Five dot balls. All attempts by reporters to get Mahendra Singh Dhoni to say something, anything about the ongoing spot-fixing and betting scandal at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday were met by smiles and silence, with a minder from the Board of Control for Cricket in India insisting that the five questions thrown at him be allowed to sail past without the Indian cricket captain putting bat to ball.
When asked about the scandal a few days back, former captain Rahul Dravid had compared the revelations to a “bereavement.” But at the press conference held on the eve of the Indian team’s departure for the Champions Trophy in England, the BCCI made sure there was no mourning. Each time an inconvenient question was asked — regarding spot-fixing or the Gurunath Meiyappan affair — a Board official who had accompanied Dhoni to the press meet indicated he should not answer. Though he had no obligation to do so — the contractual stipulation of not speaking to the media could hardly be made to apply to an official press conference — the normally hard-hitting Dhoni tamely complied with the gag order.
As of Tuesday evening, Indian cricket’s redemption from other quarters does not appear likely either. “Why are the people who sit in Parliament and State Assemblies and [who] demand resignations from corrupt members, even from the Prime Minister, silent now?” Kirti Azad, a BJP MP and former Test player asked The Hindu rhetorically, in an oblique reference to Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi — two powerful politicians from his own party who are members of the BCCI board.
Though these leaders have refused to comment on the mounting evidence of corruption at the heart of game, another board member, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, broke his silence on the issue.
Asked about N. Srinivasan holding on to his post as Board president despite his son-in-law battling charges of betting on IPL fixtures, Scindia said, “I am not alleging that any individual is guilty.” “However, in the interest of propriety and probity and the question mark that is cast over the sport of cricket in India today ... and considering that there is a certain team under question, a certain conflict of interest, there is a certain individual family member involved in that episode… I would certainly expect and appeal to Mr. Srinivasan’s inner conscience that he step aside … in the interest of the sport,” he told NDTV on Tuesday.
He is part of the Board’s disciplinary committee and president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, which has one of its key officials, Sanjay Jagdale, functioning as the secretary of the Board.
Former Board president I. S. Bindra had on Monday demanded Mr. Srinivasan’s ouster. “I have been keeping quiet on this issue but his statement that he will not step down shows that he is as arrogant as ever. I demand that he should step down from the BCCI president’s position forthwith and not cause any more damage to Indian cricket which has been built on the sacrifices of a number of sports administrators and tremendous contribution of our icons,” Mr. Bindra had said in a statement.
As for the Board, a top official claimed, “We follow our procedure. There is a system in place. An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the truth. Once the committee finalises its report, the Board will take action according to the rules. In the past, too, we have acted in the interest of the game.”
However, the silence maintained by Board members cutting across political lines in their defence of Mr. Srinivasan — Arun Jaitley (Delhi), Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Farooq Abdullah (Jammu and Kashnir), G. Vinod (Hyderabad), C.P. Joshi (Rajasthan) and Rajeev Shukla (Uttar Pradesh) — has not gone unnoticed.
As a veteran official claimed, “There was love of the game, not money, that drove us to serve the game. There were differences between (Jagmohan) Dalmiya and (Inderjit) Bindra but not at the cost of the game. But most of these politicians are only interested in self-promotion. They have little interest in the game but would not stop at extracting maximum mileage from cricket.”
A case in point is former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s attempts at seeking affiliation for his State in order to enter BCCI. For his part, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh hosted two IPL matches to showcase the bright points of his tenure.
A closer look reveals that officials from Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have not been able to improve cricket in their States. In spite of being among the more visible faces in the BCCI for years, Shukla and Farooq Abdullah have done little to use the funds to improve infrastructure in their States. In short, cricket there has not gained due to the presence of these politicians in the BCCI. Even Modi’s involvement in Gujarat cricket is minimal.
“Uttar Pradesh has Kanpur as a permanent Test centre but does not have a stadium of its own. J&K is notorious for being indifferent to the needs of its cricketers. Haryana, too, is no different. On the other hand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the two newest cricket centres, boast of world-class infrastructure. It is clear these politicians have only their own personal agenda to pursue,” said a senior Board official without mincing words.