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By Suresh Menon
Did the Supreme Court temper justice with both mercy and folly? In the couple of weeks before its final judgement on the IPL case and the Mukul Mudgal Report (April 16), we have been given a glimpse into its thinking. First there was the bravado – Board President Srinivasan would be thrown out, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals would be suspended from the IPL. Then came the mercy.
The IPL would collapse without two teams, billionaires who run television will be denied a few millions more, players will have nothing to do for six weeks. It was a set of arguments supported strongly by the media which stood to lose millions if the advertisements didn’t kick in.
So justice was tempered with mercy, at least in the short term. The IPL would be untouched, the investigations might continue, and the day of reckoning was postponed.
Mercy was easy to understand.
By naming Sunil Gavaskar – a paid employee of the BCCI, commentator (and possibly the BCCI’s voice on the air waves), businessman and player-agent with interests in Indian international cricketers – the Supreme Court might have perpetrated a fundamental problem, that of conflict of interests. If the argument against President N Srinivasan was that he was both BCCI President and owner of the Chennai Super Kings, then the men named to replace him do not inspire much confidence.
We’ll come to Shivlal Yadav in a moment; not much is expected of him anyway, given his record of intense family love. But Gavaskar is different.
Gavaskar played his final Test in March 1987, a good 27 years ago. He remains the greatest opening batsman this country has produced (there is too an argument for his being the greatest-ever batsman), a source of pride and joy in the years when India were shaking off their “minnows” label. He has remained in touch with the game at an intimate level ever since, writing, broadcasting, being on committees, and on one occasion even standing in as the manager of the Indian team in Sharjah.
It is glib to say that Gavaskar has been handed a chance to cleanse the Augean stables and put everything back on track with the BCCI. He will be forced to bat with one hand tied behind his back. His powers have not been clearly defined. And it could all end very soon once the BCCI decides to hold elections – then Srinivasan could return as president as a candidate from the east zone (whose turn it is to nominate the president).
Gavaskar has the personality and the knowledge of the byways of BCCI politics to turn things around. But not speaking up against the Board is a habit of a lifetime he will have to overcome. The only time he took on the BCCI was to go public over the million dollars he was promised for “media work” every IPL year. Gavaskar will have to look beyond his nose if he is to bring a new vision to Indian cricket.
We are at an in-between stage in the proceedings, so it is difficult to tell what Gavaskar’s role might be in the immediate future. Handling the IPL will not call for much mind space from this sharpest of cricketing minds. Will he take over as the President of the BCCI, complete with the powers and responsibility that come with such an appointment?
Or will that remain in the gift of Shivlal Yadav, the former India off spinner who along with his cronies in the Hyderabad Cricket Association is accused of involvement in a 200-crore scam? That case comes up for hearing on April 5. Yadav’s advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time. A Vice President of the BCCI from the south zone, he was the natural replacement for the President from the south zone, Srinivasan.
There is little doubt that the Chennai Super Kings ought to have been banned the moment it was established by the Mudgal Committee that Gurunathan Meiyappan indulged in betting. But the BCCI was more keen on protecting its President than in following its own rules.
The call is for tough decisions. The Mudgal Report has recommended investigations into the dodgy affairs of the game and its administration. Who will investigate? Will the Supreme Court handle it directly? Or will it set up a special team?
In the final analysis, it cannot be the money or influence or player or fan comfort that decides. There are bigger issues here. Like the credibility of the sport, the integrity of the administrative system, the professionalism of the players. All three have been under threat for some time now as the BCCI has shown a remarkable reluctance to clean up the system. There might be discomfort in the short term if teams are banned, players put in jail and tournaments cancelled. But that is a small price to pay for long term solutions.