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Lessons from the IPL
by Suresh Menon
May 10, 2008
One of the things the IPL was expected to do was to introduce professionalism into the administration of Indian cricket. The benefits of the tournament, as enumerated by the spin doctors of the IPL – encouraging youngsters, finding talent in unexpected places etc – had to be taken with a pinch of salt, but many thought there would be important lessons for the cricket board. For too long in Indian cricket, a professional was simply someone who chased a lot of money. That professionalism was an attitude, a frame of mind was never acknowledged.

Somehow the IPL was expected to change all that, and bring the cricket board into the 21st century from the mid-20th where it had been stuck. There would be transparency and accountability – two elements foreign to the board. Processes would be accessible, there would be free flow of information, the stadiums would be fan-friendly and so on. These were the expectations of the cricket lover, reasonable ones given that the IPL was seen as a modern, no-nonsense, unsentimental set-up with none of the baggage of the cricket board of which it was a part, although the same faces were involved.

Some of the dreams were shattered in the opening week itself. In fact, even before the tournament began, with the IPL ‘s media policy which aimed to exclude; it was the one area where the cricket board could not be faulted, for its aim had always been inclusive, and the media were given their due. Once the dust on that controversy settled, and the tournament began, the old problem of poor facilities at the major stadiums immediately came to the fore. There was no water at the Eden Gardens – it was this same problem that had led to a semi-riot during the 1996 World Cup game which forced the match referee to hand the game to Sri Lanka. So, in a decade and more nothing had changed although the finances in the board had shot up (despite corruption) manifold.

It was still not the best place to take the family for an outing. The Twenty20 format is ideally suited for just such an outing, but our stadiums continue to be unfriendly places.

By reacting quickly and unsentimentally to the Harbhajan Singh incident, the IPL showed it was concerned with the standards of behavior on field, and came out of it with reputation enhanced. Sweeping things under the carpet, a Board prerogative, was shunned in favour of transparency and accountability.

But just what role the corporate played in this is difficult to tell. No company which has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into a project is likely to condone an individual who brings both the company and the project into disrepute.

The sacking of Bangalore’s CEO Charu Sharma was certainly a corporate decision. Bangalore were doing poorly, and the CEO had to go. It may be a simplistic approach – and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad has pointed out that cricket teams do not work like corporates – but the concept of accountability is one that the Board would do well to adopt. Back in 1971, Vijay Merchant, the chairman of selectors who sacked Tiger Pataudi as captain and brought in Ajit Wadekar argued thus: “The company was doing badly, and I sacked the CEO.” It turned out well for Indian cricket. India won Test series in the West Indies and England for the first time under Wadekar.

Whatever the merits of sacking Sharma, there is a lesson in it for the cricket board in the idea of accountability. What the Board refused to learn from Merchant, it can learn from Mallya.
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