By Jaideep Vaidya
When the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal broke out on May 16 this year, towards the home stretch of the near-two-month-long tournament, nine matches were still left to be played. It would turn out to be one of murkiest and most shocking scandals to hit Indian cricket, one that transcended vocations; and as the days progressed, it reached levels comparable to the cricket match-fixing scandal in the late nineties. There was even talk of the tournament being abandoned or postponed till the investigation was over, but at the end of the day money overrode everything and the cricket continued. Not that it was surprising, given the pull of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the financial dependence that the rest of the cricketing world has on the moolah generated from Indian cricket.
However, what was deplorable was the fact that not a single person from the commentary team — which included respected names such as Harsha Bhogle, Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Ajay Jadeja, Laxman Sivaramakrisnan, Kapil Dev, Navjot Sidhu, Rameez Raja, Ian Bishop, Pommy Mbangwa, Simon Doull and Danny Morrison — even uttered a single word about the whole controversy, save for perhaps a few words of sympathy for the Rajasthan Royals (three of its players were the main accused named by the police) and its skipper Rahul Dravid. Perhaps, deplorable is too harsh a word to use here; given the history of the modus operandi of the BCCI, one wouldn’t have expected anything less: You keep your chatter restricted to the cricket, because that’s what you are paid (in gazillions) to do.
Some of the aforementioned, who were also contractually obliged to broadcasting their opinions on India’s all-powerful and pervasive media, opened up a little more when probed by the anchors. They condemned the happenings, but were cautious with their words and did not point fingers at anyone related to the board. At a recent event in Mumbai, Shastri defended board chief N Srinivasan, who was under pressure from all corners to resign for the alleged involvement of his son-in-law in the scandal. But knowing Shastri’s quixotic history with the BCCI, this was on expected lines as well.
So, when Ian Chappell, a former Australian skipper and one of the most straight-talking characters to have ever graced the sport, was reported to have refused to toe the BCCI’s line, it just substantiated the fact that the board puts a gag on its commentary team. In an email interaction with Hindustan Times, Chappell revealed that he had been invited by the host broadcaster, ESPN, to join the commentary panel for the upcoming India-Australia series. But when Chappell asked who he was working for, the reply was that he would be “contracted by ESPN but I would be subject to BCCI restrictions. I emailed back to ask what these restrictions were and was told: ‘I couldn’t talk about Indian selection, DRS [Decision Review System] or administrative matters. I responded saying I didn’t feel I could do my job properly under those circumstances and therefore declined the offer.”
Here was a man, who when captain of Australia, had refused to comply with his own country’s board when they asked him to talk to teammate Dennis Lillee because the latter was blasting the board in his writings for a newspaper. Chappell refused because he was in agreement with Lillee. So to expect Chappell to comply with the dos and don’ts of another country’s board is as futile as asking a pig to fly. If the BCCI had known better, they wouldn’t even have bothered contacting him.
On October 8, two days after the Champions League T20 ended, a tweet written by Manjrekar to the CEO of the IPL, Sundar Raman, which was actually thought to be a direct message by the former, became the talk of the Twitterati. “Sundar, I have now been kicked off from the studio for Ind/Aus by star. Don’t you think this is a bit harsh? I have a contract with them [sic],” it said. The tweet was obviously deleted by Manjrekar subsequently when he realised his gaffe. Now, one will never come to know the reason behind Manjrekar’s ouster from the commentary box, but given that he was such a regular with the board, one can’t help but think that it would have been for any other reason than him somehow crossing the line.
Come to think of it, any employer would not want its employee speaking ill about it on a public forum. Such an instance would definitely warrant a sacking in the corporate world, so the BCCI could just be justified in their doing so. However, it does raise the question of the morality of these former servants of the game who took so much pride in playing for their country. Earlier, they could always deny the fact that they have any contractual obligations with the BCCI, but Chappell’s revelations prove that the Indian board’s commentary team are mere puppets who are forced to rattle a written script.
The diktat is clear: You get the job if you comply with our terms and conditions. Chappell refused, but it is rather unfortunate that others didn’t.