Cricket administration needs more men like Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath to step in and take control © Getty Images
Cricket administration needs more men like Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath to step in and take control © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well – Albus Dumbledore in one of the Harry Potter books.

 

The Harry Potter books are not everyone’s cup of tea, but hidden in its pages are some gems like the one above, which are true not only for the magical world that those characters inhabit, but even for the very real one we live in. Sports, including cricket, trivial pursuits though they may be, are no exception.

 

Over the years, we have seen many such examples on the field. Allan Border, who dragged a down-in-the-dumps Australian side from the ignominy of losing two consecutive Test series to New Zealand – yes, New Zealand! – to the brink of world champion status, was a reluctant leader for most of his early tenure. When the match-fixing scandal rocked the very foundations of the game around the turn of the millennium, two men, Shaun Pollock and Sourav Ganguly, were thrust into leadership roles for their respective teams, and until Duckworth-Lewis and Greg Chappell struck, both did a commendable job at the helm. If you listened to Kumar Sangakkara’s magnificent speech at the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture though, the world of cricket needs such able, but not power-hungry, men off the field as much as on it.

 

Ambition is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an essential quality to possess if you want to make it big, whether as a sportsman, an artist, a businessman or in any other walk of life. But when you are in charge of an office like a cricket board, if personal ambition starts conflicting with the well being of the game you are entrusted to run, trouble cannot be far behind. If Sangakkara is to be believed, then that is exactly what has happened to the Sri Lankan cricket board post-1996.

 

As he said during his speech, prior to Sri Lanka’s momentous World Cup triumph, the board was little more than a volunteer-driven organization, run by people who were in it not to make a fortune for themselves, but for the love of the game. Their capabilities could be doubted, but their integrity and intentions could not. The World Cup changed all that. Cricket had already been a unifying factor in the war-ravaged region for a while, but all of a sudden there was money to be made, a lot of it, and self-serving individuals who hitherto had little to do with the game were flocking to it like bees to honey.

 

Sangakkara might have been talking about Sri Lanka alone, but the story is familiar to fans all around the cricket world. In India, politicians are not only a part of the BCCI but of virtually every single state cricket association. The less said about Pakistan, the better. The moment Bangladesh start winning, you can almost be guaranteed that they will follow the path of their cricketing big brothers. Corruption is a reality in our part of the world, and most of us are resigned to that fact, but the more galling aspect of the administration in cricket these days is the dangerous cocktail of arrogance and incompetence that most administrators seem to be drunk on.

 

Other boards are not much better. The Australian board seems to trust marketing surveys more than the cricketing wisdom that it has in abundance at its disposal. The English Cricket Board was blinded by Allen Stanford’s millions and ended up with egg on its face, all before you could even spell due diligence. And the West Indies Cricket Board? Well, Tony Cozier recently wrote about the current crop of West Indian cricketers that they lack basic cricket intelligence and common sense. He might as well have been talking about the board.

 

Open any sports page these days, and the administrators seem to be more in the news than the players and their on-field exploits. The worst part of it all is, these very men cannot agree on issues like proper use of technology in the game, or come up with equitable schedules for a small family of 10 Test-playing nations, or be bothered with the aspirations of the associate nations. The only thing they seem to be good at is selling TV rights to the highest bidder, then changing the game to suit their demands, and lurching from one controversy to another. Simon Katich against the Australian board, Chris Gayle against the WICB, Shahid Afridi against the PCB (or more appropriately, Ijaz Butt), BCCI against the world, the list is long.

 

When players underperform, they get dropped. When a Mohammed Amir or a Mohammed Asif indulges in corruption, he gets banned. Yet, who is watching the watchmen? No such criteria of performance or integrity seem to apply to the men in suits. The ICC’s recent directive to the boards to democratize themselves is a welcome move, though coming from an organization that has not sorted out its own presidential issue yet, it rings a bit hollow.

 

One does hope though, that the current state of affairs inspires more players to take the plunge into administration themselves. When Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath won the Karnataka State Association elections last year, I couldn’t help but smile at my computer screen. These are men who do not need to step into the muddy waters of cricket administration, but clearly their hearts beat for the game. Time will tell whether they change the system or the system changes them, but it is a welcome start. I hope Rahul Dravid has no plans to retire in the near future, but whenever he does, I hope he joins his former teammates as well.

 

Sangakkara hit the nail on the head when he said that unless the administration gets its act together, the game runs the risk of alienating the common man. As a member of that fraternity, I can safely say that people like you and me fell in love with the game watching Sachin Tendulkar’s backfoot punch and Dravid’s forward defensive, not watching Jagmohan Dalmiya at board meetings. We put up posters of Allan Donald and Glenn McGrath on our walls and tried to imitate their bowling actions, not Lalit Modi trying to look busy with two cellphones on a TV screen.

 

Take us for granted today, and our love for the game will still bring us back tomorrow. Keep doing it, and the golden goose might soon be dead.

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)