On Board a factual history of BCCI’s inner workings, idiosyncrasies
On Board— My Years in BCCI Test, Trial, Triumph is what Prof Ratnakar Shetty’s classes were perhaps like—zero-frill, detailed, thorough, the surprise wisecrack delivered with a straight face
Thanks to ‘Money Heist’, the title ‘Professor’ now comes attached with a dash of grooviness. In Indian cricket though, Professor is code for Ratnakar Shetty, who is still referred to and addressed as ‘Prof’, because that is who he also was. An MPhil in Chemistry, his day job involved teaching at Mumbai’s Wilson College with evenings set aside for cricket. This will not make sense to anyone whose cricket officials have only been CEOs, former cricketers or political bigwigs.
‘Prof’ represents the last generation of those who worked behind the scenes as ‘honorary’, non-paid officials, because there wasn’t any money in the game. His memoirs—On Board – My Years in BCCI Test, Trial, Triumph published by Rupa—is the rare insider account of how Indian cricket went from being an unconsidered outpost to the centre of the world game and the men who made it so.
Through On Board, Prof writes both his personal as well as institutional history of BCCI. He lined the streets of Mumbai as a student welcoming back the motorcade carrying Ajit Wadekar’s team from the 1971 tour of England and went on to hear stories about how the Board in 1983 asked Lata Mangeshkar to sing free in a concert in Delhi to raise money to pay what the then BCCI president NKP Salve had promised the winners of the World Cup. All the way towards the latter stages, seeing the newly-arrived CEO Rahul Johri call three of BCCI’s longest serving staff—office assistants Sitaram Tambe, B Laxman and Jayant Jhaveri—and hand over letters, telling them that it was their last day at work as they were over 60 years. No notice, no send-off.
Repeated miscalculations following the 2013 IPL corruption scandal is what led to the Supreme Court getting involved in BCCI operations. “It rankles me that the Board did not try hard enough to get out of a tight spot after the events of 2013.” BCCI is where it is due to arrogance on the part of those in charge of the wealthiest and most influential cricketing country in the world.
The operational confusion between the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, the irate office-bearers and the nonplussed BCCI staff at Cricket Centre is noted carefully. “In fact there were times when they (COA) behaved like fans, rather than administrators getting into nitty gritties involving individuals,” he writes before describing how the dismissal of Anil Kumble as coach was engineered.
Right through the neutral-tone accounts of how tours got organised and held or cancelled, come flash-mob level surprise ‘reveals’. Like how the great Polly Umrigar—everyone called him Polly kaka—as executive secretary could be found sitting on the floor of the old shambolic BCCI office with his handful of staff, numbering files and itemising every object and piece of paper in their possession. Or that during the 1996 Titan Cup Triangular final, in the era before the anti-corruption units, the South African team management had to be asked to eject two Indians wearing South African cricketer accreditations in the players’ area. That on the tour of Sri Lanka in 1997, Shetty as manager received a letter from a Board member saying that team ‘physio’ Ali Irani would conduct training sessions, not coach Madan Lal. (Following the 2000 match-fixing scandal, Irani never worked in Indian cricket again.) That in Multan 2004, Ramesh Powar, asked to tell Tendulkar to hurry up and get to 200, tells Yuvraj instead. Yuvraj then gets out, Dravid declares and pandemonium follows. That a few days after his return to Australia following his resignation as India coach, Greg Chappell called to find out whether (as promised by a senior official) there was a possibility of being involved in the National Cricket Academy. That during a 2010 Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) raid on the BCCI office—(the fallout of the fracas between Lalit Modi and the Indian government)—the junior most officer was taking down Prof’s answers in longhand because no one from DRI thought of carrying either laptop or recorder. There’s heaps more.
Technically, this is not a review of On Board but rather an acknowledgement of a cricket official’s view of a few decades in Indian cricket, which I am familiar with. From the outset and the outside as a fan. Later, through journalism labouring under the notion that I knew what was going on inside. Several of Prof’s thoughts around how Indian cricket must be governed can be argued over, others have made me change my earlier opinion, but there is no denying the care given into putting down his views on Indian cricket.
The chapter titled, “Challenges” is text book material for what should be on BCCI’s priority list today. All that is visible these days is headline and image management. Which was once run by a PR agency which he says, “ended up working in the interests of the BCCI bosses and not the BCCI itself.” His book shows us what happened when they are treated as different entities and when they are conflated.
As a rookie cricket reporter from 1989 onwards, the lone female for a while, I am often asked how horrid it was or how terrible people were. On several occasions it was. But never, it must be said, from the cricket people, whether players or those working behind the scenes. At first despite a studied, cautious distance, they remained communicative, helpful, patient. Prof was foremost among those.