The failure to search for robust and workable solutions from within has meant that the BCCI is now confronted with an alarming prospect — of losing its autonomy

A particularly amusing suggestion emerged from the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s emergent working committee meeting on April 22, made apparently by no less than the head of a state body. The working committee is the most powerful of the board’s bodies, empowered to make decisions with long-term consequences on the governance of the game. In the view of this member, Preity Zinta, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra would do a stellar job as the panel to probe corruption in the Indian Premier League. Unless this gentleman was aware of the secret lives of these leading ladies from the film industry as some sort of Charlie’s Angels reincarnates, one can assume it was a flippant broadside. If the intention was to soothe tempers during what was reportedly a testy meeting, the comment may have succeeded in its purpose. Tellingly though, it offered insight into the minds of the men who govern Indian cricket.

Asking vital questions

Reputed organisations function and succeed on one central foundation — the ability of their key personnel to ask the right questions of themselves. On most occasions these questions are simple and the solutions they lead to propel these organisations forward. Just hours before the launch of his pet project, the iPod, Steve Jobs questioned the “unsatisfactory click” heard when earphones were inserted into the device. He surmised the user would want the “click” to sound just right before he moves onto the other features of the product. So, Jobs packed off his designers and engineers to resolve the problem and delayed the launch. Only when he was convinced that the click was satisfactory did the iPod find its way into the market. The rest is history.

The BCCI needed to ensure that the sounds emanating at the end of its meeting were satisfactory; that they clicked with not just the public at large but an increasingly irate Supreme Court. Instead, by proposing the three names that it did, the BCCI shot itself masterfully in the foot yet again. To no one’s surprise, a couple of days later this panel was swatted aside without consideration.

Just why though did this farcical interplay have to unfold in the first place? Is it because no one in the BCCI has the gravitas to ask vital questions of his fellow members? And if the odd dissenter does, is he simply buried under the weight of accumulated numbers on the floor? The trouble though is that those numbers no longer run Indian cricket with quite the same authority as they did before.

The questions to be asked were these: Would it be prudent to expect Ravi Shastri to conduct a probe against the same man who signs a fat cheque for him every year? Is it in Mr. Shastri’s interest to discover material that may force this man out of the organisation altogether? Is Mr. Shastri assured that a new dispensation, if it were to come in to replace this one, would be equally indulgent and protect his income? On the assumption that Mr. Shastri is an upright man (and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise), would he not face charges of favourtism in case the probe discovers his boss is in the clear?

From the dribbles of information emerging from this highly secretive communion, ex-BCCI president Shashank Manohar did raise some of these concerns with members, only to be hopelessly outnumbered. He admitted later to being ‘disillusioned’ with the outcome of the meeting. Clearly, no one besides Mr. Manohar in the room quite understood the central problem with Mr. Shastri’s candidature.

Problematic proposal

Strikingly, it did not register with the BCCI that the proposal to include the brother-in-law of the interim president in the panel was problematic at various levels. If Justice Jai Narayan Patel was suggested on the panel by a board member who was unaware of his relationship with Shivlal Yadav, did Mr. Yadav make an immediate and full disclosure? If not, isn’t that a gross error of judgment from Mr. Yadav, who was, in fact, chairing this meeting? Or was it a mischievous oversight? If so, how was Justice Patel’s name not immediately rejected? And how did it make it as far as that doomed recommendation to the Supreme Court?

Let’s explore this further: what is in Mr. Yadav’s best interest in the job he has been elevated to? Logic would suggest that he must ensure that damage to the board is limited, and a sense of ‘normalcy’ in its daily operations resumes. If his brother-in-law, despite his eminence as a jurist being beyond question, discovers that the muck runs deeper than is known at the moment, what would Mr. Yadav do? Is it in his interest to find ways to bury that information? If yes, then whether he would do so or not is irrelevant.

Conversely, if a panel with Mr. Yadav’s brother-in-law as a member discovers that the allegations were without basis, would they not be tarred as ‘conflicted,’ even if the investigation was above board and diligent? What would be the purpose of such a probe, doomed to be scoffed at when complete? In a country blessed with many eminent jurists, was it not foolish to even suggest one who is related to an interested party? Could it not potentially damage the hard-earned reputation of a man who has served as the Chief Justice of the High Court?

In fact, asking the wrong questions has been a consistent feature with this BCCI ever since we got to see the gut-wrenching image of three cricketers in handcuffs. The immediate questions should have been: How deep-rooted is this? Surely more players from more teams are involved? Surely more passages of play in more games have been cosmetically engineered in much the same way these were? Should we engage immediately with law enforcement to discover just how deep this menace runs? Wouldn’t now be the appropriate moment to use the influence of the political heavyweights within our ranks to launch a sustained and time- bound investigation?

When charges of betting against a senior team official and a team owner surfaced, once again the obvious questions were not asked: Were the two men under the scanner the only ones among owners who enjoyed betting on games? The lives of most team owners are intertwined in an elite world of business and film that thrives well beyond the IPL. Were fellow owners aware that rules were being flouted with such impunity and simply looked the other way? Or worse still, did they participate in such activities? Did the two-bit actor who was arrested for his role as a middleman have access to other officials and owners?

As alarmist as they sound, these were blatantly obvious red flags; instead the BCCI became singularly focused on self-preservation and limiting damage. The players were banned and dismissed as ‘bad apples’ and ‘rotten eggs.’ Spectacularly clumsy attempts were made to undermine the relevance of those in the net in the larger scheme of things. Those attempts inevitably failed, leaving the BCCI at the mercy of the Supreme Court that is now disciplining it, much like a stern elder would an errant child.

The failure to search for robust and workable solutions from within has meant that the BCCI is now confronted with an alarming prospect — of losing its deeply treasured autonomy. Already former treasurer Ajay Shirke is warning of such an eventuality, given the unrestrained aversion of the Supreme Court in recent hearings. A new government will soon take office in India and a zealous sports minister could well throw the rulebook at the BCCI.

Under government guidelines, every National Sports Federation has to register itself annually with the sports ministry. So far, the BCCI has steadfastly refused to do so. Also, given its clout and financial might, it hasn’t been instructed to. However, if strictly applied, the rulebook permits the sports ministry to demand such a registration under its aegis, failing which the BCCI could lose its right to select a team that represents “India.” Such a move may be a long shot at the moment, but playing with fire can have unexpectedly devastating consequences.

In Ayn Rand’s seminal work Atlas Shrugged, two characters have a profound conversation. Francisco d’Anconia asks Hank Rearden: “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders; if you saw that he stood with blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling, but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort, the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders, what would you tell him to do?”

“I …don’t know. What … could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

The BCCI is not in a dissimilar place. Blood is running down its chest, knees are buckling and arms are trembling. It is time to shrug.

(Gaurav Kalra is senior editor at ESPNCricinfo.)

More In: Comment | Opinion