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By Suresh Menon
You only have to look at the career options 40-year-old Anil Kumble has, to realise what a stunning decision he has made – to roll up his sleeves and get into the messy world of sports administration. Messy because good intentions come up against politics, small men with huge egos and officials who have made a profession of being officials.
As one of the legends of the game, Kumble could have used his brand name profitably in so many different ways. Even within the sport itself, as one of India’s most dignified and intelligent captains, he could have focused on coaching, on media work, on what the marketing folk call brand enhancement. If you can’t trust a man who has nothing to lose, then the reverse is equally true: you have to place your faith in the man who has nothing to gain in a new avatar.
When there are a range of options available, it takes a strong mind with a commitment to the next generation to act as Kumble - and others like Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad – has done. They have the support of Rahul Dravid. These are men of intelligence with a reputation that spans not just the cricketing world but spans the history of the game itself.
There are no guarantees in elections. After all, Gundappa Vishwanath, most loved of players and an icon in Karnataka lost the last time around to the current President Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the Maharajah of Mysore.
Former players are fond of mouthing the cliché about giving something back to the game. Usually that is a euphemism for discovering how much more the game can do for them. By ignoring the path of least resistance and choosing to take one that is fraught with pitfalls, Kumble might just inspire a whole generation of players. Those who want cricket associations to focus on the game rather than on politics.
The Karnataka State Cricket Association elections on November 21 will be as important as the one 12 years ago when another player, Brijesh Patel, unseated a generation for whom power had become an end in itself. In recent months and years, the two factions, Patel’s and Wodeyar’s have been unable to get along, with disastrous results for the state’s cricket. At the national level, Patel was seen as a Jagmohan Dalmiya man, and unacceptable to the current dispensation. Kumble as President and Srinath as Secretary hope to change all that.
No player is greater than the game nor is an individual greater than the institution, but players like Kumble symbolise the best in both. In practical terms it means better working relations with the Board of Control for Cricket in India regardless of the power equations there. Kumble’s opposition will be not just from the Maharajah but equally from those in the BCCI who are threatened by player power and might react today to a counter a perceived threat to their positions tomorrow.
Players do not automatically make the best administrators. Hyderabad’s Ghulam Ahmed was an exception, as was S Venkatraghavan to some extent. Yet most of the best have shied away because they do not want to go through the rough and tumble of an election. They prefer to be elected unopposed. A few, like Bishan Bedi in Delhi and Patel himself have led players into administration, and discovered that after a while it becomes difficult to distinguish between those who fought for a principle and those who were defeated for lacking it.
Kumble cannot be unaware of this. He belongs to the modern school of management which abhors hierarchies, a refreshing change from the feudal system which is the hallmark of our sports administration. Both he and Dravid have held the post considered the second most difficult in the country after that of the Prime Minister. That of the captain of the national cricket team. Quietly and without fuss they changed the way things are done there, pushing for the system of payment which benefits the internationals today.
Cricket administration is increasingly becoming a specialized job. Part of the BCCI’s problems with the IPL, for example, arise out of the refusal to recognise this. It is about quick decision-making; it is about transparency and accountability. It is about focusing on what is really important to the exclusion of anything that has no bearing on the game itself.
Karnataka cricket has floundered for lack of leadership in the recent past. Too many egos, too many private battles and too much muck-raking has sapped it of the energy it once possessed. Skipper Kumble’s team promises a breath of fresh air.