Monday, February 6, 2023

Cricket board must tell players to shut up


By Veturi Srivatsa
Under the new dispensation post-Narayanaswamy Srinivasanís being sent to gulag of sorts, there appears to be an ushering of glasnost within the Indian cricket board.

It came as a pleasant surprise to the media when national selection committee chairman Sandip Patil accompanied new board secretary Anurag Thakur to explain the thought-process behind the selection of the Test and One-day squads for Bangladesh.

The secretary was himself more voluble and willing to talk on any subject unlike some of his predecessors who used to say “Gentlemen, I am not empowered to add anything more than merely releasing the squad or scheduling of international matches”.

During Srinivasan’s regime, these announcements were reduced to e-mailed handouts!

It is to be seen how long the new found openness continues.

The confirmation of the prevailing chaos in the board came from the chief of the three-member Supreme Court committee appointed to fix the quantum of punishment for the culprits of betting in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Committee chairman and former chief justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha wondered whether there was any authority in the board after he found its president Jagmohan Dalmiya’s speech “incoherent and incomprehensible” when the committee met him in Kolkata last week.

Dalmiya has mildly protested to insist that illness has not hampered his functioning as board chief and Anurag Thakur, in the first flush as new secretary, tried to send out a message that he is the man running the board — though he was not allowed to run for presidency by his Bharatiya Janata Party of which he is an MP.

The next thing, one astonishingly witnessed, was the Test and One-Day captains freely taking pot shots at each other, making it clear that they were no longer bound by any contractual obligation not to talk on certain contentious issues during and after a tour.

In any case, these are not issues that could not have ben talked out in the dressing room or sorted out by the team director. The Test captain has openly stated who his preferred choice is for the post of team director and his ODI counterpart said why a batsman or a bowler doesn’t fit into his scheme of things. The utterances raised doubts whether it is going to be a free for all.

What is incomprehensible is the studied silence of the board president and the secretary. Instead of reprimanding the two senior pros going public on their differences or, for that matter, snubbing Ravichandran Ashwin and Suresh Raina for coming out in support of ODI skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the two top board officials helplessly watched the players bicker. Even junior cricketer Mohammad Shami had his say on the purported rift between the two top guns.

With no one from the team coming in his support, Test captain Virat Kohli himself took on his ODI captain in a veiled attack. He attributed the ODI series-loss in Bangladesh to “doubtful decision-making” and that, he said, showed on the field.

There are wheels within wheels. Ashwin offering to die for his One-Day captain is as insane as Dhoni’s own ridiculous line soon after winning the World Twenty20 championship in South Africa that he wants his players to be ready to go before a speeding truck for him.

Ashwin, perhaps, is peeved at Harbhajan Singh being brought back to the Test side to undermine his pre-eminence and Raina may also be feeling a threat to his place once Dhoni goes.

These are the kind of games most captains and senior players play — just as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir felt they had been hard done by Dhoni to make sure that there was no threat to his position as captain in the foreseeable future.

Both Sehwag and Gambhir were upset over Dhoni’s rotation policy in Australia three years ago and made snide remarks against him for saying that he could not afford playing both as well as Sachin Tendulkar together in the eleven as all three were slow movers on the field. For good measure he added that the team would be handicapped to the extent of 15-20 runs if all three are included.

Things had come to such a sorry pass that there were stories in the media of Dhoni bringing to the notice of the board about Gambhir playing only to save his position in the team without really being part of its strategy and reportedly cited two run-outs the Delhi left-hander was involved in during the 2012 series against England to prove his point.

From time to time, such stories — some true and some others inspired — filtered out of the dressing room for the rumour mills to work overtime. The board pushed in player-officials from state associations into the selection committee to keep a check on the players.

Yet, the ganging up of selectors twice almost removed the captain and both the times the then powerful board president vetoed the move. Dalmiya saved Sourav Ganguly in the first instance and the next occasion saw Srinivasan coming to Dhoni’s rescue. And come to think of it, both have been the most successful captains for India!

Differences between players is old pickle — and there have been instances when some of them appeared to be coming to blows. Senior players have always argued in the dressing room, but most of them are seen as part of team discussions.

What a dressing room it must have been when Ganguly, Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sehwag, Harbhajan, V.V.S. Laxman, Zaheer Khan and Gambhir were part of it. Almost all of them selected themselves on the basis of the sheer weight of their respective performances.

The players eventually sort their problems out in their own interest. As in politics, here too there are no permanent cliques and equations even if the players come from the same state or region.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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