It is amazing how often players change colours once they get into administration or the selection committee.
By Suresh Menon
Kapil Dev might have had 1.5 crore reasons to seek amnesty and return to the BCCI fold, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he decided to take on the Board instead. Sport is largely about fantasy, and the question is: would a former great have had a deeper impact on Indian cricket than a bunch of politicians, businessmen and others pretending to be lovers of the sport but each with an agenda that has nothing to do with the game?
Cricket is undoubtedly one of the best organised sports in the country, but it is difficult to shake off the feeling that it is not so much service with a smile as service with a purpose. And that purpose is clear: the bottom line is the bottom line. It has made millionaires of some players, and significantly raised the earnings of even the non-internationals. But all this at the cost of the players not having a say in any of the decisions, from playing meaningless tournaments (to fulfil television commitments) to facing the wrath of the Board when they have crossed a line. The choice is between playing on as a silent millionaire on the one hand and a principled pauper on the other. A no-brainer, as the Americans would say.
Indian cricket is in transition – the old order is changing, and the new is yet to take over – and this is a crucial phase. The BCCI has shown itself to be hide-bound and slightly behind the times. This is a combination that makes it a dangerous custodian of the game's soul, especially since thanks to money power it calls the shots. Transparency and accountability are two words that have been erased from the Board's vocabulary.
Whether it was Board President N Srinivasan who reached out to Kapil or vice versa, it doesn't matter. Nor does it matter if the delay in sorting things out was owing to Kapil looking up the word 'amnesty' in a dictionary. He has admitted he didn't know what the word meant when the Board said that a plea for amnesty was the first step towards reconciliation.
What is important is that the storm has subsided, and that is all to the good. There is no disputing the fact that Kapil Dev deserved the one-time bonus disbursed by the Board, and would have got it but for the Board's lack of grace. The players who received the bonus will, naturally, be upset if you suggested that it was in the nature of a bribe. But it is unlikely that there would be too many among them who would oppose the Board or any of its policies. Many will see it as biting the hand that feeds them.
Kapil (with some others, like Kirti Azad) has the stature, and the personality to break the Board's stranglehold on the players and take Indian cricket into the future. The relationship between the Board and the players has always been similar to the one between a feudal lord and a vassal. Kapil has said that the Board is like the head of the family, protecting and looking after the interests of the players. While some see the BCCI as a benevolent despot, others notice that only one of those two descriptions holds true.
This is not to suggest that Kapil, like some knight in shiny armour, will change everything overnight. We have nothing to go by – not a proven administrative record or a cogent plan for Indian cricket's future. But he would have been a rallying point, gathering around him like-minded people who might – I say might – evolve a more democratic Board with a greater focus on the worldwide health of the game than is apparent now. There is no real opposition to the ways of the BCCI in India, and that is not good for democracy.
Still, it is amazing how often players change colours once they get into administration or the selection committee. It is rather like that scene in George Orwell's Animal Farm: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” It has been – with honourable exceptions – much the same with ex-players when they have entered officialdom.
Kapil Dev might have been the exception, or he might have followed the norm. But it would have been fun trying to find out.