BCCI’s ‘mega’ domestic season has left a lot to be desired three months into the journey
It was touted as India’s ‘mega’ domestic season when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) released the schedule for the 2018-19 season on July 18. 2017 matches were set to be played across the three-formats — four-day, one-dayer and T20 — with the introduction of nine new teams making it a 37-team affair. GM Cricket Operations Saba Karim was given a team of around 12 professionals to run the show by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA). A professional set-up the CoA believed would help ensure the smooth organisation of the season.
Four rounds into this year’s Ranji Trophy — set to be played over nine rounds followed by the knockouts — what has ensued is nothing short of a nightmare. From lack of technology at grounds to absence of umpires forcing the postponement of matches, the BCCI — once considered one of the best run bodies in the world — has seen it all this year. Not to forget the mid-season change in transfer rules, earning the wrath of technical committee head Sourav Ganguly, acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary and treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry.
Illegal player transfer
But it all started with the introduction of the nine new teams into the structure and the induction of experienced cricketers as outstation/guest players into these new teams. While the new teams were introduced as per the order of the SC, the professional set-up did not realise the lack of quality players at the disposal of these teams would invite trouble as cricketers were happy to bribe their way into these teams.
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the issue, Karim had said: “Ajit Singh — head of the BCCI ACU — has been informed about the issue of player transfers and attempts to use unfair means. If the team finds any player or association using unfair ways, action will be taken.”
And action had to be taken soon as Hindustan Times reported of small-time cricketers trying use unfair means to get into the new teams, especially the Puducherry squad. The BCCI was forced to cancel the registration of eight of Puducherry’s senior team players for flouting eligibility criteria.
Mid-season rule change
Then came the news that the CoA had decided to relax the one-year rule for wards of government employees to be considered local players in the middle of the season. This earned the wrath of all and sundry with Ganguly, Amitabh and Anirudh all questioning the need to suddenly change rules mid-season. In fact, Anirudh wrote as recently as November 26, bringing to light two cases — Bihar-born Pratyush Singh and Kutub Uddin Chowdhury — that he felt needed a look under the newly framed policy.
The treasurer pointed at how one of Pratyush’s brother was still plying his trade for Jharkhand as also while his father’s transfer was from Delhi to Tripura, the player shifted from Jharkhand to Tripura. Also, in Kutub’s case, he enquired that if the father was employed with New India Assurance Co. Ltd. and positioned in Chanmari, Aizwal since 1989, why did the need for a mid-season transfer arise?
Ganguly was scathing in his letter as he wrote: “Cricketing rules are changed in the middle of a season, which has never been heard off. Decisions made in committees are turned around with complete disrespect.”
Postponement of tournament
Even before the dust had settled down, came the issue of lack of umpires with Karim writing to state associations that the matches of the Cooch Behar trophy and the senior women’s knockout matches have been postponed due to lack of umpires in the month of December.
The Cooch Behar Trophy third round games will now be played from Jan 21 to 24 instead of December 17 to 20 and the knockouts have been shifted from January 29 to February 18 — clearly clashing with board exams as the ISC exams start on Feb 7 in 2019 and the CBSE Class 12 exams start on Feb 19. The senior women’s knockout one day matches have been moved from December 24-29 to December 26-31.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, a state association official said: “The 17-18 year-old players will have to juggle their cricket with their studies since the postponed round will take place around the annual exam time. Board exams for quite a few and it can impact quite a few careers as all these kids will not go on and play for the country and would need to fall back on their academics. Should there not have been sensitivity to the academic future of the children? Postponement of a tournament due to lack of umpires is unprofessional to say the least.”
When contacted by Hindustan Times, Karim said: “We needed to ensure that umpires get equal number of games as also we have neutral umpires. Not to forget that we have so many games to be played through the season.”
To add to the board’s embarrassment, the Saurashtra Cricket Association wrote to Karim, asking the BCCI to reimburse the extra cost that the association will have to pay for change of dates. “Please note that we have already book all travel arrangement etc. for getting good price of air fare etc. we have now work out new booking etc. because of change in dates of matches will cost the association about 5.50 Lakhs in excess.
“We hope that BCCI should reimburse the extra cost we have to incur as it is not our mistake and also BCCI is not releasing any Fund it will be very hard that such substantial amount we have to incur,” the mail read.
