In the shadowy, subterranean world of Indian cricket, plot and counter plot have traditionally been the order of the day. It is almost medieval court-like in the machinations that go on, a world of incredibly high stakes, of big money and bigger egos, a place where subterfuge and intrigue lend a cutting edge to a dramatic play for power.
It has always been this way and life has gone on. But when you factor in the new powerbrokers — an almost bloodthirstily competitive media, with every channel, paper or website battling for a scoop and ready to lend a ear and a platform to anyone who wants one, it can make for a deadly cocktail, one that creates a right royal mess.
We’re all guilty of reading too much into India’s early World Cup exit, which was unfortunately, an inevitable reality check. Just look at the world’s best team. Australia are not world champions because they play quality cricket in 10 matches once in four years. They’re world champions because they play quality cricket right through those four years.
The World Cup is just another tournament (albeit a very important one). India reached the finals once 24 years ago but barring the couple of years that followed, they’ve failed to set the world on fire.
We’ve never been No 1, nor even really No 2. The No 6 we are at right now is really an honest reflection of where we stand. Having said that, we did expect India to make the Super Eights so the fallout of the Cup debacle was expected to be sour — but not sordid, like this fortnight has been.
Rumors, speculation, gag orders (only for players, BCCI officials can say and do as they like) and diktat after BCCI diktat has followed. From endorsements to old hands (or legs), rifts to ruses, everything but the BCCI’s own system has been blamed for the disaster.
Take this one by one. There’s been a directive from the BCCI brass that a young team be selected for upcoming tours. Well, India was one of the youngest teams at the Cup, only older than Bangladesh among the main teams (and they are at a different stage of their cricketing evolution).
Secondly, what youngsters are we talking about? Dilip Vengsarkar was harsh but not far off-base when he said that there was not much exceptional talent in the wings. Unless you pick a team based on under-19 performances (which is no indicator of how they’ll do in a man’s world, even if you forget about how many overage players manage to play the junior events), you’ll find it tough to find five stand-out players on the domestic circuit who are under-25. Just go through the averages. The fault here is not the players’, we have a flawed system.
Then, the endorsements. Not long ago, before the tour to South Africa, the BCCI had asked top players to skip their respective Duleep Trophy games to facilitate the Board’s commitments to its sponsors. Six months later, in some nifty grandstanding, they’ve passed a directive making it mandatory for all the players to play in that same event. One point here. Most people have weekends off from each year (104 days) plus other leave. What we do in that time is really our own business. So why shouldn’t it be that way for an Indian cricketer?
In this regard, the Board is talking about how important it is for players to make time for practice. How can they? Take a look at the schedules. While players are protesting too many games, why has the Board organised three games against South Africa in Ireland this summer? Well, to fulfill the sale of their overseas television commitments. And worse, the seven-match series against Australia at home later, when the domestic season kicks off.
Even though they seem to have toned down the hardline stance on Wednesday, it might be too late to regain trust. They’ve successfully messed up relationships by publicly humiliating top players time and again.
Rahul Dravid was publicly warned when he commented angrily on yet another leaked report (from the team manager on the SA tour). Instead of investigating the leak (which they found “interesting”) the Board warned the captain. Tendulkar (and Yuvraj) was publicly admonished for speaking out even as Board officials queued up to happily take potshots at the players, who are barred from responding.
Having said that, the players are guilty too — there is no active players’ body in place simply because they don’t stand by each other. And that suits this Board completely. After all, the removing of seniors means that no one of any standing would be left to protest, no one would dare. And the Board brass will be the undisputed lords of the ring. As for the cricket itself, who cares?