OTHERS

The Board will have to mend its ways

BISHAN SINGH Bedi has this interesting anecdote to highlight the inefficient functioning of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

In the mid-70s, during an unofficial home Test series against Sri Lanka, Bedi, as captain of the side, raised the issue of better facilities for the players. Having been lodged in a not so decent hotel at Nagpur, Bedi pointed out that the players were not getting warm water in their rooms. He wanted something to be done fast. ``A fair request,'' recalled the former skipper.

``To discuss the demands, and action against me for standing up in support of the players, the Board officials met in a five-star hotel'' he revealed. This was preposterous. ``Meeting in a five- star hotel to discuss our demands for being accommodated in a decent hotel which would have warm water. It was ridiculous'' remarked Bedi who could not suppress his laughter.

The latest war of words between the Board and coach Kapil Dev has only highlighted the strained relationship between the officials and the players. ``Nonsense'' thundered Bedi. ``Whatever the Board is is because of the players and not the other way around'' he pointed out, and rightly so.

``Professional.'' This is one word not known to the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Why then does it react strongly when Kapil Dev says that the ``Board should be more professional.''

Why has the Board failed so miserably in establishing a healthy relationship with the players. What is wrong if the Board interacts more with the players than among the members and officials. Why is that it prepares the Vision Report and the Code of Conduct without taking into confidence any established cricketer from the past or the present. For years, the Board's tendency has been to stifle the players and it is indeed a shame that a stage has been reached when most top cricketers prefer to stay away from cricket administration.

True, it is not a phenomenon restricted to just Indian cricket. The player-Board relationship in countries like Australia, England, West Indies has encountered turbulence at various points but never has there been an attempt to close all avenues of discussion.

The players' association is given prominence in Australia while the English and West Indian authorities encourage interaction with the players, past and present, to enable them achieve better results. It is so different in India where the emphasis is to prevent top cricketers from holding important posts.

Star cricketers have a history of getting into trouble with the administration but then they are often dealt with in a professional manner. Indian cricket is full of tales of player- Board confrontations, right from the era of Lala Amarnath, Vinoo Mankad, Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi to the present times of Sachin Tendulkar.

Lala Amarnath's frequent bouts with the administration were legendary but not many know that even Mankad was subjected to harassment by a set of vindictive cricket officials when he once signed a contract to play in the Lancashire league. Bedi's crusade for the rights of the cricketers has been recorded in glowing terms even though he suffered at the hands of the Board while Gavaskar's contempt for the Board is also too well known. Ask Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, Tiger Pataudi, Gundappa Visvanath, all great players, and you are sure to get an instant answer that they would have nothing to do with the Board.

Petty politics, utter disregard for the efforts of the players and a one-point mission of self-promotion is what the Board has been known for. Most cricket administrators with little experience of having competed at the first-class level have played havoc with the system and created a situation where achievers prefer avoiding the company of the officials once they stop playing cricket. Not that most of them do not want to serve the game but they find it disturbing to sacrifice principles to please the officials.

``What is the point? There is no room for a cricketer in the Board's scheme of things. The officials always look at the players with suspicion and this complete lack of trust is what we need to get rid of,'' former skipper Dilip Vengsarkar said.

Mohinder Amarnath maintains that any effort to strike a decent rapport with the Board would be a ``waste of time'' for the players.

Tiger Pataudi does not even encourage discussion on such ``silly'' issues even as Bedi, ever the fighter for the players' cause, lashes out at the Board's attitude . ``This arrogance of the Board stems from the fact that most of the officials have never played the game and are unaware of the requirements of the cricketers'' he asserts.

What a fall from grace we are witnessing today. A Board, so wonderfully and efficiently nurtured and administered by men of vision like M. A. Chidambaram, M. Chinnaswamy, S. Sriraman has fallen into the hands of self-promoting officials with tainted images. Democracy has taken a beating in a system which promotes sycophancy and mediocrity.

Gavaskar, a fearless spokesman for the cricketers even in his playing days, felt ``this player-Board confrontation is nothing new. It exists in all countries. In India, perhaps, it is better known because of the popularity of the game. Cricket in India is a much bigger sport but problems relating to this player-official relationship are age-old. People in power love to suppress the freedom of speech and expression by the players because it might undermine their position. The officials are just not confident of themselves.''

Gavaskar and Bedi were the architects in giving shape to the player power in demanding proper facilities and remuneration but their efforts have not yielded the desired results in the absence of player- unity.

``Players not uniting has been the main reason for the Board getting away with its misdeeds for so many years. The Board officials have a complex and the tendency is to look down upon the players. The Board basks in reflected glory with the main aim being to find ways to pull the players down. I don't know if they are aware of the fact that the public wants to see Tendulkar and Ganguly in action and not the Leles and Rungtas'' concluded Bedi.

The solution, according to Bedi and Gavaskar, lies in greater transparency in the Board and increased role for players in the matters of administration. ``The onus should be on professionalism'' they agree.

The Board will have to mend its ways, for time is running out fast. There is information that former all-rounder and currently Member of Parliament, Kirti Azad, has launched a signature campaign in the Parliament, and even managed more than 250 supporters, urging the Government to take over the Board. If that happens, the Board officials will have none to blame for Azad is only carrying on the movement initiated by former greats like Lala Amarnath, Gavaskar and Bedi, demanding greater recognition for the efforts of the players and accountability from the officials.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

New Delhi

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