BCCI should be more magnanimous

2007 Aug 28 by DreamCricket

Indian domestic cricket, already a sick industry, faces little prospective damage from a rival competition.

Ever since India crashed out of the World Cup, Indian cricket has been in turmoil. It appears that even a decent performance in England, in the wake of the cold war between Zee and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the formation of the parallel Indian Cricket League (ICL), won't be enough to douse the fire.

While there will be plenty of off-field drama in the coming weeks to keep the atmosphere lively, the root question — whether or not the ICL can hurt BCCI — is far more fundamental to the future of Indian cricket in the long run. This is where a lesson from history becomes relevant.

The Zee-BCCI tussle is an exact replay of the scrap between BCCI and organisers of the Bombay Pentangular tournament, India's most admired competition in the colonial era.

After the board was formed in 1928, it was in its interest to lead the anti-Pentangular movement.

This is because the stars who dominated the scene then were attracted to the Pentangular, and crowds in these contests numbered anywhere between 20,000-25,000 people, far higher than the thousand or so fans who gathered to cheer Ranji Trophy contests.

With continuous spectator support, the Pentangular coffers raked in sums between Rs 1,00,000-2,00,000 during the yearly two weeks of the tournament, while the BCCI continued to be cash-strapped.

So much so that the Bombay Pentangular committee had to advance money to the board on occasions in the 1930s to keep the Ranji Trophy alive.

Against such adversity and faced with stiff competition, the board couched its opposition against the Pentangular in the guise of secularism arguing that the communally organised Pentangular was an obstacle in the path of an emerging secular nation.

Unable to withstand this onslaught, the Pentangular was finally abolished in January 1946. It may well be that the league proposed by Zee's Subhash Chandra will meet the same fate.

Faced with BCCI obstinacy on allowing the use of grounds and its refusal to permit Indian players active in the domestic/international circuit to compete in the ICL, the Kerry Packeresque experiment can well end up as a haven for the just retired and international discards.

But as was the case in the 1940s, BCCI might well end up regretting its crusade against constructive private enterprise.

That the Pentangular was missed sorely is evident from the following description by Berry Sarbadhikary, who wrote many years later: "The Bombay cricket fervour appears to have subsided with the passing away of the communal Pentangular...

They still talk of the Pentangular with that sad touch in their voice, of the tradition that kept the Bombay cricket enthusiasts agog, and of a revival of the Pentangular as the only practical and effective step towards revitalising Bombay cricket.

They contend now that with the communal virus gone the Hindu-Muslim-Parsi-Christian tournament can do no harm. Knowledgeable people in Bombay still tell me that a Pentangular even today would draw a crowd of 40,000.

If that be so why don't even 4,000 turn up for a tournament which includes all the best players in the country?" Drawing a lesson from Sarbadhikary, it would be in BCCI's interests to assess whether ICL is up to the task of rejuvenating domestic cricket in India.

This is more so because Indian domestic cricket, already a sick industry, faces little prospective damage from a rival competition.

Rather, if people are attracted to a league on Indian soil spruced up by the influx of international stars, it will surely help inject life into an ailing Ranji Trophy.

Players will indeed have more opportunities to showcase talent and the board might even end up having the luxury to rest its stars without having to worry about the standard of domestic cricket in their absence.

For if a Lara, McGrath or Warne plays in the league, there wouldn't be any need to depend on a Sachin or a Dhoni. In turn, Indian stars, after rigorous national duty, would have more leisure to recharge their batteries.

And the conjecture that the ICL will eat into the popularity of international cricket involving India is outright foolish. At the root of the popularity of all modern international sport is nationalism and nothing can compete with its aura.

In this situation, the real reason behind BCCI opposition against the ICL would be to avenge an insult or a hurt ego. However, that's where BCCI can also show its magnanimity and avoid the mistake committed six decades earlier.