BCCI should adapt the corporate principle of 'accountability’ from IPL

The unthinkable happened when Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) got rid of Sourav Ganguly. KKR knew that Ganguly enjoyed God-like status in Bengal and the backlash would be severe. But they bit the bullet it was a corporate decision that had to be taken, however painful © AFP

While the corporatisation of the game by the Indian Premier League (IPL) brings with it many evils, it does instil the corporate principle of ‘accountability’ on everyone. Arunabha Sengupta argues that BCCI can borrow this blatantly missing concept from the otherwise crass commercialisation of the game.

Last year, the then Pune Warriors India captain Sourav Ganguly created one of his many stirs by voicing: “It is much, much easier to captain India than an IPL [Indian Premier League] team.”

True, Pune Warriors had finished at the bottom of the IPL table and had lost nine matches in a row, but Ganguly was hardly referring to the on-field challenges. According to him, the problems came in the form of beeping cell-phones and difficult questions from hounding owners. While leading the Indian team he had never had the Indian cricket board president or the chairman of selectors picking up the phone and telling him what he should have done.

But, IPL was different. “When I captained the IPL teams, I had to answer the owner before the game and after the game … When you lose the game, the first thing when you get back to the hotel is think ‘what am I going to answer? Why didn’t Ashok Dinda bowl the slower ball at that moment?’”

Of course it is difficult for us to swallow the trend of our reputed sportsmen being quizzed by corporate bigwigs, taken through rigorous root cause analysis procedures to justify their actions. I myself had written rather stingingly about the incidents.

Yet, one must understand that the dynamics of IPL are drastically different from the mainstream cricket run by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The owners of the IPL teams are businessmen. Results matter more to them than they ever did to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The Indian Board may be rolling in the stuff. The BCCI officials may sometimes sport ties and may once in a while be seen tinkering with their laptops. But it is still far, far away from becoming a corporation. Till a while back, BCCI used to get tax exemption according to the Section 11 of the I-T Act 1961 — meant for charitable organisations. There is no owner or group of investors to whom the Board is answerable.

Hence, while sitting smug as the richest cricketing body in the world, it can also afford to operate without the threat of backlash. Thus not a lot of retrospection may follow poor performances. After all, cricketers are often granted the status of unquestionable mythological heroes, and BCCI often revels in playing along.

Things are very different for IPL franchises. Victories and defeats, runs and wickets, are directly linked to profit margins and bottom lines. The huge amounts shelled out for auctions and team maintenance is tracked to the penny, and everyone is keen to see the returns on investment.

Hence, every individual player can be thought of as a corporate employee, his job description outlined in detail, earning his keep by helping his team to win. And the captain is like the team leader, perhaps the CEO, of the employees, who is answerable to the men who hold the purse strings if things don’t go as planned. In case of a downturn, he has to face the heat. One cannot help it.

Now, while such commercialisation of the much romanticised game — and the commodification of the cricketers — may be jarring to our sensibilities, are all aspects of this really all that bad?

Let us borrow from the corporate phraseology. What we see here, in the distressing phone calls and fact-finding missions following poor performances, can be summed up by the term ‘accountability.’ And this is one word which has been woefully missing for long from the vocabulary of Indian cricket.

Down the ages, in the wake of poor performances we have heard millions of voices rising up in caustic criticism, a chorus of complaints about the lack of commitment of the team and captains. Yet, somehow few can answer who the team and captain are accountable to. Whenever the question of accountability has come under scrutiny, we have always fumbled for answers. The responses have been rather shaky, unreal and overly idealistic: ‘the national team is accountable to the fans’.

Passion, pride and ‘accountability to the fans’ may be enough for the romantic flights of fancy associated with cricket. However, in the real world of professionals these are perhaps too spurious to become a uniform code which holds true for every cricketer. Accountability as a rigorously defined concept has been conspicuously absent, perhaps restricted in some cases to the arrangements between the individual players and the brands they endorse

In that regard, this trait brought about by corporatisation — if performed according to a defined process, eschewing the whimsical phone calls — may not be all that bad for the game.

Of course, answering questions to cricket-ignorant supremos definitely cannot be beneficial to the team, the skipper or the game. However, when a management is equipped with proper analysts and think tank, accountability does seem to make a lot of sense.

If a captain is suitably empowered to take decisions, being simultaneously accountable for his actions to a professional management may actually be positive. In fact, it is almost axiomatic in any organisation.
We have already discussed how IPL can bring about more scientific ways of selection, strategy and decision making. Down the line, the national teams can benefit from such analytic principles and practices.

Added to this, BCCI perhaps stands only to benefit from the concept of accountability and more structured management processes by borrowing some of these facets from the commercial premises of the IPL.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)