Lack of video cameras
Just when one thought it couldn’t get more troublesome, it came to light that the BCCI has failed to provide some of the new grounds with video technology required to record live footage of the games. This after Karim had announced that the board will for the first time have its umpires evaluating the performances of the match referees during the domestic season. But without video technology, let alone umpires assessing match referees, deciding on run outs and stumpings became a pain.
On-field umpires were asked to double up as television officials to monitor run outs and stumpings in venues without video technology. When contacted by Hindustan Times, former BCCI general manager Ratnakar Shetty confirmed the same. Shetty is currently associated with Uttarakhand as BCCI nominee.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Karim explained that the board was in the process of fixing the issue and it was only a matter of time before all venues would have video footages being recorded.
“Yes, we were not able to provide video equipments to some of the new venues, but the process is on and the problem will be solved in a couple of weeks. Also, you have to realise that apart from those game wherein the matches are telecast live, there is no third umpire. It is the match referee who doubles up as the third umpire. But with there being no camera to shoot run outs and stumping moves, the call will be taken by the on-field umpires.
“The non-telecast games have a set of 6 cameras and all shots of stumping and run outs from them are referred to the match referee. Match referees also use match footages to evaluate umpires and both the participating teams are also given CDs of the match footage. We are looking to provide two sets of video equipments to all venues at the earliest,” he said.
Another state association member said that he was surprised when he came to know that the board had failed to acquire sufficient video cameras to record match footages. “The BCCI has had a very robust system of data collection with video of each of the games played under the aegis of the BCCI. This provided every team in every age group the video of every game. So the video of the first game played by Prithvi Shaw in a BCCI tournament is available with the BCCI. That has tremendous archival value.
“Further, these videos’ original purpose was very crucial and that was for the assessment of umpires. The archival value was a by-product. The system was put in place for umpire assessment and the butterfly effect was that if archival value, coaching value, player assessment value for all associations etc. Now, because the board forgot to purchase sufficient camera equipment, at least 30-40 per cent matches are not being recorded and therefore not analysed. The umpires assessment will not take place and the well established and robust system has been stretched to a point where it is now broken,” he rued.
State bodies to the rescue
Speaking to Hindustan Times, a state association official also pointed how had the state associations not chipped in, starting with handing the CoA grounds to ensure that the nine new teams had a make-shift home base, things could have been a lot more difficult than what Karim imagined when he spoke about how the season will be conducted smoothly and without any hiccups.
“The Associations have the best interest of cricket in their hearts. The fact that they have made every ground available despite not being paid for more than 2 years is a testimony to that. An Association who is using 9 grounds for BCCI games couldn’t have been faulted if they used 6 instead of 9 but that would have meant that the BCCI matches could never have been completed. Fact is, matches have been shifted because of lack of umpires, long established protocols have been disrupted because they didn’t remember to purchase equipment in time but nothing has been hampered because of paucity of grounds, thanks to the state associations. The U19 Challenger was scheduled as an afterthought. The original schedule released did not even have that tournament. Even for that a state association came through to ensure it is organised.
“Strange are the ways of the BCCI administration and the professionals. They go out of their way to mistreat state associations and their officials but depend entirely on them. They take decisions without consulting the state associations but can’t execute those decisions without the state associations’ help. They came up with a ridiculous schedule and then started panicking because they didn’t even take into account the availability of the grounds, leave alone umpires and equipment,” he said.
Another official echoed the sentiments and pointed at the unprofessional attitude that the CoA and the board executives have had towards the state associations.
“It was unthinkable for the GM Cricket Operations to be holidaying for a week in England prior to the start of the season when there are so many logistics that are required to be put in place and in this case were never put in place despite repeated mails from the state bodies asking for clarity.
“The democratic functioning of the board is the biggest casualty of this entire sordid saga and the inexperience, the incompetence and the arrogance of the BCCI management is quite jarring and disappointing and it would be a polite understatement to say that the BCCI tournaments are happening in spite of them,” he pointed.
If these weren’t enough, the India ‘A’ versus Australia ‘A’ game in Bengaluru in September saw play extended by 30 minutes in the opening session as lunch hadn’t arrived. On being asked about the delay, Karim said: “It’s an international game and we were to provide the best of facilities. I am waiting for a report from my staff, but I think the match officials took whatever decision needed to be taken.”
Clearly, the BCCI needs to ensure that the business end of the domestic season isn’t managed as hap hazardously as the start was because despite the presence of a professional set-up now, the old warhorses have over the years set a benchmark that needs to be maintained.