named in the spot-fixing sting have no peer-group assistance because there is no players' association. There is no ombudsman on either side if fans or sponsors have grievances.

The responsibility devolves on the BCCI here to think through the IPL beyond its razzle-dazzle and commercial considerations. It's a hugely successful and entertaining tournament, but needs better regimentation in terms of how it is conducted.

To return to the Wankhede, it has hardly been short on controversy, right from its inception, which came after a fight with the venerable CCI. In 1991, activists (allegedly from the Shiv Sena) dug up the pitch to protest against matches involving Pakistan, and I cannot recall either the Mumbai Cricket Association taking pre-emptive action with extra security or the cops punishing the offenders when they were caught.

The most interesting breach of protocol, however, came in the first Test played here, in 1974, when a young woman ran on to the middle to kiss the then-dashing young middle-order batsman Brijesh Patel. Amid roars of surprise and delight, the woman was escorted gently out of the ground by the police.

No case was registered and not much has been heard of her since. Those were different times, of course. Patel played on for a few years, but never quite lived up to his early promise. Some say it was the 'curse of the kiss'… but that's another story.

When he is not following sport, Ayaz Memon writes about the city and its different worlds.